Stop it! Cross-gen games are holding the industry back

Ubisoft has knowingly, blatantly and whole-heartedly betrayed its fans. Or so I've been told. Ever since Assassin's Creed Unity was announced as a new-gen exclusive back in March, there's been a grumbling from cyberspace that Ubisoft is leaving behind fans who don't own a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. This is a condensed version of a well-known Internet argument: "Game devs are idiots for making games exclusive to a system I don't own." Though the folks at Ubisoft took the leap regardless, many developers like to hedge their bets, turning to cross-generation development as a response. It's safe, it's profitable… and it's kneecapping industry advancement. If gamers really want to experience next-gen quality and avoid stewing in stagnant last-gen waters, it's time to cut cross-gen releases loose.

Of course, making games for multiple console generations is smart during a launch window. In the frightening no man's land that surrounds a system’s birth, cross-gen releases are a boon, letting early adopters see what their new toy can do without leaving the established fanbase in the dust. The setup is equally attractive to developers, since it gives them the freedom to build for new consoles without sacrificing last-gen profits. However, if that goes on too long and games keep coming out for both old and new systems, gamers won't feel the need to invest in an expensive upgrade--if all the games they would upgrade for are coming out for a system they already own, why bother?

That leaves devs in the awkward position of developing the same game twice, taking up resources that could otherwise be used to make one better game. This is the exact reason that The Witcher 3 won't be coming to last-gen consoles when it releases next February, according to CD Projekt CEO Marcin Iwinski. "We’d have to put a couple of years of development into [360 and PS3 versions], and then the experience would be so-so… we’d never do that," Iwinski noted in an interview with Edge. Ubisoft was gentler about its own new-gen exclusive efforts, saying that AC Unity takes full advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One’s updated tech. However, such a statement underscores that Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag didn't do that, certainly due in part to resource division. Consider the following: Black Flag had an 8-studio development team that divided its attention between six consoles. Unity has a 10-studio team focused on three. In no way does that math work out in cross-gen's favor.

Nevermind that continuing to develop around old tech hamstrings a game at the gate, stopping it from reaching its full potential. One of the biggest complaints about the eighth console generation so far is that few early releases look or play better than they do on last gen. Watch Dogs, for instance, was specifically criticized over the lack of real difference between its new-gen and last-gen versions. That is problematic, since it was billed as the "definitive next-gen experience". Even if it's being done for marketing purposes, you can't say that a game is a true showing of what new and old consoles can do without raising eyebrows. If I'm going to invest several hundred dollars in a new system, I don't want those things to be said anywhere near each other, let alone in the same breath.

This extended reliance on cross-gen releases creates a big negative feedback loop that hurts games overall. When a game is developed for both generations with few changes in between, players see little reason to purchase a new system. Then developers keep making cross-gen games to please their last-gen-anchored audience, and the cycle continues far longer than it should. As a result, the games that are coming out now aren't moving the medium forward, because they're not using the available technology to its fullest. "The Witcher 3 is so large… and everything that we wanted to put inside it, there’s just no way that it would run on current-gen," noted Iwinski, and he’s not alone in saying so. Unity Creative Director Alex Amancio made the same point to International Business Times last month. "This is the biggest city we’ve ever created. If you were to take all of the land mass of ‘Black Flag’ and clump it together, it would still be smaller than the city of Paris." With Black Flag already pushing the Xbox 360's 6.8GB disc capacity at 6.4GB, something as big as Unity's promising to be couldn't be crammed in there--and that leads to a serious loss of content. "The game we wanted to make was impossible to make on last-gen," says Amancio. "Just the crowds--if the crowd was just aesthetic, you can have an old game with fewer people, but the crowd is a gameplay element. If you remove that, you change the experience."

It is, of course, no fun when a new console comes out that you can't afford. You know what that's like, I know what that's like, and it sucks. (I paid for a used Playstation 2 in my youth by depositing 5¢ soda cans at the grocery store, and do you know how many cans that is???) This also isn't a call to end development for last-gen entirely, especially for smaller games that can fit older console disc capacities without much squishing. (AC Rogue anyone?) What I am saying is that demanding cross-gen development for all releases is counter-productive, because it stunts efforts to do something more ambitious. The industry needs room to grow and build on what it's already done, but that can't happen if we force compatibility with old-gen technology.

By all means keep playing your old systems (mine aren't going into storage any time soon) and enjoy the extensive list of releases still planned for them. But as your Bloodbornes, and your Battlefronts, and your Quantum Breaks start the shift to new-gen exclusivity, know that it's for the best. If you love games, set them free--and maybe one day you'll be able to pick up Destiny 5 for the Oculus Rift 4.7 installed in your living room. And it will be AMAZING.

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  • nick-stancato - August 22, 2014 10:12 a.m.

    TOTALLY agreed. I hate that Destiny and Dragon Age are cross-gen, and are therefore being limited by old hardware. Im glad that at least AC Unity and Arkham Knight are going the better route and forgoing last gen
  • shadowmaster2014 - October 6, 2014 3:39 a.m.

    not all of us can afford a PS4 and giving that the first two Batman Arkham games were on PS3/360 it's was like being slapped in thh face with a dirty diaper when it was revealed that the last game in the trilogy was next gen only.. don't care about AC unity since all the AC games are the same and get real boring real fast
  • yas - November 19, 2014 5:59 p.m.

    I'm sorry ppl can't just sell their console on amazon and their games and come up with 200 dollars in a year but its kinda getting annoying playing last gen games on my new gen console when I actually saved up for my console
  • bobbbbby5 - August 15, 2014 12:22 p.m.

    The biggest thing holding games back are the publishers and developers themselves. Bloated budgets, bad management, the unavoidable reality that is diminishing returns (despite popular belief it has nothing to do with polycounts, just talking about the need for more work and hardware power for smaller gains), and a heavy focus on improving the visual aspect of games while keeping the actual game as stale and generic as ever because focus testing called for it. Unless you're fortunate enough to have the press act as your hype machine you need at least a billion copies sold, and chances are you won't get those numbers currently with only a current gen release. There's also the fact that a lot of games have been in development, at least conceptually, since before the new consoles were even revealed. What we're going to need is a little patience until the install base is large enough to where publishers feel they'll be able to sell enough units. And consoles in general are just holding everything back. But, you know, people only admit to that when a new generation starts and you get articles like this.
  • bobbbbby5 - August 15, 2014 12:28 p.m.

    And the majority of gamers that are reluctant to buy into things that aren't the norm or some big AAA epic cinematic game that require such insane budgets, to a lesser extent. But this piece is more about the graphics and how "open" and big a world the developer tells you it is.
  • bobbbbby5 - August 15, 2014 12:39 p.m.

    One final thing about the open world comment. Bigger isn't always better. Watch Dogs wasn't criticized solely because it didn't look like the E3 demo, it was criticized because it had an open world that had little to offer. Hearing that Unity has the biggest city ever doesn't mean anything if they don't also add stuff (that ideally wouldn't just be variants of doing the same thing a hundred times) to that city to make it worthwhile. They could make a smaller city but make it malleable, have the game changed based on what you do, maybe have you wreck a building and you can later see people working on fixing it. Something dynamic that really seems like it wouldn't have been possible before. But what we'll ultimately end up with is a static, lifeless city, that's filled with tailing missions.
  • bobbbbby5 - August 15, 2014 12:44 p.m.

    *Static, lifeless city, that's filled with tailing missions that apart from the polycount, crowds, and a new gimmick is identical to the one we saw all last gen. Seriously, last comment.
  • Shigeruken - August 12, 2014 8:26 p.m.

    I agree, but this line of thought really is a slippery slope. If hardware is a limiting factor, then console releases are holding back the industry too. Mid-range PC hardware outperforming both consoles is an obvious criticism of the new generation. This is why I don't believe that cross-generation games are as bad for the industry as people like to make out. In my opinion, dated policies like Nintendo's region lock, regionally overpriced games, and terrible internet infrastructure hold back the industry a hell of a lot more than hardware ever has. I feel that it needs to be acknowledged that the Xbox One having DDR3 vram is a limiting factor when compared to the GDDR5 used in the PS4 and practically every graphics card since 2009. It's a bottleneck which limits the consoles potential, and affects everything the console needs to interact with. Esram does not bridge this gap. Additional development effort is required to deliver the same experience, it's not a bottleneck that can be fixed with a clock speed adjustment or driver update, and I doubt that Microsoft will be overclocking the system's ram by a margin that will make a difference. For perspective, the Xbox One has the same speed of shared ram/vram as a lower end laptop's gpu, whereas the PS4 if closer to we've seen in mid-range PCs for the better part of a decade. It's unfair to imply that the Xbox One meets the same standard as the PS4 and mid-range PCs. It's a budget system that is being sold in the same price bracket. I have an Xbox One, and I don't regret the purchase. I know accept the console for what it is; my Halo machine.
  • james-myhre - August 12, 2014 5:06 p.m.

    fu<k you im broke that doesn't mean i the broke gamer should be punished because i cant afford a $400-500 system right now you whine that you expect utter perfection and by the gods you still get it any ways as a gamer that cant afford the new consoles i still expect to play the blockbusters that are coming out i don't mind that they aren't as shiny and while this is the subject i find it funny that forza is behind in sales compared to gran turismo considering the consoles they run on the only real things being improved are the graphics over all, the constructs and physics run just as well in the cross gen consoles
  • db1331 - August 12, 2014 9:02 a.m.

    Wow. The PS3 and Xbox 360 have been preventing games from reaching their full potential on PC because of the developer's need to make them run on outdated tech for the last 8-10 years. But any time someone complained about it, they were flamed for being elitist. Now that you've had a couple months of your games being held back by these same consoles, you are ready to revolt. How absolutely priceless. Imagine how you would feel if 10 years from now your PS4/Xbone games were still being created with the constraints of the PS3/360 in mind? The PS4/Xbone are already holding back PC gaming. See Watch Dogs, and the upcoming Far Cry 4, which will see a nerf so that Ultra on PC is comparable to performance on the consoles. Let me just recycle the same garbage I've had spat at me over the years: "Stop being so elitist. Graphics/FPS don't matter, only the gameplay does."
  • Shigeruken - August 12, 2014 8:29 p.m.

    I cannot express in writing how disappointed I am that the console development community has resigned itself to releasing games that run at 30fps.
  • AuthorityFigure - August 11, 2014 6:25 p.m.

    The idea that cross-generational games are solely being produced because of gamers' 'demands' is pretty naive. The argument that it's all hurting the industry can be reversed easily too: By opening up game experiences to those on old hardware, they are then encouraged and interested to purchase new hardware. And, hardware sales are better than software sales if you really do care about the industry.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - August 12, 2014 5:21 a.m.

    LOL. What the fuck are you talking about? Companies usually take a loss on consoles. They make their profit on the games.
  • homestar99 - August 11, 2014 6:01 p.m.

    Thank you. It pisses me off with how much people complain about something like this when they themselves are creating the problem.
  • chriszewski - August 11, 2014 3:44 p.m.

    I have yet to make the jump to "next gen" and i was a fairly early adopter of the 360 back in march of 06. The difference is i was coming from a PC background (last console was a Genesis) and it was either upgrade my terribly aging PC or buy a console. So far there hasn't been enough reasons (for me) to justify picking up the new machines with identical games and specific entries in franchises coming out on "last gen" systems. Not to mention an embarrassingly large existing backlog...
  • Ensoul - August 11, 2014 12:50 p.m.

    "But there's so much money there..." is the argument I wager you'll hear, and there is. More people have last gens consoles then this current gen. There's no denying that. Plus you have people who feel that this newer gen isn't really doing anything spectacular awesome over what they already own. For the big hurry the console makers were in to get PS4/Xbone out, they don't seem to know what to do with it now. 2015 will be better.
  • basedgoggles - August 11, 2014 11:21 a.m.

    This article is the long form version of what I tell everyone I hear complain about not still getting any given game on their Xbox 360. It's been almost a year since the XBONE and PS4 came out, every single game still coming out on last gen systems is a completely undeserved blessing.
  • Divine Paladin - August 11, 2014 11:01 a.m.

    I think you're boiling down complaints about AC too much. The argument you're making is fine, but not everyone hates the existence of Unity because it's next gen exclusive. It's more the "we're making two games a year now" thing. Unity may just get me back into the series (I immediately stopped playing when Revelations was announced), and Rogue sounds interesting, but that doesn't change the fact that AC fans have to spend $120 this holiday to get the full experience. I've seen this coming for a while, what with Liberation/its HD port and Black Flag's standalone, but it still leaves me feeling dirty inside. Where do we draw the line? Plus, Rogue apparently launches a month after Unity, so that's kinda weird. I wouldn't doubt it launches with an HD/"Definitive" version on PS4/XBO, and if not immediately, I guarantee we get one by January 2015.
  • Longnuts - August 11, 2014 10:50 a.m.

    Yeah, I'm tired of buying last gen games. I REALLY want to play that Southpark game, and the Borderlands prequel, but there's just something in me that won't let me buy anymore games unless they are for my XB1 or PS4. I haven't packed up my 360 or PS3, but why should I buy a game for those consoles when I have their descendant on the same shelf?
  • doctorhino - August 12, 2014 8:52 a.m.

    I feel the same way too since I got a ps4. But in the end it's more of the novelty of owning it for ps4. For games like SPTSOT I would argue it doesn't need new hardware and it's a better idea to put the game on harware that more people own, just from a business stance. WIth this generation now completely blowing away the previous one as the 360 and ps3 did I think we'll see a lot of games still being made only for the previous gen consoles.