Image via Console Wars
The console war has been quiet for some time but war may be upon us once again my friends. The Wii U fell deep into last place, while PS4 continues to outsell Xbox One almost 2:1. It seemed as if we had reached the end of this cycle with Sony being the clear winner.
Then the PS4.5 rumors started.
This was immediately followed by Xbox Two rumors, and now we have a release window for the Nintendo NX which is set to give the other consoles a run for their money if rumors are to be believed.
Do you smell that, my friends? That’s the fires of war reigniting as the engine of the console cycle roars once again!
As the Big Three Prepare For Battle: A Look at the PS4.5, Xbox 2, and Nintendo NX
Welcome, one and all, to the battlefield that we have all become familiar with in these recent years. If you’re like me, this isn’t your first or even your third rodeo. Of course, things are different here. We’re talking about console upgrades and perhaps even a powerhouse console from Nintendo?
Strange times, but exciting ones as well. Let’s look at where each of the Big Three (Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony) stand as of now, and what the future holds.
The Nintendo NX
Nintendo has never been one to rest on its hardware. It wasn’t until the Wii U that the company even released a full 1080p system. Unfortunately, the Wii U is one of the worst selling consoles Nintendo has done. With only 10 million sold, it’s way behind the records set by the Gamecube (22 million) and the original Wii (100 million).
The company needs a new console that blows people away if they want to stand a chance in this market. They’re hoping the NX will be that console. While we don’t have specs on it yet, we know it’s coming in March 2017.
After the tragic passing of Satoru Iwata, Tatsumi Kmishima took the role of Nintendo’s president. He spoke with Time Magazine’s Matt Peckham about the basic concept behind the NX:
"As far as NX goes, I’ve said it’s different and obviously a new experience. That being said, I can assure you we’re not building the next version of Wii or Wii U. It’s something unique and different. It’s something where we have to move away from those platforms in order to make it something that will appeal to our consumer base."
All we have right now is the promise that the NX will be different, but judging by the success of the DS and the current hardware standards, one would hope that Nintendo capitalizes on a console/portable hybrid that competes with the hardware present in the Xbox One and PS4.
I for one think that Nintendo has learned from their mistakes regarding hardware and I think the NX will be the first time we see them put hardware in line with innovation. I could be wrong, though, as analyst Michael Pachter disagrees with my outlook.
During an interview with GamingBolt he made some predictions about the NX:
"I’ve no idea what that thing is going to be...I would say based on Nintendo’s recent history, it’s not going to be very good. I know they are pretty excited about it, but I would say it’s backwards looking technology, that is just not an improvement over everything else that we’ve got an option to do, and it will completely miss the point of games getting away from consoles."
Not sure what Nintendo did to kindle Pachter’s ire, but he’s been wrong before. Either way, in March of 2017, the Big N is going to make their move. As rumors would have it, they’re not the only one.
Microsoft Already Thinking About The Xbox Two
As soon as the PS4.5 rumors hit the internet, people started looking at Microsoft. Were they going to try and beat Sony to the punch with an Xbox 1.5?
After all, those rumors started shortly after Phil Spencer talked about a future of Hardware Innovation for Microsoft.
Microsoft is planning on creating a “Unified Windows Platform” that combines the efforts of PC and consoles into one connected operating system. It’s pretty futuristic stuff, but Phil went on to say during his speech at the Xbox Spring Showcase that they’re planning upgradeable consoles down the road.
He said, and I quote:
"When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen. You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation…"
So, if Microsoft is interested in consoles that can be upgraded, they must naturally want an Xbox 1.5…
Actually, no, Phil Spencer said Microsoft is not interested in an Xbox 1.5. When speaking at the Microsoft Build 2016 keynote, Phil was asked about his opinion on Xbox 1.5, to which he replied:
"I’m not a big fan of Xbox One and a half. If we’re going to move forward, I want to move forward in big numbers. For us, our box is doing well. It performs, it’s reliable, the servers are doing well. If we’re going to go forward with anything, like I said, I want it to be a really substantial change for people."
He was questioned about his previous comments on an upgradeable console during the Major Nelson podcast shortly after, and he reiterated that those ideas aren’t ready yet. He wants consoles to eventually have the ability to evolve without waiting seven or eight years between releases.
So, does that mean Microsoft is just going to rest on their laurels and let Sony beat them senseless like they’ve been doing? No, not quite. In fact, Microsoft may just be biding their time before they announce that “big leap” Phil mentioned.
Enter Xbox 2: the next generation console from Microsoft. Phil Spencer has told us that we should be expecting a new console from Microsoft in an interview with The Verge:
"I fully expect that you’ll see another console from us. Our best customers are Xbox console customers, and I want to keep those people engaged both on the Xbox One and anything we might do in the future. I’m 100 percent committed to that."
Putting all the pieces together, it looks like Microsoft doesn’t want an Xbox 1.5, but they also want to eventually create a console with the ability to accept upgrades. How do they have their cake and eat it? They create a new console and release it within the next few years to combat the PS4.5 and the NX.
In the meantime, they focus on games, exclusives, and bringing more people to the platform as they integrate Windows 10 further. We need to be ready, Microsoft is not an enemy to be trifled with.
The PlayStation NEO (PS4.5)
Now my friends, we have come full circle. The PS4.5 has been rumored since the story first broke via Kotaku. Since then, the rumors have done nothing but grow by the day.
It looks like this upgraded console is going to happen. As we count down to the release of PS4.5, we’re starting to learn more about this hybrid console and what it ultimately means for the console industry as a whole.
As it stands, the PS4.5 is designed to support 4K gaming, and provide additional hardware power for more stable experiences and to better support the PlayStation VR. It’s not a PS5 by any means, but it does represent an incremental improvement that developers can take advantage of.
Luckily, the rumors are saying that there won’t be any PS4.5 exclusive titles that could fracture Sony’s already sizable user base. Instead, developers will be told to include a separate mode that takes advantage of the upgraded console’s hardware. One has to wonder if this was the plan all along...
As a PlayStation gamer since the first console, I’m used to slim console versions, but never one that is upgraded from the last version. It’s a little shocking, and for some, perhaps a little infuriating, but Sony thus far has been taking an approach that focuses on keeping their market intact.
In terms of the improved hardware, it’s looking like the PS4.5 is targeting increased processor and GPU power, along with a wider bandwidth on the RAM in the system. The differences are noticeable, but not a drastic change.
I’ve already suggested that an upgrade program should be put in place by Sony as a gesture of good faith to early adopters, so we’ll have to wait and see if that becomes a reality.
I think upgradeable consoles, much like the way smartphones have a new version each year, is the way to go, but I didn’t expect Sony to introduce such a concept in the middle of a generation.
It’s bold, and it will have as many detractors as it does supporters, but ultimately this is the way of the future. If the rumors are to be believed, we should be seeing the PS4.5 hit the shelves around November of 2016.
This would give it a huge headstart over the NX and anything Microsoft may be working on. This would also further impact sales of the competitor consoles as they would immediately be clearly inferior from a hardware point of view.
So what does this mean for the future, the PS5 for example? Curiously enough, this doesn’t rule out the existence of a PlayStation 5, in fact, it supports the fact that Sony will have another console.
To give you more detail, a recent interview between Lorne Lanning and Game Informer revealed a conversation between Lorne and Sony President Shuhei Yoshida, where he talked about the PS5. In this conversation, the Sony President called into doubt the PS5’s future.
Lorne asked Shuhei what the PS5 looks like, and Shuhei responded simply by saying:
”You mean if…”
At a surface level, this would be terrifying, but if we look deeper, we can see that, even though the PS5’s future is in flux, we’re merely discussing the form it will take. Yes, it may not be called the PlayStation 5, but there will be another generation of consoles from Sony.
What that future looks like is still uncertain, but as Lorne put is in his interview with Game Informer, "The idea that you’re going to release a piece of technology that’s going to last for seven years into the future, is becoming, I think, less and less viable even though the generations of platforms are lasting longer. So it seems like it’s in conflict."
Personally, I think the PS5 isn’t going to be a traditional console like we’ve seen in the past. Instead, it’s going to become a cloud-based experience, or perhaps a subscription-based service. Either way, the time for an evolution is now, and Sony clearly sees that.
What they will need to do, in order to maintain their lead, is ensure that the PS4.5 is something that people will want to upgrade to, and not something that alienates the millions of people who already bought PS4 consoles (like myself). That’s a thin line to tote, but if anyone can do it, it’s Sony.
Ultimately, the PS4.5 isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it shows the industry’s ability to adapt and change in the face of ever-growing technology. Other industries are evolving, so we must do so as well. It’s certainly not a welcome strain on my wallet, but it’s a needed change for consoles to remain relevant.
After all, we can’t have the PC master race taking over, now can we? What do you think?
The State of the Gamer's Union: We March to War!
Alright, so we have a look at each of the manufacturers and where things currently stand. How does this all stack up?
War, my friends. The console war has been stagnant and sleeping for a few years, but the beast has once again awakened. Not to be beaten by Nintendo's mysterious NX, rumors of Sony's upgraded PS4 go into overdrive.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is apparently biding its time, with the occasional cryptic message from Phil Spencer to keep us interested. Could the big X come out swinging with something that knocks us all on our proverbial backsides?
How do you think the big console manufacturers will move forward as new hardware comes to the surface? Will the console war return to full force, or are these rumors going to fizzle out? Let us know what you think in the comments below!