Holy…. is this an ACTUAL NEW POST?!
If you were watching E3, there’s one thing you couldn’t miss.
Once you got past the Sony/Microsoft thing, and a lot of the hyperbole that surrounds the next-generational jump, there was a deeply concerning flaw in some of the demonstrations that has troubled me for months now; that is the new tag of “Cross-Gen”, or games being released on both the old machines of the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, and the XBox One and Playstation 4. For a small fee at dozens of participating retailers and outlets, you will be able to upgrade your old-gen version to a new-gen version for $10 or the regional equivalent. And this all sounds very lovely.
What I saw at E3 was not lovely though; the time you need your games to work is when you’re using them to demonstrate the new and supposedly enhanced performance of the new machine. And we got our answers; two of this years bigger games after Call of Duty (which itself was a very strange presentation… we had fish AI in Super Mario 64 for heavens sake!), Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag and Battlefield 4, both suffered performance issues. UbiSoft were showing it at the Sony conference; and it was impossible to ignore the lag, the noticeable and significant drop in framerates and the stall in animations as the game struggled to load in time. It was frankly an embarrassing showcase considering this hasn’t been an issue even on the current generation of consoles for a very long time. EA, on the other hand, had to struggle with an obviously unstable version of the new Battlefield, with it crashing both prior to showcase and at the end of the presentation. Again, the eagle-eyed noted serious framerate issues in spots.
That’s the first concern I have; performance. The main reason someone upgrades a games console is to increase the performance ability of their gaming; likewise, they want their games to reflect that often significant expenditure and be sound. Now, it’s true this isn’t the case for many console releases (the only release game I think I really care for is Luigi’s Mansion, and that did it by being frankly balls-to-the-wall mad – brief, but utterly mad!), but we’re moving into a world where backwards compatibility is being sacrificed in the name of cost-cutting, and so therefore the choice isn’t as directly clear as it once was. If the likes of Assassin’s Creed 4 and Battlefield 4 operate fine on old-generational technology and have real issues on the new hardware, that’s a significant and embarrassing situation not just for EA and UbiSoft, nor Sony and Microsoft, but the industry as a whole. The image will be set; the new hardware isn’t stable, or isn’t as solid and reliable. Couple this with the inevitable occurrence of hardware failures and you have a massive uphill climb; convincing people to invest in hardware that’s been shamed is a long, arduous process. Sony proved it was possible with the PS3, but it certainly wasn’t an overnight change.
And if that happens, one can assume Nintendo will gratefully accept the extra sales. Heck knows it needs them right now.
The second one is more complex; it’s the monetisation of the cross-gen.
I will tackle this from two angles; the first from the front, and that is the up-front fee to go from a 360/PS3 to an XBO/PS4 copy. Now, I am all for paying a small fee for an upgrade if the need is there and things are made more interesting or enjoyable by it. But other than the switch in machines, I don’t see or hear any incentives to upgrade. Most people will obviously be in a position of asking themselves not if the game should be upgraded, but the console itself; add the £349.99/£429.99 of the PS4/XBox One on top of the £10 fee being asked and it’s a hell of an upgrade that really is only going to be applicable for those for whom the new consoles are an absolute necessity. The majority of people, I suspect, will not feel the need to upgrade because they don’t need to yet. As long as the games are released on the hardware they already own, then they’ll be perfectly happy to maintain the status quo. The fee is effectively gouging the already committed into buying their game again for a third of the price. It does seem a little strange.
The other angle is that even if the PS4 and XBO do make some huge sales and sell upgrades; how exactly are we going to count these sales?
At a time when Square-Enix has misjudged Tomb Raider sales, Capcom is complaining it can’t making money on Resident Evil and UbiSoft are eating humble pie after having to accept most of their Rayman sales are coming from the Wii U, asking the industry to be open and honest about how they will tally these numbers is a bit like asking Jason Voorhees if he’ll give you a five minute head start on the murder chase. I suspect that they will tally the upgrades as sales in their own right, inflating the sales numbers to please shareholders but ultimately doing its bottom line and future development and budgeting plans a major disservice. This would be a terrible shame and a disgrace; it will also very much cause serious issues down the road when they release new games, expecting sales to rise and not getting them. Being honest and realistic about what you’re doing and why is the main thing here; that £10 upgrade is extra money, but note that for retailers, this also gives them a large quantity of second-hand titles to shift as well, dramatically devaluing the end product.
Whichever way you slice this, it’s a bit of a mess. As Jason Voorhees will attest to.
The last concern is the recklessness of the term “Cross-Gen”. We’ve always had a crossover to some extent; I remember playing Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare on both PlayStation and PlayStation 2, after all. And of course, Nintendo had The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess as well crossing the bridge between Gamecube and Wii. Marking this as somehow a “new thing” is a bit of a con really – it’s always been done, but never has anyone tried so hard to commercialise it and spin it as a positive. And that feels somehow a bit cheeky, and a bit naughty and a little suspicious. Most of us know what game we want; sure, I suppose it’s really nice to someone who sold their XBox 360 and all their games to buy an XBox One. But I don’t think that’s going to be anything but a select few cases in the market.
It also doesn’t answer the appalling behaviour both Sony and Microsoft have had on their digital future and their old content; making their previous consoles games obsolete and unplayable seems a rather cruel and harsh step in the wrong direction really, and Nintendo – for all its faults – at least offers people the chance to access their old Wii games via the Wii U interface, and upgrade them to the new Wii U interface for a small fee. Again, demonstrating this isn’t a new or exciting concept. Taking a lesson from Nintendo is not the done thing in the current gaming climate though, so we have to pretend that Nintendo isn’t doing this. We have to pretend Nintendo isn’t lowering the cost of its digital content, or putting out quality titles, or making a profit on lower than expected sales. And we absolutely MUST ignore that the Wii U has full backwards compatibility with the Nintendo Wii, thereby having given a lot of customers a much easier decision in whether or not to upgrade at no extra expense per game. No no no, all of this is bad, or so we’re supposed to believe.
Cross-Gen is just a term that reeks of the overtly PR nature of the industry; spin it as a positive and hope people will be fooled into thinking it’s a positive long enough to part with their money! Sod the aftermath, or the consequences, as long as we get that sweet, sweet money right now.
For me, that’s an industry that can only burn itself out; either incinerating itself, or its customers, in an inevitable fireball that is inching ever closer to an industry already largely trying to come to terms with a significant change in the landscape. In the first few years of this generation, Nintendo and by token Sony and Microsoft in response shattered the insular, cocoon-like nature of the video gaming world and expanded it outwards into new territories. And that was exciting; it wasn’t always productive, but it was exciting. Now it seems both the market and the industry has contracted back, focusing on a narrow spectrum of games, and are still pinning their hopes on sales figures from a generation where we did find and explore new genres, new control mechanisms and new customers. You can’t use the old generation as a template to fill up a new one; especially when you have forgotten the territories you were exploring. Sony, more than any company out there, should know this by heart.
My worry is that the industry will be disappointed, the console makers will be disappointed and ultimately, we as gamers and consumers will end up disappointed as well. The whole point of a generational jump is to make the decision clear, easy and intuitive.
For many, that decision will be easy. I fear however the answer won’t be the one anyone in the industry wants to hear though.
The cost of this indecision is and will be incredible.
Footnote bloggy bit; Kami here, I’m doing okay. My immune system is misfiring but why, we don’t really know yet.
It sucks to be so tired all the time. I know for some the idea of lying in bed all day is heaven on a silver platter, but it’s frustrating me.
Still, I have some catching up to do in the next few days so hopefully my energy levels will keep me going and I’ll do more stuff.
Basically, I ain’t dead yet.
Other than the obvious issues, everything else is fine.
Well, except trying to find a new place to live.
“No, I understand the flat is lowered and modified but that doesn’t help me by being on the THIRD FLOOR!”