Game Over For Console Generations?…

It’s a landmark moment for the gaming industry as next gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony have hit launch. Luke Jackson-Smart, Associate Director and head of the consumer tech and gaming team here at PrettyGreen shares some thoughts on the future of gaming hardware: 

The title of this blog might seem counter intuitive; Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 are being shipped out around the world to much fanfare. But if you take a deeper look at gaming alongside broader technology trends, it’s apparent that we’re reaching a critical point in the history of entertainment consumption and that means this is likely the last time we’ll see a console hardware battle… 

It’s something that has been expertly conducted thanks to highly deliberate choices across their consumer communications and two very different engagement strategies from the teams at Sony and Microsoft.

Convergence of technology

A new console generation usually heralds a leap forward in graphical power that is immediately apparent. However, we’ve reached a point where graphics have become so realistic and high resolution that it is increasingly difficult to quickly spot those stand-out differences. 

Sure, when playing you’ll notice the smoothness improved frame rates and appreciate the reduced downtime caused by super-fast load times, but those magical screenshots that would have been the centrepiece in invoking awe in that must-have next gen title are no longer as straightforward to capture. Something that is even more pronounced thanks to a limited slate of killer launch titles for either system.

Instead of visuals, this generation is focused on hard drive loading speed and fast frame rates to shift units. It’s this issue that has been one of the biggest challenges for Sony and Microsoft as they look to communicate the benefits of the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, whilst also positioning themselves as the unique and only solution. 

Games, games, games

Gamers aren’t much different from other consumers. They are hungry for content, hungry for experiences and hungry for something new.

Sony has focused in on driving consumer and fan excitement using its first party content and extensive studios to drive an exclusives message that fans truly buy into. Microsoft also has its eye on content – and has certainly ramped up its first party approach with several acquisitions in recent years, not to mention the recent bombshell with ZeniMax Media – but it’s maintained in a much more platform agnostic way. Game Pass is a prime example of a company willing (and able) to innovate by offering players access to a library of games on their choice of device. 

Connectivity & Consumption habits

Game Pass, which hit 15 million subscribers earlier this year, is the first console service to properly establish itself as ‘the Netflix of games’ thanks to a ready-made games of quality content available for download at the tap of a button.However, those games are still run locally. 

Connection speed and input latency have previously been considerable barriers to being able to comfortably play streamed games. However, 5G and speedy fibre optic lines mean that more is possible than ever and things are changing. 

There can be no denying that hardware ownership is on a downward trajectory. Just as VHS and extensive DVD collections have become obsolete thanks to the convenience of the cloud, so too will ownership of hard copy game titles – particularly as internet speeds increase further. The gaming hardware in your living room will become irrelevant once your connection becomes fast and reliable enough. Games won’t need to be rendered locally and can effectively be beamed directly to any screen – TV, monitor or mobile phone. We’ll be purchasing digital content housed remotely and paying subscriptions to various game services.

There’s no denying that a love of gaming is shared by billions worldwide and it certainly isn’t going anywhere, but the fundamental ways that we buy and play are already shifting. Naturally, that also means that approaches to communications and marketing will also need to take a nuanced shift in ensuring gamers stay fully engaged beyond this shiny launch moment. The battle to secure that coveted space beneath the Christmas tree this year is just the beginning of the story. Only time will tell who’ll win the final console generation as we know it… I for one can’t wait to see what happens next!