Generation 8.5

When the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X were first rumoured I was relatively negative as to their existence. As a then mostly PC player with occasional console use the introduction of these machines felt like a way for the manufacturers to increase profitability rather than meet a specific consumer driven need. However as the two year anniversary of purchasing a PlayStation 4 Pro has passed (over a year with the Xbox One X) I thought I would write down my musings on the new ‘enhanced’ consoles and my experiences with them.

I’ve written this a few times now, but PC gaming is getting more expensive. Rising prices on many components including Graphics Cards, CPUs and monitors amongst others have really dampened my enthusiasm for gaming on PC. Made worst in the UK as the value of sterling has decreased (something PC components seem very sensitive too). This meant that last year I transitioned away from buying games on PC and buying or rebuying them on consoles instead. I even downsized to a gaming laptop.

I have a pretty even spread of titles across both the Microsoft and Sony ecosystems. So obviously now more of my gaming time has been spent on console versions of games which has been reflected in this blog. And surprisingly what I’ve found is a much better experience than I thought. As primarily a Xbox 360 gamer last generation, I moved towards PC again around 2012 and had limited experience of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in their early days. It was Destiny that really made me play the new consoles but I think like many I preferred the better visuals, framerates and cheaper prices of games on PC.

The new consoles in my mind are more the machines we should have had at their release in 2013. What I mean is that the more powerful internals go some way to addressing the underpowered base consoles. And indeed on the hardware side it isn’t difficult not to admire the Xbox One X specifically. Smaller than the PlayStation 4 Pro yet very quiet and overall feeling like a more premium piece of hardware.

From a software point of view whilst the PlayStation 4’s dashboard remains relatively similar to its original version, the Xbox One X came with a changed and improved user experience. Unshackled from the Kinect the UI is faster, cleaner and nicer to use. Albeit still weaker than the Sony offering. Microsoft announced this week that it has stopped all Xbox One backwards compatibility work to focus on the new hardware. However Microsoft’s backwards compatibility is a massive strength and a great feature. Even recently I’ve been enjoying Mass Effect 3 and knowing games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have been enhanced for the Xbox One X is a massive selling point. I love Microsoft’s efforts with backwards compatibility.

Often PC fans will joke about the lower framerates, resolution or graphics of consoles. However even as someone who has spent lots of time on certain PC games I can’t really say playing a game on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 bothers me that much. Take Doom (2016) for example. It might look slightly better on my PC and run at a higher framerate however it still looks great on my 4K TV particularly with the Xbox One X patch. I certainly don’t feel that the experience is in anyway worse. Right now it is hard to argue with the value offering of Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles versus a PC. That isn’t to say that a console is the best solution for everyone however moving away from expensive PC hardware feels liberating.

And indeed even though many console games remain at 30fps there are an increasing number of PlayStation and Xbox One games at higher framerates now. Particularly eSports or multiplayer games. However there are some games which even allow a choice between higher framerate or resolution, such as the Xbox One X version of Rise of the Tomb Raider. With much better AMD Zen 2 CPUs next generation this will likely be something that only increases further.

Whether either enhanced console is worth it, is a subjective opinion. Some games don’t necessarily make the full use of their extra power and arguably the base experience is fine. However for me particularly in this era of 4K UHD and HDR the newer PlayStation and Xbox One consoles have come into their own and they have been a nice plus. Whilst I will always be a multiformat gamer I don’t regret buying these two machines. Although perhaps not without irony, as I begrudge the perpetual PC upgrade cycle, we might still see enhanced versions of the next PlayStation and Xbox in the future.

My changing buying habits

As this year’s E3 is underway with loads of new videogames being announced I’ve recently thought that during the current generation I rarely buy videogames at release. I’ve written about this before but I wanted to do some further investigation to see if I could actually prove some of this.

Indeed since creating this website I had identified 14 upcoming games that I was most interested about in the 2018 and 2019 release schedules. And of those 9 have since been released. However I have only purchased two of those games; Marvel’s Spiderman and The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr. Crucially only the latter was actually purchased at release.

So I then looked into how many games were purchased by myself before or on the release date over the last four years. I found the following list of games.

  • Far Cry 5 Gold, Mar 2018
  • Monster Hunter World, Jan 2018
  • Destiny 2 Digital Deluxe, Sept 2017
  • Zelda Breath of Wild, Mar 2017
  • Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition, Sept 2016 (2 days after release)
  • Destiny: Rise of Iron, Sept 2016
  • Doom, May 2016
  • Trackmania Turbo, Mar 2016 (6 days after release)
  • The Division Gold, Mar 2016
  • Fallout 4, Nov 2015
  • 6 MMO Expansions – all pre-ordered:
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind (2017)
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018)
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr (2019)
    • WoW: Legion (2016)
    • WoW: Battle for Azeroth (2018)
    • Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire (2017)

Findings

It means I have purchased a total of 10 videogames and 6 MMO expansions over the last 4 years at release.

  • An average of 4 videogames per year.
  • Only one purchased in 2019 (The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr).
  • 4 PC releases were all purchased from a reseller with fairly hefty discounts (GreenManGaming & Humble).
  • Only one purchase was physical (Wii U).

Even new consoles didn’t result in buying new games. With the purchase of an Xbox One X (Feb 2018) and PlayStation 4 Pro (May 2017) I didn’t buy any new games. Either playing my existing library or picking up games in sales. This seem different to previous hardware like my Wii U (2014 – 2017), launch PlayStation 4 (3 games) and original Xbox One (1 game) amongst others.

The last generation for comparison

Now unfortunately I don’t have numbers for the last generation of consoles, or before 2015 as it would take an immense number of hours to compile. However I know that I purchased large numbers of games at release – every Halo, Little Big Planet, All Forza’s, Super Mario Galaxy 1/2, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Battlefield 1943/3 etc. And this list would be massive. Particularly as the number of games I owned on Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 was over 200 at one point. On disc alone. And that is not including formats like Nintendo 3DS or Wii U where I also purchased numerous games as they released.

Indeed during the last generation many more games were cheaper and with much less monetisation. Buying games was the only way to get new games to play. Free-to-play or subscriptions hadn’t really landed yet. Also live services hadn’t happened meaning you tended to play a game and then move on to the next. Therefore I suspect games purchased at launch would probably average 15 to 30 a year. Maybe more.

So therefore it is probably undeniable that over the last few years I am buying less games at release and therefore less at full RRP. A downward trend over previous years before.

Conclusion

Of course some of this slowdown in buying games at release could be more about myself, i.e. getting older or being a parent. Or indeed having a huge backlog of games to play. However there are some clear patterns which definitely fall in line with the wider trends within video gaming.

  • I don’t shop at Retail anymore. Even when I buy physical games they are from online retailers.
  • I’ve fully embraced Digital on all formats.
  • There is a limit to what I will spent on single games. As the price gets lower then I am more inclined to take a punt on a new game. And therefore if I see something approaching or over £100 I’ll likely not bother as I worry about missing out on something with the ‘standard’ version.
  • Although I will spend more on a Live Service. Particularly those that are around for years, such as World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online.
  • Easier access to more games. With Game Pass, Games with Gold or PlayStation Plus I’ve got loads of games to play.
  • I’m not trading in games and therefore buying less. Something I would do a lot during the last generation. I think this is a major reason for declining retail UK sales figures tracked through GfK Chart Track.
  • I don’t ever pay full price for PC games outside of MMO expansions.
  • Live Services videogames are making me think twice before buying.
  • I have spent money on Free-2-play games. F2p and other business models are clearly disrupting the market.

So there we go. The short of it, is that I can be reasonably certain I am buying less games at release or at full price. However with Games as a Service and Live Services probably spending more but on fewer games.

Although I am certainly still buying more games though. But these are mostly digitally, often with big discounts after they have been out a while. And I don’t think that is a bad purchasing habit. Picking up the games cheaper, after bugs have been ironed out and business models become clearer (i.e. microtransactions introduce a month after release). It also feels a bit less bad if it takes longer to start playing a game. But it means that I may lose interest and desire to buy a game in the long-run. Something I have experienced recently with The Division 2.

Perhaps what is more interesting is whether this is the same for many other people and whether there are significant numbers who are all buying less games, but spending more on those we do play. Unfortunately that is not a question I can answer beyond my own spending habits.