Don’t expect the next PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo console any time soon
The PlayStation 4 came out nearly five years ago. The same can be said of the Xbox One — both consoles were announced and launched in 2013 with very similar specs and target audiences.
Five years is a long time in video game console lifespans.
Normally, both consoles would be looking at their golden years right around now — finally low enough in price for anyone to buy, large libraries of great games from years of availability, and even better stuff coming in the near future.
At five years in to the PlayStation 2's existence, it had three great "Grand Theft Auto" games and "God of War 2" still on the horizon. At five years in to the Xbox 360's existence, it had two great "Halo" games and a new "Grand Theft Auto" on the horizon. In both cases, we were already hearing about — officially or unofficially — the consoles that were going to replace them.
But that isn't the case just yet for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, to say nothing of Nintendo's still-brand-new Switch console. In all cases, it looks like we'll be living with the current crop of home game consoles for the foreseeable future — and there are several good reasons why.
What we "know" about the next PlayStation based on the scant reports thus far:
Does a theoretical "PlayStation 5" exist? Probably yes! It takes years of research and development, planning, discussion, design, and much more to shepherd a new game console into existence. It's entirely likely there were talks of the PlayStation 4's successor during the development of the PlayStation 4 itself.
Is the PlayStation 5 coming out any time soon? Probably not!
That's the long and short of the latest scuttlebutt, reported by Kotaku's Jason Schreier earlier this month. According to his piece, there is work underway on a new console in Sony's PlayStation line — a full-on successor to the PlayStation 4, not a half-step like the PlayStation 4 Pro.
But it's still early days, and most game developers he spoke with had heard nothing.
That's reflected in a recent interview at the annual GamesBeat conference with former Sony Interactive Entertainment president Andrew House — his first interview since leaving Sony at the end of 2017. "I’m very bullish on longer life cycles for consoles," House said.
He wouldn't give up any details on a potential PlayStation 5 console: "I am no longer in a position to comment on those matters." He did say that he expects future game consoles to continue using discs of some form, though he specifically pointed out that his statement is not based on knowledge of Sony's plans for a new PlayStation console.
Why it's unlikely that a PlayStation 5 is coming out anytime soon:
Less than two years ago, Sony launched a major update to the PlayStation 4: It's called the PlayStation 4 Pro, and it's a more powerful version of the existing console. It plays the same games, but makes them look prettier and load more quickly.
It's a kind of half-step up, in terms of horsepower, from the PlayStation 4. If you're buying a new PlayStation 4 at this point, and you have a 4K/HDR-capable television, you should buy a PlayStation 4 Pro.
Sony's PlayStation 4 is in a unique position: Over 70 million PS4s have been sold, putting Sony in first place by a longshot, and there's a relatively new PS4 console on sale for the other 6.93 billion people who don't own one yet. The company already has a large base of players to sell games to, and it has a hardware lineup that's relatively fresh.
That means Sony can enjoy the higher profits that come with game and accessory sales while continuing to sell new consoles, thus increasing the overall userbase (which increases the number of potential game buyers, etc.).
In so many words: Why would Sony introduce an entirely new console — even discuss one — at this point? It doesn't make a lot of sense. It would risk burning a huge audience in the process.
What we "know" about the next Xbox based on the scant reports thus far:
Not to burst any bubbles, but there are literally no rumors or whispers or blurry images or credible forum posts or whatever else about a new Xbox console. We're talking strictly hardware here — there are no reports of development kits being sent out, no talk of specs a new Xbox console might have.
There is, however, a lot to be inferred about the future of Xbox from Microsoft's Xbox leader, Phil Spencer. He told Bloomberg in an interview last November that Microsoft is working on a service, "that doesn't require a console."
Such a service — a Netflix-style, streaming service for games — wouldn't work for every game. Anything that requires pixel-perfect precision and/or reflexive timing might not work due to latency issues. But it could work for many games, and could be Microsoft's key to moving beyond just game console hardware.
It would also line up perfectly with Microsoft's bigger picture "play anywhere" strategy, which enables Xbox games to be played on a variety of devices (not just Xbox game consoles).
Why it's unlikely that a new Xbox is coming out anytime soon:
Microsoft's newest version of the Xbox One — the $500 Xbox One X — isn't even a year old at this point. Moreover, the newest version of the Xbox One is a powerhouse. On paper, it's over six times more powerful than the original Xbox One.
In reality, that only matters so much — Microsoft promised that the Xbox One and Xbox One X will always co-exist. If a game runs on the Xbox One X, it has to also run on the original Xbox One that launched way back in 2013. That's great for Xbox One owners, but ultimately limits the Xbox One X — if games must be made for the 2013 Xbox One hardware as a baseline, then that's what game developers have to target.
In short: Developers can't harness the full power of the Xbox One X. That same situation applies to Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro.
Both Sony and Microsoft made a necessary but limiting promise with their "step up" consoles, the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X: Anything that runs on the new Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro must also run on the original Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles that launched in 2013.
Cutting support for those step-up consoles by moving to an entirely new generation of consoles — this early, especially in the case of Microsoft's still very new Xbox One X — would be a strong way to burn a lot of customers.
What we "know" about the next Nintendo console based on the scant reports thus far:
Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo is in a league of its own.
The Nintendo Switch is just over one year old, and it's still a hot commodity with no signs of slowing. Nintendo had to readjust its sales expectations for the first year of the Switch. It's the fastest-selling Nintendo console of all time: Nintendo sold just shy of 15 million Switch consoles in the first nine months.
The Switch is a home console as well as a portable console. That's meaningful for many reasons, but there's one that's especially important for Nintendo: When Nintendo 3DS/2DS owners are looking for a new portable console, or their first home console (or both!), the Switch is an obvious transition.
Beyond that, there's already a tremendous library of games on the Switch that can only be played on the Switch — from "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" to "Super Mario Odyssey" to "Splatoon 2," and that's before we start talking about big upcoming games like "Metroid Prime 4" and "Super Smash Bros."
Nintendo isn't coming out with a new console anytime soon, but just in case that mountain of evidence isn't enough, The Wall Street Journal had a report back in March confirming as much. "Changes to the Switch itself — like a smaller version of the machine — were unlikely this year as Nintendo focuses on better manufacturing and shipping of the current model," the WSJ report said.
BONUS: Nintendo is working on developing new hardware for the Switch, but in a new way for the 100-plus-year-old Japanese company.
In a strange twist, Nintendo is apparently working with a San Francisco-based venture firm named Scrum Ventures to identify startups interested in creating Nintendo Switch hardware. The startups are specifically focused on creating "technologies that could lead to new experiences on Nintendo Switch." Sounds like peripherals!
Since the Switch has Bluetooth connectivity, a USB-C port, and an auxillary port, it's possible to connect any number of devices to the console. Similarly, if the console is "docked" for home use, you can access standard USB and USB-C ports.
It's unclear what type of technology Nintendo is looking for, but it's clear from the upcoming Labo project that the company is open to experimentation. When Labo launches on April 20, Switch owners will be able to build cardboard game peripherals for use with their console — like so:
While it's unlikely that Nintendo is replacing the Switch with new console hardware any time soon, it's likely that we'll see new hardware of some type from the company in the not-so-distant future.
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