Ever since head of Xbox, Matt Booty, said that for the first year or two of Xbox Series X, they would be making their first-party games playable on Xbox One as well, there has been a lot of discussion around the prospect and benefits of cross-gen games. You have one side suggesting this is a good thing and “consumer friendly” because it allows consumers who can’t upgrade within that timeframe to be able to play the big first party exclusives, and it makes financial sense because why would they want to “abandon” the install base of the previous gen. Then you have the other side pointing out that having to make games for seven year old hardware will negatively impact design decisions and thus hold back the next-gen versions of these games. In that group there are even a few of us who point out that leaving the previous gen behind, also with sizable install bases, has never been an issue before so why should it be now? Well, I’m hear to tell you why the people who would prefer to leave last gen behind, at least from a first party standpoint, are the correct ones and everyone else is wrong.
Yep, I said “wrong.”
Now, before you skip the rest of this and go to the comments section to verbally burn me in effigy, allow me to explain why they’re wrong.
Let’s address the other side of this argument first. As I stated, they think it’s consumer friendly to not leave consumers behind who can’t upgrade within the first year. The flaws with this logic is that it neglects two factual realities. The first is that it suggests that platform holder shouldn’t make next-gen only games until everyone who wants the new console can get one. That a new piece of hardware shouldn’t have showcase software that can only exist on it due to the technical improvements until some arbitrary, nebulous number of people have access to it is patently ridiculous and impossible to determine. Especially when you figure that no two consoles have sold the same amount from one generation to the next, and each individual has their own reasons as either why the can’t or chose not to upgrade until some, again, nebulous time in the future can’t be calculated. Trying to plan development around this concept is entirely unrealistic.
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In continuation of this, most people don’t buy next-gen hardware until well into the console’s lifecycle. There are people who have just gotten a PS4 within the past year and it’s been in the millions which is why PS4 is now at roughly 116 million units as of March 31, 2021. So when is this a realistic cut-off to leave last-gen behind? To me it seems like the people saying this are the ones who can’t get a PS5 so they posit this argument with no feasible solution because it speaks to their current situation. Now, while I am fortunate enough to have a PS5, I should be clear that in the past 40 plus years I have been gaming on consoles, I have only bought three consoles within their first year; The PS4 and PS5 at launch, and the Xbox One in March 2014 when Titanfall released. Every other console I have had has been at least one or two years into its respective lifecycle. That means every console I have ever owned, the Atari 2600, NES, SNES, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Vita.
Which brings me to the second factual reality; waiting doesn’t mean you miss games. In fact, every single next-gen exclusive I couldn’t play when they came out, I could play when I finally got the console. These games didn’t disappear the moment I first booted up my new console. The notion that everyone has to play a game at launch is absurd. If FOMO (fear of missing out) is dictating your rationale behind next-gen exclusives, check that. It’s ridiculous. I get not wanting to miss out on the zeitgeist but that’s a you problem as it is when I feel that way. I would never suggest that if I can’t experience something then no one else should. And when you are saying that next-gen exclusives shouldn’t exist until everyone (you) has access to a next gen console that is exactly what you’re doing.
The second argument I see defending the decisions for cross-gen games is how it is financially better for the company to sell to the largest possible audience. Now, while this is objectively true, why should that matter to us as consumers? Unless you have shares and they’re directly tied to how well a specific title does, this shouldn’t matter. What should matter, as consumers, is to get the best possible experience and that just isn’t happening when you have to cater to the lowest common denominator. Will the success of a game mean a better chance of a sequel? Of course, but that is secondary to the experience of the game to me. Not to mention that history is full of successful consoles that launched without no or very few cross-gen games, including the highly successful PS4, and it was never an issue. So why is it now?
Now, this brings me to my side of the argument, which is that making games for seven-year old hardware will hold back game design. Of course you’ll have people cite games being scalable and that’s true in regard to graphics, resolution, framerate, but not so with what should matter most, design. Lots of developers have gone on record in the last year talking about how old hardware dictates design decisions of what can and can’t be done. Even without the context of next gen consoles.
In Horizon Zero Dawn’s Postmortem, Guerilla Games’ Eric Boltjes spoke to how certain robot animals couldn’t follow beyond their respective arena due to memory limitations. It’s also why they weren’t able to have flying mounts for Aloy. Now you have Horizon Forbidden West being made on the same hardware with the same memory limitations – limitations the PS5 doesn’t have – which means we’re most likely not going to see flying mounts or robots travelling outside of their dedicated area. That is objectively holding design back from the possibilities for the sequel due making it a cross-gen game. How is this something any consumer should be in favor of? Ever?
And it wasn’t just with Horizon Zero Dawn. Obsidian’s Brian Heins experesly stated that last-gen hardware held back their design ambition for Outer Worlds, “…we had to actually pull back on the number of actual characters on the Groundbreaker to fit on consoles because we didn’t have the memory budget both for the number of different character appearances and also the AI pathing.”
And here is Bloober Team Producer,Jacek Zięba saying the following in an interview on Xbox Wire (which is weird because they were the first one’s to talk about not wanting to leave their previous install base behind – but I digress), “…thanks to the next-generation hardware, we can realize our vision for The Medium at all. Of course, theoretically, you could rescope any game idea, but in our case it would mean completely changing the core game features.
Thanks to the power of Xbox Series X, we can develop the game the way we have always envisioned it. I’m not talking only about graphics, although certainly it helps create an immersive and disturbing atmosphere, but also about gameplay.”
That’s two developers explaining how they did have to comprise for last gen hardware and another saying they would have had to change their gameplay and scope of the game to get it to run on last gen hardware. So why are people arguing this again? As fans of video games why wouldn’t we want the absolute best possible version of a game? The best way for that to happen is for developers to not be shackled to and have to design their games around really hold hardware. Sony’s next three announced first party titles, Horizon Forbidden West, the God of War sequel, and Gran Turismo 7, are all cross-gen titles. Until both Sony and Microsoft fully leave last gen, and their respective install bases behind, we will just be getting suped-up versions of last gen games. That bums me out.
Editor’s Note: Views expressed here are solely of the author’s and does not represent MP1st and its entire staff.