Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

PS5 already looks unbeatable

Posted: January 11, 2021 in Opinion Piece
Image credit: Sony

by Tommy Orry, VG24/7

We’re two months from the release of the new consoles, yet it already feels like Sony has won the generation.

For a while I thought this console generation would be different. Sony seemed to be floundering a little, barely saying anything about the PS5 while Microsoft pushed forward the narrative of the Xbox Series X being the most powerful console, Game Pass grew and grew, and huge acquisitions were made. Yet, even after snapping up Skyrim and Fallout dev/publisher Bethesda, now it’s hard to see how PlayStation won’t continue to lead by quite a margin – at least in powerful console space.

As I said elsewhere on the site, Microsoft has a lot to prove and isn’t doing much at the moment to calm fears, even though I’m pretty confident Xbox is in a far better position now than it was seven years ago. Sony, on the other hand, has stormed out of the gate with a string of superb PS5 games, a supposed less-powerful console that’s outperforming the on-paper more powerful machine, and importantly it has games that are known about and in-part dated.

Destruction All Stars, the competitive racing/running around game that got delayed from the PS5’s launch, arrives in February and is being included in PS +. It is a bonafide PS5 exclusive, but perhaps the least hyped game coming to Sony’s new console. Giving it away to all Plus members will at least ensure it has a decent shot at gaining an audience, and while I haven’t seen anything to suggest this will be the next Rocket League-style success story, it should offer some multiplayer thrills.

I reckon Returnal could surprise a lot of people.

Key for Sony is that the games keep coming, even if the first two aren’t especially big hitters. In March Sony is releasing Returnal from Housemarque. There’s a bit of negativity surrounding this releasing as a full-price game, largely because the studio’s previous titles have been arcade-like releases, but that seems hugely unfair on what looks like a gorgeous shooter from a team that has hardly ever put a foot wrong.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the first so-called “big” PS5 exclusive to arrive from Sony in 2021, set to launch in the first half of the year. Insomniac has already managed to dazzle on the PS5 with the cross-gen Spider-Man Miles Morales, but Rift Apart should let the studio showcase what is possible on PS5 when only targeting the next-gen system – although year-one games rarely get the absolute best out of a new console. Footage has looked superb and the Ratchet & Clank games are always great fun.

May sees MS-owned Bethesda release Arkane’s Deathloop, exclusively on PlayStation 5 and PC. Arkane is known for delivering incredible game mechanics thanks to the Dishonored games, and this FPS looks to be equally inventive. At a time when the Xbox systems seem so short on Xbox Game Studio titles, the fact this is locked away is gloriously wicked. Ditto for Tango Gameworks’ more mysterious and supernatural Ghostwire: Tokyo, although that one is yet to be given a firm release date.

In the second half of 2021 Sony has a trio of absolute barnstormers set to release, with Gran Turismo 7, Horizon: Forbidden West, and God of War: Ragnarok. While Forbidden West is confirmed to be coming to PS4, too, and Sony hasn’t clarified the release platform situation with Ragnarok, there’s no denying that sequels to three of PlayStation’s biggest franchises all within a year of the PS5 launch is great going and sure to make fans extremely happy.

GT7 is likely to be huge for Sony and the PS5.

GT7 is set to be the first proper game in the series since 2013 and will arrive with huge expectations and the knowledge that Polyphony built up by supporting GT Sport as well as it did. What’s more, we might get Gran Turismo on PS5 before we get a new Forza on Xbox Series X, something most would have bet against. There was a sigh of disappointment when Sony revealed that Horizon: Forbidden West was also coming to PS4, a sense that we might not see Guerrilla Games able to flex its technical chops fully, but that debut trailer still looks pretty awesome if you ask me.

I still don’t really believe God of War: Ragnarok is releasing this year, but not because I’ve heard anything to suggest otherwise – I just didn’t expect a sequel to my favourite PS4 game to arrive so soon into the PS5’s life. If Sony Santa Monica can indeed get the game ready for the end of this year, even if it also launches on PS4, it will top what already looks like being one of the best in PlayStation history. And there’s every chance the year will deliver more, even without considering what games are coming from third-party publishers.

What I think Sony has done brilliantly is give PS5 owners and potential buyers a clear idea of the year ahead. As a PS5 owner I’m happy with the games I have, and there’s a steady drop of quality-looking titles scheduled over the months ahead. Can Xbox beat PS5? Maybe, but a turnaround of that magnitude in 2021 seems highly unlikely.

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All in less than a month since release

by Jess Weatherbed, TechRadar

Cyberpunk 2077 has become a controversial topic to discuss since its release on December 10 last year, with its ‘fall from grace’ hitting major news networks around the world. After hitting a record-breaking 1 million concurrent players on Steam, CD Projekt Red’s futuristic RPG is now struggling to maintain 225,000 users less than 4 weeks after the game was released.

A fall in player base is to be expected of course, with previous games such as The Witcher 3 seeing a similar drop in users – though this took three months to occur. 

For PC players at least, these numbers dropping at such an alarming rate are an interesting gauge for the satisfaction level of the gamers who purchased Cyberpunk 2077, and the potential future of the game itself.

Well that was quicker than expected

It’s easy to understand why we’re seeing such a dramatic fall in players when you look at the game issues documented by players across both PC and consoles, with bugs and hardware limitations rendering the game unplayable for some and unsatisfactory for many. A massive drop-off in player numbers is typical in video game life cycles and isn’t news in itself, but the speed at which we’re seeing gamers abandoning the game should concern CD Projekt Red.

Cyberpunk player numbers over the four weeks since release. (Image credit: GitHyp)

With recent history providing examples of games like Marvel’s Avengers and Anthem struggling to retain a player base, it’s not hard to see why developers should be looking to providing optimized products with replayable content. 

Whilst not directly comparable as Cyberpunk 2077 is a single-player open-world game, consistent player numbers are important for future longevity developments like DLC and expansions.

The developer is currently working on a host of patches and bug fixes, and has already promised refunds for unsatisfied PS4 and Xbox One players after having admitted to not paying enough time on the version for the previous generation of consoles. CD Projekt Red’s diminished reputation may be a factor in the decline in players, so fixing the game to a better standard is keep to win back the trust that had previously fueled the years-long hype surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 prior to its release.

We’re hoping to see the issues ironed out over the coming weeks so that CD Projekt Red can salvage the situation and deliver a game that can be enjoyed by players across both PC and consoles. For now, we will continue to try and ignore the NPC’s T-posing in clubs and V’s pants disappearing during a gun fight.

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The anticipation was big for “Cyberpunk 2077.” At 2019’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, attendees waited in line for a peek at the game from CD Projekt Red. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

by Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times

“Cyberpunk 2077” was always going to be hotly anticipated and highly debated. But now it’s a cautionary tale.

Since Keanu Reeves appeared last year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo to announce his participation in the title, excitement for the game has been at a level that greets a new Marvel film. And the fact that it would deal with topical subject matter — including arguably questionable looks at gender, race and politics — meant that fans and the media alike were eager to spend time with the game.

But the game is broken.

Sony on Thursday even took the drastic step of removing the game for the foreseeable future from its online store on PlayStation consoles. For those who have already bought the game, Sony is granting refunds. On Friday, Microsoft responded by offering fans a refund but is keeping the game available for sale on its Xbox consoles. The game’s developer, the fan-beloved CD Projekt Red, whose “The Witcher 3” remains one of the most celebrated games of the just-completed console generation, has pledged to fix the game.

Updates that would place the game in a desirable state are weeks and potentially months away. The Warsaw, Poland-based CD Projekt Red stated that by February the game should have enough patches to run adequately on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game is not without issues on the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X either (it has crashed on occasion for me on the former), but it works much better on the new hardware. Still, the new consoles, released just last month, are in short supply. For those playing on older consoles — the majority of gamers — “Cyberpunk 2077” exists in a too-fragile state.

Sony in its statement Thursday said the company “strives to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction, therefore we will begin to offer a full refund for all gamers who have purchased ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ via PlayStation Store.” On Friday, Microsoft wrote, “To ensure that every player can get the experience they expect on Xbox, we will be expanding our existing refund policy to offer full refunds to anyone who purchased ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ digitally from the Microsoft Store.”

Forced to crunch

For much of the last week CD Projekt Red has been on an apology tour, even amid touting that the game received more than 8 million preorders. Media advances were given only on PCs, where those with high-end computers have experienced minimal issues. But the game looks and feels considerably different on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, leading to questions about how the studio previewed the game, and if the project it touted was different from the one it would sell.

“We would like to start by apologizing to you for not showing the game on base last-gen consoles before it premiered and, in consequence, not allowing you to make a more informed decision about your purchase,” read a statement attributed to company’s executive team. “We should have paid more attention to making it play better on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.”

Work-from-home constraints of the current COVID-19 pandemic are certainly presenting challenges across many industries, and “Cyberpunk 2077” was subject to numerous delays during the last year. To make its ultimate Dec. 10 release date, the company admitted that some staffers would be forced to crunch, that is work something akin to an around-the-clock schedule to finish the game.

Though the game is in a playable state for those with the most powerful, most expensive PC technology, the decision to push through with a wide release of “Cyberpunk 2077” simply heightens numerous questionable and unfortunate game industry tactics that have become the norm.

Chief among them: That it is OK to release a game in a near-finished state, knowing that in the coming months it would be a drastically different product.

Though it’s admirable that the game medium allows for constant updates, turning games into a livable work, this also takes fans for granted, believing they’ll still be there when the work is done. To oversimplify it, imagine a film released in an incomplete state, with the studio and the creative team simply expecting consumers to rewatch it in six months when it’s actually finished.

A screenshot from ‘Cyberpunk 2077.” (CD Projekt Red)

‘Early access’

Some developers embrace these challenges.

Games are a complex medium that stitches together art, technology and narrative components, all of them shifting based on the needs of the other elements and advancements in everything from computer power to game engine updates, not to mention user feedback.

There is the practice of releasing a game in so-called “early access,” providing a more transparent look at the development process. This year’s critically adored hack-and-slash game “Hades,” for instance, was available to purchase in a pre-release form for two years before it was properly finalized.

This can, however, deal a blow to any sort of publicity and marketing campaigns. The game industry is highly secretive, and often attempts to turn meaningless details such as the reveal of a character’s name into a news story. Early access destroys this careful build-up.

Additionally, when “Hades” came to the Nintendo Switch it may not have been seen as a brand “new” game. But also, by this point any underlying issues were worked out, and once people started playing the game word of mouth spread that “Hades” excitedly merged story and gameplay.

I personally avoid games released in early access. While it can be interesting to see how a game evolves, it simply makes more sense for me to wait until the game is at the state its developers want it. It’s safe to say “Cyberpunk 2077” isn’t there. Thus, at this point, it would be recommended for console owners to not play “Cyberpunk 2077” until its issues are smoothed out. The game that exists now will not be the same game that exists in a few months.

But the decision to rush “Cyberpunk 2077” before the holidays also points to long-standing and underlying issues about how the mainstream industry views its entertainment. CD Projekt Red was aware of the game’s hiccups, even admitting that it failed to show how the title ran on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For all the supposed big ideas about the future of our world that the game possesses, this is evidence the studio ultimately considered it little more than a product, one that was so hotly anticipated that consumers would overlook the fact that it was not ready for prime time.

While The Times was offered interviews with the CD Projekt Red team for a story that could run around the launch of the game, I’ve increasingly grown skeptical of doing game features before having the ability to play the game in my home. Game events or previews are often carefully tailored to show a fraction of the title that runs mostly fine in a stitched-together state, with public relations reps interrupting interviews anytime the conversation strays from the specific moment of the game that the company has deemed as safe to cover — often detailed in nondisclosure agreements that The Times isn’t allowed to sign.

Instead, not having access to a PC that could run the game, we confined our coverage to an interview with Reeves. The actor was certainly interested in the power of the interactive medium, and spoke with curiosity on how user choice allowed him to essentially play multiple versions of the same character.

Reeves himself hadn’t seen the finished version of the game at the time we talked — and he acknowledged he would need a more game-inclined friend to show it to him. His interest in the game seemed fueled in part by the success CD Projekt Red had with “The Witcher 3” and in part to gain a better understanding of how games would impact all media.

“I don’t know where it’s going, but I know it’s going to be wacky,” he said. “It’s a good kind of puppeteering. Like, if I can play with the animation, I have more control.”

And yet it’s rare, as we just saw at the Game Awards this month, for a developer to be allowed to speak candidly about the art, the theories and the politics that inform every game. In such a climate, video games are handled with the cold precision of a new tech product rather than a work of entertainment. Thus, critical analysis around games is more vital than ever.

In turn, the legacy of “Cyberpunk 2077,” regardless of how it rebounds in 2021, will be that it is remembered as the work of a studio that disregarded the time its development team needed to finish the game — and in turn viewed its fans and the media with cynicism, even as it courted both with a product it specifically hyped as being politically edgy. It’s far from the first time this has happened, but rarely has it been done with such callousness.

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Image credit: Turtle Rock Studios

by Evan Lahti, PC Gamer

Losing the rights to the thing you made is a surprisingly common situation in the games industry. 

Obsidian Entertainment is one recent example—last year the studio released sci-fi RPG The Outer Worlds after years of constant praise for Fallout: New Vegas, which it couldn’t continue. Elsewhere, Atari held the rights to Rollercoaster Tycoon, so Frontier corkscrewed right around them and made Planet Coaster. Two or three of these spiritual reboots pop up each year: Two Point Hospital, Phoenix Point, Yooka-Laylee. Further back, BioShock.

Left 4 Dead creators Turtle Rock Studios found themselves in this same license limbo over the last decade, having carried a genre-defining co-op zombie shooter to term in 2008 before passing their baby to Valve, who’s mostly slept on the franchise (there was a surprise community update in September).

In Back 4 Blood, you feel Turtle Rock’s pent-up passion for zombie co-op. The shooter unapologetically walks in the footsteps of what we played in ’08 and ’09. It’s is a more visually polished game, of course, but its basic parts are identical: four-player, run-and-gun shooting through criss-crossing urban and outdoor post-apocalyptica (in the first 15 minutes: apartment, rooftop, construction site, haphazard parking lot), conventional military weapons, and a procedurally-driven “Director” AI overseeing the action, pulling the strings. More Kubrick than Spielberg, this Director. 

Atop that foundation, even finer Left 4 Dead details have been transfused into Back 4 Blood. When you heal yourself with a medkit, the camera pops out into third-person until the bandage-wrap animation completes. You can grab a defibrillator to revive downed teammates quickly and, if they die outright, they can be freed later on in the level to rejoin the team. The special infected include a wobbling vomit-launcher, a wall-crawling “Hocker” that can root you in place, and the Bruiser, whose swollen right arm creates almost the same silhouette as L4D2’s Charger. Saferooms are scrawled with fearful and funny graffiti. Even some of the same weapons are back for blood: Molotov, fire axe, machete, AK, M4, Uzi, a set of throwable firecrackers that draw common infected away from you.

Image credit: Turtle Rock Studios

It’s a long list of resemblances. After playing the imminent alpha for a few hours, one question I’m left with is how many new ideas Back 4 Blood will need to be a great, fresh experience. Will Left 4 Dead actually hold up well as a style of game in 2021? When I replayed that aforementioned community update in September, it surprised me how poorly some aspects of the shooter had aged. Sudden “crescendos” of action felt tedious. Guns lacked personality and nuance. My biggest gripe with Left 4 Dead in retrospect is that you’re shooting almost constantly from beginning to end, with only a saferoom finish line there to supply a moment of pacing. It can leave you with a rabid, frayed brain, something I felt in this early version of Back 4 Blood too.

It’s possible that Back 4 Blood could inherit some of Left 4 Dead’s lack of rhythm. The alpha did show a couple signs of this being an issue—on three occasions when I ran maybe 30 meters ahead of my teammates, I encountered absolutely zero infected, something that Left 4 Dead routinely punished. And in a big finale event on a massive, three-level cruise ship, my team had the opposite problem: infected streamed in non-stop, without a single break in the action. It was like swimming against the flow of a gushing zombie river. 

But spawn behavior is the sort of thing that can be ironed out during development. Maybe the more critical question is what Back 4 Blood’s overall campaign structure will look like, and whether it’ll meaningfully differ from Left 4 Dead’s roughly symmetrical chapter-segments. Turtle Rock told me that Back 4 Blood will have a “bigger” story than Left 4 Dead, one not simply about fleeing the infected, but about taking back the world from them. You’re not a survivor, you’re a “Cleaner,” an immune fighter who’s seemingly working with a remnant military force. 

We do know that Back 4 Blood won’t be an open-ended, globetrotting World War Z affair. The Cleaners are stationed in a stronghold called Fort Hope, the nucleus of the setting, and from there you’ll “take missions and go out into the city,” rescue people, and go out into the world, studio co-founder Chris Ashton told me. “There’s NPCs, there’s dialogue … You know at the outset of each mission what your objective is, and sometimes that objective goes all wrong … we’ve got intros and outros to missions, we’ve got radio communications, we’ve got our dynamic VO system.”

Image credit: Turtle Rock Studios

What I played was light on storytelling, but in the final chapter of the alpha a convoy of military vehicles roll up to a cruise ship terminal, guns blazing, asking us to run back into danger and blow up the cruise ship. I’m hoping there’s a lot more worldbuilding and storytelling moments to chew on like this—Left 4 Dead was plotless, relying almost entirely on light environmental cues to string together a theme. The best tool at Turtle Rock’s disposal will be the wider roster of eight characters, who the studio promises will each cast their own perspective on the environment, contributing some replay value through different voice lines.

Maybe the most novel mechanical trick Back 4 Blood has up its sleeve is a light card-based system, if you can believe it. It works almost like a soft pick-and-ban scheme that you’d find in Dota 2 or Rainbow Six Siege. Before each match the AI lays down a few cards (between two and four, in my sessions) that announce which enemies or conditions the next mission will include, like fog. In response, each player throws down a handful of their own modifying buffs, from straightforward boosts to ammo or health capacity to more interesting tweaks like healing on melee kills. When my teammates and I died, I liked that this system replaced some of the tedium of having to repeat a mission with strategizing—after each death, you can toss another card into play to improve your odds of success. These cards can be found hidden in levels or unlocked as a form of progression.

Two more smaller-but-significant changes shouldn’t go unnoticed: 1) you can sprint now; 2) guns have iron sights, partly to accommodate a new weapon attachments system. I still ended up playing Back 4 Blood mostly without ironsights—the missions I played didn’t exactly encourage us to stand still and aim. But the addition of modular weapon attachments you can find in the environment or purchase before each mission is welcome, partly because it’ll force more complex decisions than the rock-paper-scissors of Left 4 Dead’s rifle-shotgun-sniper weapon set.

How much Back 4 Blood does ultimately alter the experience it’s unapologetically resuscitating hinges on Turtle Rock’s promises of a bigger experience that plays out over the course of a campaign, almost all of which has yet to be revealed. We also don’t know if Back 4 Blood will be moddable, or how far down the “service game” path Turtle Rock and Warner Bros. will take it (will there be a season pass?), questions they weren’t ready to answer quite yet. You’ll be able to judge some of this for yourself very soon: the alpha just went live today, and runs through December 21st.

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Xbox Series X, left, and Xbox Series S
Source: Microsoft Corp.

by Jason Schreier, Bloomberg

The Xbox Series X is billed as the most powerful video game console ever made. But with a meager lineup of games this year, that promise won’t mean much for a while.

Microsoft Corp. released a new pair of consoles on Tuesday, kicking off the next generation of video games with better visuals and shorter load times. Bloomberg spent the last two weeks testing both products—the high-end Xbox Series X, which will sell for $500, and its smaller, less-powerful counterpart, the Xbox Series S, which will go for $300.

The consoles are sleek and easy to use. Games boot up almost immediately, even on the Series S. Loading screens aren’t completely gone, but they last a few seconds at most. Starting from the console’s home screen, there’s barely enough time to check Twitter before you’re off shooting aliens or raiding with Vikings. That’s probably the biggest selling point right now.

The new Xbox consoles and a competing product from Sony Corp. are the first major new game systems from these companies in seven years. Both debut next week, and expectations are high. The coronavirus pandemic has been good for video games and is expected to help lift spending on gaming products in the holiday shopping season by 24% from last year, according to research firm NPD Group.

For Microsoft, the new Xbox is a chance to redeem itself from a lackluster performance with the current console, the Xbox One. Although the company’s gaming sales have inched up in recent years, their share of Microsoft’s total revenue has declined. It was 8.1%, or $11.6 billion, in the last fiscal year. Compared with Sony, Microsoft is less reliant on games, and its stock is up 37% this year.

Another difference between Sony and Microsoft: The new Xbox arrives without a single exclusive. Every Xbox game set for release this year can be found elsewhere, whether it’s on the new PlayStation or the old Xbox. The most-anticipated game, Microsoft’s Halo Infinite, was delayed to next year. Its hero, Master Chief, is pictured on the back of the new Xbox’s packaging, serving as a glaring reminder of the game’s absence.

A lack of content is a typical issue for consoles in their first year or so on the market. Microsoft will try to balance that out with Xbox Game Pass, a subscription service akin to Netflix that offers access to new and old games for $10 a month. The Xbox Series S and X can play games that date back to 2005, when the Xbox 360 was released. For those who missed out on the best games of the past decade, like Red Dead Redemption and Dark Souls, this is a good way to catch up. Underrated gems like Nier Automata, Fallout New Vegas and Hollow Knight are also included with Game Pass.

Of course, you could stream all of that through Game Pass on a computer, smartphone or even on the Xbox One. Microsoft executives have said their new games will continue to be available on the Xbox One for the next year or two. And Microsoft’s recent $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda Softworks’s parent company will take years to deliver the kinds of exclusive, new games that sell consoles.

There are advantages to springing for the new Xbox, though. The Series X can run at least some games at 4K ultra-high-definition resolution and 60 frames per second. You need a fairly new television and a sharp eye to benefit from the former, but the latter makes a massive difference. With a higher frame rate, animations look smoother, controls feel more responsive, and the overall experience is far better. This may only matter to the biggest game enthusiasts, but after playing in this context, it’s tough to go back to old hardware.

A good showcase of the technology is Ubisoft Entertainment SA’s upcoming action-role-playing game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. On the old Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, the game runs at 30 frames per second. The Xbox Series X stably doubles that capacity. Madden NFL 21 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon also run at the higher frame rate on the Xbox Series X. However, another Ubisoft game, Watch Dogs: Legion, does not, indicating that the experience will vary by title.

The cheaper Xbox Series S is a different story. It can’t display in 4K. The new Assassin’s Creed runs at the same slower frame rate as the old consoles, though Microsoft has said the hardware is capable of much higher. Otherwise, the Series S software interface looks identical to the Series X, the device itself is more svelte, and games load surprisingly fast.

But getting a video game console at launch is all about the possibilities. That is especially true for these new Xbox systems. For now, it’s only worth the purchase for those who really want to experience games on the highest-end console possible or those who didn’t buy a console last decade and want to catch up.

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By Bill Gilbert, Business Insider

This November, Microsoft’s new Xbox and Sony’s new PlayStation are scheduled to go head-to-head in a competition for control over the next generation of video game consoles.

With that new generation comes the next major leap in graphics technology: Both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X are boasting 4K-resolution games at a stunningly high refresh rate of 120 hertz. What that means in English is crisp image quality paired with smooth motion. Games on both new consoles are promised to look better than ever.

Websites for the Xbox Series X, left, and the PlayStation 5 highlight the visual capability of their respective consoles.

Whether your television is actually capable of producing those visuals, however, is another question.

For a television to display 4K-resolution games running at such high frame rates, it needs to support those specs — and the vast majority of TVs do not, including many new sets that support both 4K resolution and HDR visuals. That’s because TVs with support for such high frame rates with 4K resolutions are still brand new, and most are still prohibitively expensive.

You’re looking at $950 on the low end — and much higher if you want something larger than 55 inches — for TVs that support those specs. Beyond producing 4K-resolution visuals at 120 Hz, TVs that fully support the next-gen consoles also need a new type of HDMI port to handle all that data: HDMI 2.1.

The latest version of HDMI is available on only the newest modern TVs — many existing 4K and HDR TVs don’t have it, and there’s no way to upgrade an existing port.

In so many words: If you want to take full advantage of the power of the coming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles, you’ll almost certainly need a new television.

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By Tyler Fischer,

PS5 pre-orders are being canceled as a result of retailers taking more pre-orders than their supply. This month, PlayStation makers Sony announced the PS5 price and the PS5 release date. The moment it did this, retailers — such as GameStop, Amazon, Walmart, GAME, EB Games, and Best Buy — immediately began to take pre-orders, and it looks like most of them took more pre-orders than they should. In addition to Amazon sending out emails warnings pre-orderers they may not get a console at launch, GameStop Ireland has warned some of its pre-order customers they won’t get their console until 2021. It doesn’t end there though.

VGC reports that UK retailer ShopTo will not be able to fulfill all of its pre-orders unless some customers begin to cancel their pre-orders. In other words, like other retailers, they don’t seem very confident they will have enough stock to meet demand, which begs the question: why are they taking pre-orders before they know how much stock they will have and what their shipping resources will be?

It’s only September 29. The PS5 isn’t releasing until November 12, which is to say these are the early birds getting out early as early birds do. More and more retailers are going to run into this issue. Whether it leads to canceling pre-orders or delaying delivery, the result is essentially the same thing. PlayStation players are getting pre-orders to ensure they have the console at launch. If it arrives weeks later, that hardly counts as fulfilling a pre-order.

If Amazon is anticipating stock and shipping issues, then it’s safe to assume every retailer is about to have the same issue, as Amazon likely has more stock than any other retailer, and it certainly has the greatest shipping resources.

Unfortunately, none of this is very surprising, as it happened with the PS4. And it’s going to happen with the Xbox Series X, because it happens with most modern console releases. And everyone knows this, yet retailers continue to ignore this reality to get that pre-order bump on their books.

The PS5 is set to release worldwide on November 12, priced at $400 or $500, depending on what version of the console you purchase.

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by Jonathan Lee; In The Know

The post-event high of the PlayStation 5 Showcase has had fans buzzing, but new information from Sony has turned that buzz into mild disappointment.

PlayStation 5 will not be backwards compatible with the PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, as Famitsu confirmed (via Ars Technica). However, Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan told Famitsu that “99 percent” of PlayStation 4 games will be playable on the PlayStation 5.

As Ars Technica also noted, this is an unusual change of heart for Ryan. In 2017, he questioned if PlayStation fans would ever take advantage of backwards compatibility in the first place, despite the fact that gamers have requested the feature for years.

“When we’ve dabbled with backward compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” Ryan told Time. “That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

Some gamers on Reddit bristled at this quote and described Ryan as a corporate suit who is out of touch with his own consumers.

“Is this guy serious?” one Redditor asked. “This is the head of Playstation?”

“Don’t care how good Gran Turismo Sport looks,” said another Redditor. “GT4 has nearly [three] times the cars, better tracks, glorious OST and an actual proper campaign. I’ll always play it … and many other PS2-era games that their modern-day counterparts have yet to rival.”

For Sony, backwards compatibility is most likely not a technical issue. Indeed, people with jailbroken PlayStation 4s have discovered that the console is capable of running PS1 and PS2 games. (In The Know does not endorse jailbreaking a PlayStation — or any device, for that matter.)

The issue more likely has to do with licensing. For many games, the rights to use assets such as music are limited, so a digital version of an older driving game might be pulled from platforms because its sample of Lil Jon’s “Get Low” (skeet skeet skeet) has expired and the publisher doesn’t see the value in renewing it.

Noclip’s documentary on video game distributor, which specializes in retrofitting classic titles for modern PCs, showed the enormous amount of work and legal red tape involved in preparing these games for rerelease.

It’s not clear how much console companies stand to gain or lose by limiting backwards compatibility, but there are still a lot of gamers out there who can’t (and won’t) let the past die. And for good reason! Bushido Blade still goes hard.

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by Tom Hoggins via The Telegraph

With the promised Autumn release dates of next-generation consoles Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 creeping ever closer, it seemed that Microsoft and its great gaming rival Sony were playing chicken over who would reveal the cost of their new box first.

Plenty of speculation filled social media over the months since the pair’s summer showcases, but the firms remained resolutely quiet on the pricing issue, perhaps in the hope that the other would go first and last minute tweaks could be considered.

Pushed by either the leak of its budget next-gen alternative, the Xbox Series S, or the need to be aggressive to have any chance of cutting the significant lead Sony had with the PlayStation 4, Microsoft jumped first.

And it went in with two feet. The more powerful Series X will cost £449.99 while the lower-specced Series S will set players back a faintly remarkable £249.99. Both prices were a highly aggressive move in their own right (many expected both the Series X and PS5 to be tipping over the £500 mark) but the circumstances and strategy surrounding Microsoft’s move are somewhat unprecedented in the gaming industry.

The Xbox Series X is launching without any specific exclusives to speak of, with Microsoft happy to say you can play its first-party games on PC or on the upcoming streaming service xCloud. And while smaller, budget versions of gaming hardware are hardly new, they usually come in the middle of a console’s lifecycle. Releasing one alongside a premium model at launch is new territory.

All of this is in service to Microsoft’s growing subscription service Game Pass. This Netflix-style service offers up a library of games to download for a fixed monthly price. All of Xbox’s own Game Studios titles -such as Halo Infinite- will appear on the service, while the company also announced that FIFA publisher EA would be folding in its own EA Play library into the price. Microsoft have been aggressively pushing Game Pass as the fulcrum of its gaming offering for the best part of two years and it will also be the backbone of xCloud.

Microsoft’s approach to its consoles is not about selling boxes as much as it is ensnaring you into a Game Pass subscription. The Redmond giant is even offering a smartphone style 24 month contract for the Series X and Series S, in which you can pay up to £35 a month (for the Series X) for the new console and access to Game Pass. Taken at face value (not including the inevitable offers on subscription that will come from buying the box up front) over the span of two years that would be cheaper for players than buying the box and a Game Pass sub up front (around £18 according to some back-of-the-hand maths).

It is an approach unheard of thus far. And while there are unquestionable risks inherent in committing to a 24-month contract, giving prospective customers an option where they are not forking out £450 at launch will be a tantalising prospect.

Microsoft have so far executed this plan as well as it possibly could have – gaming Twitter was a flurry of positivity after the reveal- but there remains a significant question mark over whether this is the right plan.

Game Pass has received plenty of plaudits for its breadth of choice, but whether subscription is the direction that the mainstream gaming audience will want to go remains to be seen. The dominance of subscription services in other entertainment mediums would suggest yes, but gaming has not always followed the same pattern as its TV or musical cousins.

And there is, of course, the question of the PlayStation 5. Where Microsoft are trying to disrupt the industry model through service, Sony seem to be playing a straighter bat. While it too will be releasing a cheaper (disc-less) version of its PS5 console at launch, its focus so far has seemed more traditional; highlighting its gilded first-party studio exclusives and touting a more significant step into the next generation. While it does have irons in the fire with cloud gaming and subscriptions, Sony hasn’t seemed to have shown the same appetite of building its gaming business around the idea.

To an extent: why should it? Estimates have the PlayStation 4 outselling the Xbox One at around two to one and Sony is widely recognised as having the superior exclusive line-up. Getting gamers to shift allegiance after a successful run is not an easy task and Sony may feel that too much disruption would not serve it well.

Still, the reaction to Xbox’s pricing strategy would have caused plenty of chin-stroking in the executive offices of Sony HQ. PlayStation’s initial riposte may be to undercut the ticket price of the Xbox -who knows?- but it may be keeping one eye on how the monthly contract idea plays out too.

The chances are that Sony can afford to wait it out a little longer than Microsoft. Xbox knows it needed to be aggressive to shift mindsets and further push Game Pass as the future of how we play games. An all or nothing gamble that could fall flat or disrupt the gaming industry entirely. Microsoft look to be making the right moves, at least. Now it is your turn, PlayStation.

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But can you lose a console war you’re not fighting in?

by Aaron Souppouris via Engadget

Microsoft has, since the launch of the Xbox One X in 2017, been able to claim that it sells “the most powerful console.” It’s a claim that will extend into the next generation, as the Xbox Series X’s CPU and GPU are, in terms of raw compute, stronger than the PlayStation 5’s.

For the Xbox One X, this has meant that cross-platform games almost always look or run better than they do on the PlayStation 4 Pro. You’ll often find a game that runs at 1800p on Xbox One X only hits 1440p on PS4 Pro. In other titles, the Xbox One may better stick to its target of 30 or 60 frames per second than Sony’s machine.

The gap between the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 for cross-platform titles will likely be real, though it’s not going to be as severe as the XB1X/PS4 Pro divide. Despite this, though, during the all-important launch window, it’s likely that we’ll see PlayStation 5 exclusive titles that simply look better than Xbox Series X exclusive titles.

You can see this in Halo Infinite, which looks like a 4K remaster of a Xbox One launch game. Now, some of that comes down to art direction and wanting to produce a game that recalls the Halo series’ legacy. There are also promises that it’ll “get better,” but the game looks like an upscaled Xbox One game because it is, in fact, built to run on an Xbox One. Microsoft can’t afford to release a first-party game that struggles to run on its own hardware, which means that the ambition of Infinite has to take a hit.

This might seem nonsensical, but it all comes down to a shift in strategy, and a promise.

The promise

As outlined fastidiously by Sean Hollister at The Verge, Microsoft has, since the Series X announcement last December, been promising Xbox owners that they’ll be able to play all of the company’s AAA titles on their current hardware for the foreseeable future. What the term “foreseeable future” means exactly has varied depending on which executive is speaking, but Phil Spencer, with whom the Xbox buck stops, is on record as saying two years. This means, for example, that Halo Infinite, Microsoft’s big holiday title, will play on a 2013 Xbox One as well as a 2020 Xbox Series X. Unless Microsoft goes back on its word, that should hold true for other titles to come.

Hollister’s article, however, points out that the majority of titles shown at yesterday’s Xbox Games Showcase have not been confirmed for Xbox One. If any of these games come out before late 2022, that would mean a broken promise. In responding to this controversy, Aaron Greenberg, who oversees the marketing for Xbox games, said that the company hasn’t ruled out an Xbox One launch for any title, and instead said on Twitter “we are leading with Series X & each studio will decide what’s best for their game/community when they launch.”

I’d venture a guess that Microsoft knows a fair number of these titles aren’t going to hit before that timeframe; we saw a lot of cinematics and not very much gameplay yesterday, after all. But it seems very unlikely that, for example, no Forza game will launch before Holiday 2022. (And if that is the case, that’s perhaps an even bigger issue for Microsoft than lying to some users.)

The Xbox model

Microsoft has been pushing away from the idea of console generations for years now. It started with the notion that gamers have one, singular library that works across generations. Over 600 Xbox 360 and original Xbox games work just fine on Xbox One, and will also be playable on Xbox Series X. Every Xbox One game will work on Series X too. 

More recently, though, Microsoft has been moving away from the idea of game ownership; it’s all about Game Pass, its subscription service that gives you access to every first- and second- party game on day one, and plenty of third-party titles too. 

Let’s ignore the weighty discussions about ownership versus subscriptions, and whether this strategy is actually good for gaming in the long-run. Right now, Game Pass is a compelling option for Xbox players, and a fantastic strategy for Microsoft. In a market where most of your potential customers already own a PS4 and its major exclusives, what better way to bring people into your ecosystem than offering all of your exclusives they’ve missed for a single monthly subscription? Recurring, guaranteed revenues are hugely valuable, and with over 10 million subscribers, Game Pass alone could be a billion-dollar business already. (10 million subscribers at full rate would be well over $1 billion, but Microsoft has been discounting the service massively over the past year, so it’s not clear exactly how much the service is pulling in right now.)

When your business strategy is selling subscriptions, though, the importance of games and hardware is lessened, replaced by the need to increase retention and reduce churn — terms more commonly found in the earnings reports of cable operators and wireless carriers. Games and hardware are just ends to that mean. Look at the whole Xbox business from that perspective, and its decision-making starts to make (a bit) more sense.

The problem 

There are a few reasons why we have console generations; why every new console has to have better processors, more RAM, more storage. On the “creative” side, toward the end of the six-to-seven year console life cycle, developers have more or less used every trick in the book to make the “best” games that they can for the hardware (in scope and fidelity, at least). This then feeds into the business side, where games are typically sold on the promise of being longer, bigger, better than those that came before them. 

A new console rarely makes a lot of money for a company on its own, and in some cases is sold at a loss on the understanding that money lost will be recouped on games and lucrative accessories. (Rumors suggest that this “loss-leader” approach may be in effect this generation, although neither company has yet announced a price for its console.)

What new hardware does, then, is restart the cycle. It gives developers more power to attract gamers to their games, and lets Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo attempt to win over customers from the other side. With the Xbox Series X, developers have more power, but right now, the most important studios can’t make full use of it, thanks to the cross-generation promise. 

There are four key upgrade areas for this next generation, which are largely mirrored across Sony and Microsoft’s consoles: CPU, GPU, RAM and SSD.

When developing a cross-platform game, “scaling” is easier in some areas than others. The hardware differences between the Xbox One S and Xbox One X haven’t been an issue, because these changes were essentially “the same part, but more,” or, “the same part, but faster.” When it comes to rendering a game at a higher fidelity, or the same fidelity but at a higher frame rate, that’s all you need. 

With Xbox Series X and PS5, we’re seeing a huge improvement in CPU and SSD, though, and, if you want to truly take advantage of these parts, scaling your game is nigh-on impossible. Both Microsoft and Sony have talked about using the SSD as RAM to load highly detailed objects and textures on the fly, and about rich open worlds with instantaneous fast travel. A solid example of all these elements in action would be the new Ratchet & Clank title for PlayStation 5, where the core gameplay loop revolves around jumping between highly detailed environments with no loading. How can Microsoft build experiences like that when it also has to support a seven-year-old laptop hard drive in the 2013 Xbox One? It can’t. Or rather, if it is achievable, making it happen would involve a torturous amount of work.

There’s also the matter of the CPU, which is tasked with telling the GPU what to write. The more powerful CPU in new consoles will allow for richer simulations. That could mean more cars on a racetrack, more NPCs in an open-world crowd, or just a level of AI complexity that we’ve yet to see in a console game. While NPCs and cars are largely scalable, it’s these new levels of simulation quality that can lead to unseen “next-gen” experiences.

It’s worth noting that one of Sony’s major launch-window titles, Spider-Man: Miles Morales,like Halo Infinite, looks like a “scaled” version of a current-gen title, as it’s built on the back of the 2018 PS4 game. Many early cross-platform titles, like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Hitman III, are not going to look meaningfully “next-gen” for the same reason. It’s only when developers can leave behind the last gen that we see that leap in fidelity. Just look at 2013’s Xbox 360-supporting Call of Duty: Ghosts versus last year’s Modern Warfare reboot to see what a difference the lowest common denominator can make. Backward compatibility is fairly simple; forward compatibility is a headache.

With its first-party PS5 titles, such as Horizon Forbidden West, Sony is free from those past-gen shackles as soon as it wants to be, and can use its 2021 lineup of games to attract gamers over to its new console. Microsoft, assuming it wants to keep its promise, can’t.

When you’re selling subscriptions, that maybe isn’t the greatest problem, especially when, as mentioned, huge cross-platform games like Call of Duty, Destiny or Far Cry will run just as well or better on Xbox Series X. But we’re at that period in the console lifecycle when people are picking sides, at least for a few years, and gamers are willing to jump ship. Banking on the lure of Game Pass alone to keep your users on side is a risky move. The fact that Microsoft is starting to muddy the waters so quickly suggests it knows it has a problem; that if it wants to build next-gen experiences that keep its existing customers and attract new ones, it needs to cut the Xbox One loose.

The solutions

Nothing I’ve written so far will be news to Microsoft. Its engineers, developers, marketers and community managers know exactly what the issue is with this promise. The question is: What to do now?

There are essentially three ways to fix this problem. One: Bite the bullet and actually produce functional last-gen versions of all of your games until Holiday 2022. Two: Ensure that the vast majority of your users (or, at least, Game Pass subscribers) are using a next-gen console by the time you abandon the Xbox One and Xbox One X. Three: Worm your way out of the promise on a technicality. 

The first option is self-explanatory, if costly, for all the reasons outlined already. The second option, though, is more complicated and the key could arrive in Lockhart, the Xbox Series S, or whatever you want to call Microsoft’s long-rumored cheap next-gen console. It’s widely assumed that this console will come in at sub-$300, possibly as low as $250. But when you consider the Xbox business as a subscription play, and pay attention to what Microsoft has been doing with hardware recently, “price” could be the wrong way to look at the Series S.

Microsoft has been piloting hardware-as-a-subscription over the past couple of years, in the form of its “Xbox All Access” program. For $20 a month (over 24 months), you could pick up an Xbox One S, and a subscription to Game Pass Ultimate (normally $15 a month anyway). It’s not hard to imagine the exact same deal being put in place for the “Series S,” offering a $20- or $25-per-month subscription that nets you a next-gen console and every game you want. This offers a fairly painless upgrade, and would likely pick up many of the stragglers that don’t want to buy expensive consoles outright. With the long-term benefits of retaining and attracting subscribers, Microsoft could even afford to “give away” the Series S with, say, a 36-month Game Pass subscription, thus disarming anyone complaining about the broken promise.

For option three, Microsoft can point to the cloud. Specifically, xCloud, the streaming service that’s coming to Game Pass this fall. The company could easily support every Xbox Series X game on the Xbox One S and Xbox One X for years and years to come — once they upgrade their servers. This is an elegant and cheap way of keeping the promise, if a slightly shifty one.

This is all speculation, but I think we’ll end with a solution that involves elements of all three. I believe that Microsoft will release its first- and second-party games on the Xbox One S and X through 2021. I also believe that it’ll be offering subsidized consoles through a program similar to Xbox All Access, and that the Xbox One S will be supported as (and maybe even sold primarily as) a streaming box for xCloud.

None of these solutions end in disaster for Microsoft. But similarly, none of them are likely to give the company much chance to close the gap on Sony or even Nintendo, whose Switch console has outsold the Xbox One despite the latter’s three-and-a-half year head start. That’s a huge problem for a console seller. But for a subscription provider? No churn, no problem.

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