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Why this year's best games might hamstring the start of next-gen

I’m a bit worried about the start of next-gen. It’s not that I don’t have faith in the hardware or the eventual quality of the games. I’m fully prepared for the underwhelming first year, of course. That always happens. But I know that things will pick up.

No, what I’m worried about is next-gen’s momentum out of the blocks. The PS4 and the Xbone will sell out at launch. They’re bound to. But what about after that? When the weary and broken-bodied Grand High Nerds have slunk away from their midnight launches, heads aswirl with giddy excitement and mugging paranoia; when the mainstream media have packed up their cameras and trundled off to cover some other human interest side-show distraction; when the PS4 and Xbox One are sitting on shelves, in the cold glare of day, to be poked at and sniffed by the undiscerning, uneducated masses of The General Public, what then?

I’m not sure they’re immediately going to take off.

Now I’m not saying that we’re looking at a console market crash here. Nor am I predicting some hideous next-gen non-start, with Sony and Microsoft hitting the accelerator only to hear the soul crushing wind-down of a broken engine like Anakin at the start of the Pod Race (a drunken Miyamoto feverishly flicking his fingers from the stands, yelling “Welcome to my world, dickheads!”). But I do think that once the more enthused enthusiast’s have ensconced box beneath TV, it might take a little while for Jimmy and Jane Mainstream to be convinced. And ironically, the current high quality of games is the reason.

Anyone who’s ever owned a console through its full life-cycle knows that game quality always follows a long-term upward curve, with both graphical clout and design flair becoming more impressive as the years go on. The hardcore gamer understands that a new-gen console is an investment rather than an instant gratification purchase. But thinking about the mainstream gamer, and the kind of games that he or she is traditionally drawn to, I can’t help but feel that this generational transition might be a little underwhelming. It all comes down to the unique amount of cross-generational games we’ll have kicking around this time. And one or two of those games in particular.

Call of Duty is the obvious one. Infinity Ward’s upcoming Ghosts is going to his current and next-gen at the same time, and is bound to be one of the highlights of the year for those players hovering on the outer edges of the core. The last time Call of Duty hit around the time of a generational transition--with the launch of Call of Duty 2 in 2005--it was only available on next-gen hardware. The Xbox 360 version of CoD 2, in all its gleaning new HD glory, was a big incentive to upgrade, even before Call of Duty became the mainstream juggernaut it is now.

This time though, we have the current-gen versions of Ghosts landing a couple of weeks before the Xbone and PS4 editions. And what’s more, with the best will in the world, the next-gen versions don’t look that much better. Without the jump from SD to HD to paper over the cracks between the incremental launch software improvements, its hard to see how next-gen Ghosts will really showcase the need for a new console. And when we’re talking about the game that millions use as their yardstick for contemporary gaming, and play for months on end, that could be a definite problem.

Ditto Assassin's Creed IV. Could you strictly classify yourself as blown away by this week's trailer showcasing its next-gen graphical effects? Me neither. Don’t get me wrong, those sea physics and rain effects were a nice-looking upgrade, but I can’t see the average man in the street citing volumetric fog and dynamic foliage animation as reasons to hold out for the PS4 version this November.

And with multiple publishers pledging a low-cost, “buy now, upgrade later” policy on their cross-gen games, there’s even less pressure to buy in. The policy is a nice stress reliever for those of us debating just how early to adopt, but to those debating “Will I?” rather than “When will I?”, it’s hardly an incentive to get down to the shops.

And that brings us to the giant, tattooed elephant with the comedy ‘fro, speeding away from the police in a stolen not-Lamborghini with a rocket launch over its shoulder. Grand Theft Auto V. Even with a new era of consoles looming, the release of GTAV has dragged attention away from everything else going on in games. And it doesn’t even have a next-gen version announced. Whatever bells and whistles the next-gen launch games bring, GTA will be a much bigger deal than any individual title out there.

What’s more, it’s going to come with a giant, immersive, open-ended, persistent online world that will absorb its considerable player base for months, if not years. Where previous Grand Theft Autos were mere knockabout playthings to the less engaged gamer, bought in huge numbers but played mainly for the shallow, instant gratification of smashing stuff up and shooting cops, GTAV looks to have cracked the problem of giving the less passionate gamer a reason to stick around. Whether you play Grand Theft Auto for the cinematic story or just the stupid spectacle, GTA Online should keep you coming back indefinitely. That kind of long-term draw happening exclusively on current-gen could be a big old stumbling block for the incoming new hardware.

I have no doubt that a next-gen GTAV/Online combo will be announced in the next few months, but when that will be, how long it will take, and how impressive it will look on arrival are anyone’s guess. As is how much the cost of upgrade will be.

And it’s not just GTA. Destiny offers similar cross-generation online investment. As does Titanfall. And Battlefield 4. And mainstream megatons FIFA and Madden 25. We’ve never seen a next-gen launch have so much of its appeal eroded by the offerings of the departing generation. The hardcore won’t care. We’ll dive in during the first few months, as we always do. We want to taste the upgrades early, and we know that we’ll reap big rewards long-term. But what about the other guys?

What about the kind of people who only buy three or four games a year? What about the kind of people who know what they like and stick to it, and certainly don’t notice the joys of dynamically illuminated mist, or count the number of individually rendered leaves in a jungle scene? I’m not sure we’ll have those guys on board for quite a while. They’ll drift over eventually, of course. They always do. But don’t be surprised if you don’t have too hard a time picking up a next-gen machine during that first six months.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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20 comments

  • alllifeinfate - September 20, 2013 2:41 a.m.

    They just have to wait and see the comparisons made by you guys...that is if they make an effort to search for it.
  • ben.watson - September 15, 2013 4:39 a.m.

    Good points, never really thought about that, the current gen is having one hell of a send-off the games are gorgeous, and alot of my friends are buying PS3s now because of games like The Last Of Us and GTA, im assuming they arent gonna be there on the 29th queueing to get the next one having just bought the current hardware, ill be there though, *drools* dynamic fog *drools*
  • Rub3z - September 14, 2013 6:59 p.m.

    The main problem here is one of ignorance. Not stupidity, mind, but ignorance. There's no shame in it. See, the thing is, a lot of console gamers are so used to what they know and love and have been playing for years that they are loathe to truly see the vast differences. I'm a 1080p gamer now. On the occasion I pop a disc back into my PS3 or 360, the 720p resolution that they run their games in actually looks fuzzy to me. Like the difference in sharpness and fidelity in a side-by-side comparison of a Wii game to a 360 or PS3 game. That's seriously what it's like. You're all unwilling to see it because most of the demos of the upcoming games this fall season are running on high-end PCs and next-gen, and you imagine that's what it's going to look like on your 360 or PS3. No. No, it is not.
  • Tourniquet77 - September 14, 2013 2:31 p.m.

    How can the console makers allow this? I have already made the decision that the only current gen games I'm going to buy are GTA 5 and Gran turismo 6. How can the 2 console makers allow these games to be current gen? It's idiotic. These two games are going to keep me gaming for months on end. Will I rush to the store to buy PS4 on release day, if I have months to play in these games and my back catalog. The other thing... Back in the day when I bought the PS 1, I had no doubt about it. Same thing about PS2. After the PS2 was done with, I did not for a second consider Xbox 360. Now with the new generation looming, I'm filled with doubt. Neither of the consoles seem supreme against current gen. What will probably happen is that I'm going to buy the PS4 after second price drop and as a slim version.
  • Relayer71 - September 14, 2013 10:17 a.m.

    Sony and MS should have released the new consoles next Fall (or Spring). I have zero incentive to buy the new console when I have such a huge backlog of games for the Xbox360, 3DS, PSP, DS, PC, hell, I still have unplayed PS2 games I've picked up over the last few years. And since these new high profile sequels are coming out for this gen, then I can definitely wait a little longer for the newer consoles. They also dropped the ball with backward compatibility, which would have given me reason to get the Xbox One sooner rather than later. Space on my entertainment center is limited and my 360 isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - September 13, 2013 2:12 p.m.

    I agree; pretty much all of the games I want are coming out on current gen.
  • rxb - September 13, 2013 2:10 p.m.

    I agree too, especially as money is tight for a lot of people at the minute. I think we may have a VHS to DVD to Blu Ray situation. Its big spend to justify when you can't SEE the difference. Uni means I missed out on 3 years of xbox games, no backwards compatibility means I wouldn't be able to play those games. I'll wait for now until I've finished my backlog.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - September 13, 2013 1:59 p.m.

    You sound like a bunch of broke-ass lames. And David couldn't be any more wrong. There's a vast improvement between current and next-gen graphics. Just look at the advancements made in physics, textures, and lighting. You guys just don't realize it yet because the big cross-gen games coming out this winter have only been shown on PC and next-gen. Wait until they show side-by-side comparisons of Battlefield 4 on PS3 and PS4. Then you'll change your tune. I mean, COD has had the same engine for 8 years for God's sake!
  • Sjoeki - September 13, 2013 11:47 a.m.

    I bought the PS3 on the day it was released here, and then was waiting for must have games. There are games that I must have for the PS4, but they are not coming out at the release date so I will wait till I'm done with Arkham Origins, Kingdom Hearts 1.5, Beyond: Two souls, GTA V, and I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some games.
  • TheMariner - September 13, 2013 11:39 a.m.

    Personally, because of all the great current-gen games coming out near the launch of the rest of the next-gen consoles (and considering the current state of my finances), I find myself more inclined to purchase the current-gen version of these upcoming titles and wait until later to upgrade to next-gen. Then again, I'm finding it hard to justify getting another console at all considering the fact that most of the next-gen titles I care about are also coming to PC. Why upgrade to a new console when I already have the hardware required to play the games? I do like the look of Infamous: Second Son, though. So depending on Sony's other offerings, I might still get a PS4 eventually.
  • shawksta - September 13, 2013 11:26 a.m.

    Neat article dave This a a problem with next gen entirely, there isn't a WOW leap, just "Hey, next gen consoles exist, come get it"
  • Eightboll812 - September 13, 2013 12:48 p.m.

    Totally agree with you. If you strip away all the trivial stuff like (hey we allow you to start playing while downloading a game) there's really not much that is a big draw. Most of this is akin to Apple buying Siri and then saying, you have to buy a 4s to get Siri, and older phones can't do it == MS saying you have to have a Xbone to have "the cloud". In other words, many of the differences are arbitrary and forced, not true technology reasons. This was the problem Wii U faced. It was "hey, this is Wii v2, so y'all come and get it!!!!" And you are 100% correct that Xbone/PS4, despite the best efforts of MS/Sony explaining how it's a massive leap forward, really seem like a baby step forward, if you cut through all the crap. I will say that for me, the biggest driver is that my PS3 is on the brink, so I can either buy another, or wait a few months and get a PS4. And probably my second biggest reason is that when I play online, probably my biggest irritation is the sluggishness of the OS switching to XMB to type a quick message and get back quickly. That being snappy does make a difference to me. Aside from the practical issue of my PS3 being on the brink and needing something to replace it, the ONLY other reason that I had for putting in a pre-order of PS4 was more of a vote of confidence. AS A CONSUMER, I firmly believe in rewarding good moves with money, and bad moves with lack of money. I see this as a watershed moment for consoles where people have a real chance to tell our vendors what we want regarding the move to all-digital. The thinly-veiled money grab from MS pissed me off so much, that I'm simply rewarding Sony for not helping lead the way in running the industry off the cliff with respect to what is good for consumers. There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a good business die because people like myself don't spend our money there. Like the local neighborhood restaurant that has good food and good service, but for some reason fails because everyone is across the street at Chilis. I've seen enough good business die in my life that I try to make a concerted effort to reward those with my business even if they are a little more expensive. And I personally believe in sending a message to both Sony and MS, that I'm not going to stand for the DRM crap that MS was pushing, and I want to reward Sony for not following suit, and doing what is good for consumers. If the situation flip flops, I'll flip flop as well and reward MS. I honestly went into the announcements WANTING to have a good reason to switch to Xbox, and came out vehemently opposed to what MS was trying to accomplish. Ergo, I pre-ordered more for the politics than anything next gen had to offer me.
  • shawksta - September 13, 2013 1:40 p.m.

    Hopefully we will see some real next gen things, when they try harder and get a fresh new start, otherwise because Nintendo is Nintendo, they manage to still make games look more appealing and slight leap despite being a generation behind.
  • Doctalen - September 15, 2013 11:39 a.m.

    I agree with everything you have said except for the pre-order, I don't have the money at the moment to make a pre-order of a console. My 360 has slowed down to a brick recently (I can't figure out why for the life of me) but I eventually either plan to upgrade my PC to next gen console standards at least or to buy a PS4 for their exclusives once a good amount are released.
  • TheMcFinder - September 13, 2013 11:01 a.m.

    How about the hard core that recognizes that buying a console on launch is not always the best idea. Sure they're gonna kick off eventually but the way I see it the current gen is still awesome and, other than the encroaching next gen, doesn't show any signs of slowing. Other than having $600+ lying around to invest in your hobby, there's no other reason to adopt so soon.
  • JarkayColt - September 13, 2013 10:25 a.m.

    I don't think Dave's articles ever get enough credit. I think he has an unbroken record streak of "nails hit on head" recently. Well, not just recently, haha, but you know what I mean. Definitely a lot of good points here. I'm that person who only buys about 4 games a year now, pfft, so as far as I'm concerned I don't feel like I want to jump in to a next gen system any time soon, and even then it could even be a Wii U (before anybody says anything, yes, Wii U is next gen by the very definition of "next generation" :/ )
  • Eightboll812 - September 13, 2013 9:23 a.m.

    You forgot to mention how backwards compatibility, or lack of, plays into this equation as well. I believe it will also contribute to a lagging effect that you describe. If I can play all current gen games on a launch console, I might be more willing to impulse buy it and think of it starting off with a massive library. However, if it can't, then I'm buying a console that has only a few games, and still have to keep my old one around. I also think you danced around another key point without explicitly stating it...that we will have dual console games FOR A LONG TIME TO COME. It won't stop at Titanfall, Ghosts, BF4, etc. Probably most if not all games that come out next year will be available on PS3 and XBox360 too. If my recollection is correct, there weren't many crossover titles from PS2->PS3 as well as Xbox. Once PS3 was underway, new titles were predominantly made only for PS3, and same for 360. Even if a game had a dual release, as you point out, there was a big difference in graphics to help sell the HD version. But I'm getting away from my point. The point is that I believe for the next year or two, most publishers will dual release games for PS3/360 with toned down graphics which will further remove the incentive to upgrade.
  • BladedFalcon - September 13, 2013 8:55 a.m.

    Welp, that's another reason why I'm not in any hurry for getting a next gen console XD Not only do I have a huge backlog as it is, a lot of what I'm looking forward the most is current gen, not next gen. (GTA V, Dark Souls II, Lords of Shadow II) Still, I have faith that the next gen consoles will pick up faster than the Wii U, they just need to get on their asses and make games worth playing there.
  • Cyberninja - September 13, 2013 8:14 a.m.

    I agree with this article so much, I was going to get a launch PS4 but when I got down to it, everything that wasn't on PS3 or Wiiu isn't a system seller to me, Infamous might be what pulls me in but only its worth my while somehow seeing as other things I want come out in feb anyway.

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