The launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will usher in something that is unprecedented in the history of video games – a vast glut of cross-generational triple-A games. In previous transition periods such titles have been limited to sports games, licensed games or the latest iteration of a prominent brand, like Need for Speed, so to have them in such abundance feels quite odd. The prevalence of them has led a selection of gamers to look at their profligacy and shake their heads in disdain, proclaiming that the necessity of catering to the comparatively limited technical capabilities of the current generation consoles is holding projects back from the potential that the new boxes offer.
Some might say that such a sentiment is misguided, but it is impossible to deny that an exponential increase in the amount of RAM, vastly improved visuals and the promise of PC-level multiplayer in games like Battlefield make for a convincing argument to there being some truth to it. Nevertheless, with the cost of game’s development increasing with every passing year it would be utterly foolish for publishers to drop an iron curtain between the two generations as the install base of the next simply will not be enough to offer profitability straight out of the gate. Though comparatively fewer people are likely to purchase the current generation versions, having a market that is approximately ten times larger can do no harm on that front. Bearing this in mind, perhaps the question isn’t so difficult to answer.
When the install base of the next generation reaches a point of saturation that allows the majority of games released to turn a profit solely upon the sales they generate, then the number of cross-generational projects will quickly dwindle. A more than reasonable assumption, yes? But how long will that take?
Sony and Microsoft have already pledged to support the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively, for a while yet, with the latter explicitly stating three years. That being said, it is difficult to see either of them greenlighting any further games for their current generation consoles outside of what is already nearing the end of development, such as Gran Turismo 6 and Fable Anniversary. In any case, what it means is that we have something that we can use as a final outlier – Christmas 2016. It is very difficult, however, to envision Activision releasing four Call of Duty games that span two console generations, especially when taking into consideration the rather ridiculous specifications required to the run Ghosts on PC.
There must come a point where scaling back a game, and retaining what it is intended to be, is no longer feasible. For my money, that would occur around about the point where developers are looking to build their second games for the new consoles. By that point, they will have a much better understanding of what they are truly capable of and will be able to deviate from the norms established by the passing generation. Over the past few years, it has become something of a norm for developers to work to a two year schedule.
But most will have already begun toiling away on projects. Indeed, Sony recently released a video parroting that there are 180 games currently in development for the PlayStation 4. That is an astounding number that should be quite enough to cover most recognisable triple-A developers. Assuming that guideline of two years remains near enough to true, it is logical to assume that most of those titles will be released by the middle of 2015, making that my personal guess for the turning point.
It is a fairly long time to wait before seeing the true potential of the next console generation truly unleashed, but if that is how long it takes, then that is how long we must wait. In the meantime, games like Thief, Watch_Dogs, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Titanfall and The Evil Within are looking utterly fantastic, even though they do span two generations.