Do Console Generations Matter Anymore?

It wasn’t that long ago that a new console generation felt like a breath of fresh air in video games. It was an opportunity for something completely new. 8 bit to 32. Polygons and 3D Environments. Standard definition to HD. Better graphics. Faster and more consistent frames. New consoles meant technology was ready for a change and video games were there to lead the charge.

However, video games may finally be at the point where there isn’t enough new technology to justify immediately leaping at new console generations. This does not mean there is nothing new of course. Virtual reality is finally a very real thing. Graphics are being pushed further than ever, and consoles are being pushed to their breaking point. Technology is always changing, but those leaps in technology that were once giant are feeling smaller and more incremental now. It’s kind of like a new car or a new phone. Yes, there’s a difference between last year’s model and this year’s, but for many it’s going to be barely noticeable.

Anyone who bought a PlayStation 5 is starting to feel that lack of a giant technological breakthrough. The PS5, effectively, is a more powerful and better performing console than the PS4. It’s faster, has little to no load times, runs smoother, and is, without a doubt, a technologically superior console. However, in terms of why people want to buy video game consoles, there is very little difference between a PS5 and a PS4. Here is a list of the exclusives for PS5.

  • Astros Playroom
  • Demon’s Souls
  • Destruction All-Stars
  • Returnal
  • Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart (not released yet)
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade (DLC, not released)

Admittedly, that’s not a terrible lineup of exclusives for a console that isn’t even a year old yet, but there is more to it than that. The PS5 can also play PS4 games, which is great for everyone who owned a PS4 because now they can just jump right into the next console generation, but it’s led to a lot of developers sticking with what’s comfortable. Multiple games have come out since the PS5 was released, and it’s not uncommon for a game to only be made for PS4 and for PS5 owners to be playing a PS4 game on their PS5. That or they release it for both, with an enhanced version that maximizes the game on the PS5’s capabilities, but offers nothing different in terms of actual gameplay. The current generation of consoles may be happening right now, but the last generation is still going just as strong as ever. Right now, it’s becoming increasingly hard to make an argument to buy into the new generation of consoles.

Even games that were originally going to be PS5 exclusives, such as Gran Turismo 7 and God of War: Ragnarok, are now going to be released on PS4 too.

Hermen: It very much is. You can’t build a community of over 110 million PS4 owners and then just walk away from it, right? I think that’d be bad news for fans of PS4, and frankly not very good business.

Where it makes sense to develop a title for both PS4 and PS5 — for Horizon Forbidden West, the next God of War, GT7 — we’ll continue looking at that. And if PS4 owners want to play that game, then they can. If they want to go on and play the PS5 version, that game will be there for them.

That being said, it’s also very important to have showpieces for PS5, hence the development of Returnal and Ratchet that are exclusive to PS5.

For PS4 owners this is great news. For PS5 owners it’s hard to not wonder what the point of their purchase was. Returnal is fun and Ratchet and Clank looks exciting, but is that enough to buy an entirely new console? Were the hardware improvements really that worth it, or would a PS4 Pro have sufficed?

What’s interesting is that these comments sound oddly similar to how Xbox has been approaching its current console generation. The Xbox Series X/S has for the most part been advertised as just a hardware upgrade.. They haven’t tried particularly hard to move away from the Xbox One and their list of exclusives is even smaller than the PlayStation 5, but that’s because their main focus has been getting people into their Gamepass ecosystem. Similar to how Apple cares more about you using the latest version of iOS rather than the latest smart phone.

Is this PlayStation acknowledging the Xbox strategy and trying to replicate it in their own way? Or did the year that was 2020 delay their plans and they had to extend the lifespan of the PS4 generation of consoles? It could be as simple as that, but it raises an interesting question about the entire idea of a console generation. Do we still need them? Is there a reason why the PS4 should not have access to the majority of PS5 games? If the coding of the game is capable of playing it then there shouldn’t be a problem in theory. Yes, it will eventually become too complicated and a new console will become a requirement, but how is that different from waiting until a phone or PC ages out?

We may be seeing PlayStation forced into a realization they didn’t want to be at. Console generations are mattering less and less. The longer PlayStation continues to say their new games can be played on PS4, the more they are acknowledging this. Eventually the PS4 will age out and a PS5 will be a requirement, but will that be due to technology or because enough people finally bought PS5’s to justify making that happen? It’s starting to feel like the latter more than the former.