The launch of a new console is always a monumental moment for gamers. Unfortunately, it also means having to set aside cash on top of the console's price to have enough money to buy the games so that you can enjoy your console.
For the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, this isn't that big of a problem. While Microsoft and PlayStation both have announced an attractive list of next-gen exclusive titles, most of the big launches have been cross-generation. This means that some AAA titles will still be available on the last-gen and current-gen consoles.
Sony, in particular, seems to have backtracked from its initial bet on the PS5. Not that it hasn't released PS5 exclusives. There's a long list of games that are exclusive to the PlayStation 5. However, the majority of those games aren't exactly what you'd refer to as console sellers, with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart serving as the lone exception.
Games like Demon's Souls, Returnal, Deathloop, and Abandoned, are all amazing titles with their own merit. It's just that they don't compare to the draw that the likes of Gran Turismo 7 and Horizon Forbidden West, as well as the next God of War game, will bring at launch.
After initially going all-in on the promise of next-generation advancements, it's as if Sony is now hesitant to dive deep into the PS5 well.
Why is that?
The problem with next-gen exclusive games
PlayStation head, Jim Ryan, was once quoted saying, "We believe in generations". In the same statement, Jim Ryan explained that releasing games for both older and newer consoles would be detrimental to innovation and game design. The PS5's lead architect, Mark Cenry, expressed the same thoughts during the unveiling of the PlayStation 5 last year.
In an ideal world, Sony would have gone through with its initial plans. Gran Turismo 7 would still be a next-gen exclusive, contrary to their earlier announcement (that also contrasted an even earlier statement), and the same goes for the next God of War game.
Unfortunately, the global chipset stock shortage of 2020 has forced Sony, among countless other tech companies, to rethink its strategies, especially after it was later confirmed that the shortage could last until 2023.
Even if the demand for graphics cards stabilizes on the account of cryptocurrency being banned in China, among other countries, the fact remains that demand for chipsets will only continue to grow with a supply that just can't keep up.
Because of what happened this year and last year, it does make sense for Sony to pivot and change its stance.
Making big AAA titles available on both last-gen and current-gen consoles is a great way to maximize profit while keeping a lot of gamers happy. However, this is a selfish way of going about things as it essentially leaves the biggest victims of making games cross-gen in a tough spot - the developers and studios.
Do next-gen exclusive titles benefit studios more?
This isn't as straightforward of a discussion as one might think.
Profit-wise, studios can benefit from the increase in sales that cross-gen titles will bring. For example, because Forbidden West will be available on both the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 5, we can expect the game to pull in big numbers at launch.
The same thing happened for Resident Evil Village. It became the fastest-selling Resident Evil game ever and is on its way to becoming the best-selling game in the Resident Evil franchise.
In terms of finances, video game developers do stand to take away more from cross-gen games. Unfortunately, it comes with a huge caveat.
When you're making a game for two console generations with a marked difference in performance, it puts a huge strain on your development team. We don't need to look any further than Cyberpunk 2077 as an example of this. Even though CD Projekt RED's newest IP wasn't perfect on the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X, it still ran a lot better on the newer consoles.
The more powerful hardware of the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5 masked many of the deficiencies that the game's engine and coding had. This would have given the developers time to optimize the game after it was launched, without all the controversy.
Partly because Cyberpunk 2077 had to be released on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, CD Projekt RED needed to make the game run well on the older consoles. This isn't the only reason why Cyberpunk 2077 launched in such an "unplayable" state. But, it doesn't take an expert to tell that it played a huge role in it.
Remedy Entertainment's Thomas Puha echoed the same thoughts in an interview with IGN, saying, "You have to support the previous gen, make sure that sings, and then whatever you bring to next-gen is still limited by the choices you made years ago for the previous generation."
Are cross-gen games good or bad?
Is making games cross-gen affecting current and future video games from making the necessary next-gen lap?
Yes. It means more issues for developers to worry about, forcing them to stretch their already-thin resources even thinner in an attempt to launch a complete game for a wider audience. Although a solution to this is increasing development time, delaying games can affect sales and the proverbial bottom line.
Demon's Souls and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart have both proven that a next-gen game can still sell well despite the limited availability of the PS5. Even Bloober Team's massively underrated psychological horror title for the Xbox Series S/X, The Medium, broke even in terms of development costs when it was launched.
The success of these games could help dispel the notion that a game should launch to as many people as possible in order to break even, let alone make a profit.
To say that cross-gen games are bad for the industry is still wrong though.
When the PS4 launched in November 2013, big AAA titles like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Dark Souls 2, among others, were still released for the PS3 and the PS4. Even if the former is also a good example of a game with cut content, it was able to make do with the hardware limitations at the time.
Sure, it sucks that developers can't do what they want because of the hardware. It's even worse when you know that they could've done a lot better. However, Sony and Microsoft just can't risk alienating a huge part of their audience.
Besides, the best video game developers will always find a way to make everyone happy.
At the end of the day, the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X are still less than a year old. The new consoles haven't been out long enough for Sony and Microsoft to drop support just like that. It makes a lot more sense for them to continue supporting the PS4 and Xbox One.
The way that we see it, this discussion will only start taking a turn for the worse if Sony and/or Microsoft insist on making AAA titles cross-gen come 2023 and 2024.