I think deep down we all knew this was going to happen, but still… it’s a bit of a pain.
So one of this years most hyped and talked-about games, No Man’s Sky, has been delayed. What was meant to be here next month hasn’t (at time of writing) got a new date – not July, nor August, nor September. (Edit; Rumours suggest it’s not a big delay.)
But I’m braced for long delays of games pencilled in for this year. If I were to be cynical for just a moment (be quiet, cynical is not my default mode. Okay that’s a lie and we both know it…), the likes of Sony need these delays; not because the games are unfinished or even need more optimisation. We’ve seen games rushed out to meet deadlines with a fraction of the polish and overall qualitative QA time that we usually expect. No, Sony needs some games primed and ready to ship for their upcoming console; the PS Neo. A console update that is coming at a painfully awkward time for the games industry at large, and there is already some considerable disdain for the console in question. Delaying a handful of top-drawer games to coincide with the launch of the PS Neo just makes sense – they need something that will drive those initial sales beyond the “Ooh shiny!” and “FIRST!” crowd of habitual early-adopters.
But you know something? Sony isn’t alone in this!
It’s widely accepted now that Nintendo has at least a dozen games that were once earmarked for the Wii U, which have quietly during the last eighteen months or two years been pushed ever so gently towards the Nintendo NX. Because of COURSE they have! Nintendo isn’t going to drop a brand new 3D Mario game for the Wii U, knowing that the audience is unlikely to even hit 15 million units by the time the NX hits the shelves. They’re going to want that, day one, on the Nintendo NX to drive sales. Hell, why does anyone think this wasn’t going to be the case for the new Zelda game? It’s easily one of the most anticipated releases from Nintendo in years, and that anticipation can translate into NX sales figures if Nintendo makes sure the upgraded version is just amazing in every way! I’m actually rather surprised that they didn’t just bin the Wii U version completely.
And I have no doubt that Microsoft have a bunch of games which will also be quietly ushered towards the new XBox console.
The truth hurts; but sometimes it’s best to grit your teeth and take it full-force. This coming hardware transition is going to be a hard pitch – we’re coming in off the back of arguably the weakest console generation in twenty years. To date, the PS4 has just passed forty million units; but that’s small consolation when during the same period, the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation 2 in their respective console generations had shifted over fifty million units. And the XBox One and Wii U have barely made a dent, when comparatively even the Nintendo Gamecube and XBox 360 could put up a relatively solid fight against the market leader. We’re facing a new cycle of hardware where there’s no guarantee we won’t be here again in four years or so – with consoles being left behind once more by ageing hardware that developers are just finding harder to make use of.
We all know the console manufacturers are going to need a helping hand to shift their consoles. And whilst admittedly third-party support will play a role, after the disaster zone they crafted during the early part of this console generation, I guarantee that not one of the big three are going to put all their eggs in that basket. Nintendo did with the Wii U, and it got them a whole lot of nothing for the first year of the consoles life. When you can’t wholesale rely on third-party support, the only solution left is to drop software that you have faith in on your own back. To make sure you, yourself, as a console manufacturer, support the console strongly out of the gates. There’ll be no room this coming cycle for shirkers or lightweights; everyone will be expected to make good on promises that were broken spectacularly during the last three (four for the Wii U) years.
Of course, it also helps these games that the better hardware will give them far more options for optimisation. Games currently running at under 1080p or at 30 frames a second can be bumped up to a round 1080/60 with the benefit of stronger CPU and GPU power, giving us at least a glimpse into what we had been promised and were clearly expecting from the consoles we have now. It benefits games like No Man’s Sky to do this, because ultimately it makes the game look prettier and play more responsively on a natural level; which should, in theory, make the games significantly better in the long-term. Nintendo demonstrated this in the last year or so; 60 frames a second is an essential and key component of a top-grade video game. Nintendo did have to take the hit mostly on resolution, but by golly, during Splatoon or Mario Kart 8, you will never have a moment where you can pause to reflect on the lower resolution. And of course, FROM Software showed themselves up with Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin on PS4 and XBox One. Which I maintain is a stronger, better game than Dark Souls 3 is on the same hardware.
And on that note, I wouldn’t bet against seeing a revamped Dark Souls 3 for the new consoles. It’d be safer to burn that money instead.
This is clearly nothing that would surprise too many people, however. We know new hardware is coming, and now we know 2017 will be the year where all three main players in the console landscape drop new hardware for us. This has been a poop-blizzard of a generation, if we’re going to take a moment to reflect. The proverbial horse doo-doo hit the proverbial spinny object and has showered the landscape with a rain of just nasty residue. This generation is limping towards its inevitable conclusion for me – being a short cycle, and one that after games were launched missing the 1080/60 Holy Grail, was always going to be on the shorter end of the spectrum. There’s no real benefit for Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo to push software from E3 onwards for their older hardware – Sony has been suspiciously quiet on Neo Exclusive content of late, and I presume with two rival consoles now surfacing it knows it cannot force PS4 Parity on third parties or it will alienate them to Microsoft or Nintendo. We’re now less than a year from the NX, Neo and Next-Box. And the Wii U showcased just how quickly things can turn sour.
They’re going to need every trick they can turn to convince us to buy into their consoles after the last few years. And that war is going to be on exclusive content – their own content, the content they’ve funded in-house, or in its entirety. Phil Spencer admitted as much last year when he proclaimed that Microsoft, who were notorious for throwing the cash around (see the XBox 360 Slim giveaway), would be phasing out third-party exclusivity payments in favour of investing that in their own, in-house projects. We’ve known that for whatever reason, third parties aren’t the same keystone they once were, and their support – whilst clearly necessary – isn’t going to be relied upon in the same way it has been during this generation.
I’m fine with that. I am looking forward to a much, MUCH better fight with these consoles. Generation 7 was a damned good scrap between all three major players, and that drove sales through the roof – far beyond expectations or what had been seen in prior generations. If the market is to grow to levels that are predicted, that fight is going to not just be important but an essential component of that growth; getting us all excited and wanting to spend money on their consoles but more importantly, their games.
I have said this so many times but again; a console without games worth playing is a completely pointless object. So don’t be shocked to see more game delays… delayed suspiciously to coincide with reveals of new hardware, or the launch of new hardware. They’re not trying to be horrible, or rob you of a game you want to play. They WANT you to buy the game! No really, they do! They’d just also rather you bought the new hardware as well in the process.
That’s how business works. Ignorance is no excuse. They want your custom. But they want to sell you new consoles.
So best start saving those pennies…