Opinion: Publishers too reluctant to embrace new consoles

The new generation has been an unquestionable success. So why are publishers so reluctant to embrace it?

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The new generation has been an unquestionable success. PlayStation 4 is selling at a faster rate than either the PS2 or PS3 at this point in their lifecycles, and Xbox One isn't too far behind. Given this success, why are publishers so reluctant to embrace it?

The release calendar tells the tale. More than anything, this is a year of hedging bets. Much has been made of the flurry of delays, and by looking at both the delayed games and the ones that remained in this year, a pattern starts to emerge. Pop quiz: What do Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3, The Division, and Evolve have in common? All of these high-profile delays are new-gen exclusives.

Cross-generation games, by contast, are consistently staying in this year's calendar cycle. Almost every third-party game still on-tap for this calendar year will be on both the current and last generation of consoles. The notable exception is Assassin's Creed Unity, which today received a slight delay but remained within this year. Still, Ubisoft has gone out of its way to make sure a last-gen game is coming too with Assassin's Creed Rogue.

Given the pattern, it's hard to shake the distinct feeling that publishers are simply uneasy about this generation. An extra holiday season would give them the opportunity to launch into a marketplace with higher install bases.

But why should they be nervous, when the new consoles are doing so well? 

The unprecedented longevity of the last generation may play a role. Generations of consoles had always lasted roughly 4-5 years before being replaced. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 went almost twice that long. Through a combination of longevity and general growth in the games industry, publishers were able to enjoy a period of greater success and profits than ever before. Each console counted its number in the tens of millions of units. Capturing even a tiny fraction of those could put a game into the black.

Enter the new generation. Development costs are on the rise, and the most successful new console has sold a comparatively paltry 10 million units. While before a game could easily recoup by capturing only a small fragment of console owners, these hurdles mean a new-gen exclusive needs to get into a much higher percentage of console owners' homes to turn a profit. It's no wonder third-parties are hedging.

It's notable that first-party games aren't falling into the same trap. Games like Driveclub and Sunset Overdrive are still on-track, specifically because they're tied to the fate of the new consoles. Instead of publishers avoiding a release in an uncertain market, these are being funded to help sell more consoles and, by extension, make the marketplace safer and more inviting for third-parties. Microsoft has also started to shore up third-parties, with the announcement that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be exclusive to its platforms. When a first-party game is delayed, like The Order: 1886, it's likely for the generally standard rationale of finishing or improving the game. 

While that's fine for the short term, third-parties will need to take a bolder approach, and preferably soon. Holding on to the safe, reassuring glow of the last generation is bound to stifle creativity and progression in the medium. The new generation was already overdue with games starting to spin their wheels, and a leap forward in technology will help ambitious developers create new experiences. As long as publishers are playing it safe with cross-gen titles, the new-gen versions will just be prettier versions of the games we've already been playing for years. That hurts everyone involved.

Editor-In-Chief

From The Chatty

  • reply
    August 28, 2014 1:30 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Opinion: Publishers too reluctant to embrace new consoles.

    The new generation has been an unquestionable success. So why are publishers so reluctant to embrace it?

    • reply
      August 29, 2014 2:00 AM

      I think you are spot on but what could this mean for the future? If the cycle is consoles become more powerful each gen and therefore games more expensive then publishers won't be able to release any new gen games for a while. That could mean consoles won't sell and therefore we would never reach a point where you could make 3rd party games.

      Now for some reason everyone went and bought them anyway so this gen is almost set to go already.

      Will this happen again or will the nature of consoles have to change? Now that Sony and Ms basically built a PC in a box I wouldn't mind the next generation being 100% backwards compatible. I think that would make for a way safer launch and also could reduce the cycle time a bit again (although I'm not sure that's what the industry wants for various reasons).

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        August 29, 2014 3:45 AM

        I would be utterly amazed if the next generation isn't 100% backwards compatible. At this point, I think most consumers expect software they purchase to continue functioning on each iterative version of the hardware they bought it for, and that's not an unreasonable expectation at all.

        I think the continued push for digital purchases only makes this more prevalent.

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          August 29, 2014 4:32 AM

          I would hope so but I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't the case.

          Also ms doesn't mind giving up on things, there's always the chance they might opt out of the console wars. 10 years for a gen is a long time and new leadership brings new direction.

          What I mean is, I feel pretty save with my steam and gog collection, and I have high hopes for ps4 and xbone (technically not really as I don't own the xbone but you get the point) but I still prefer disc based console games because I know I can play them decades from now and not until they decide to pull the plug.

          Another important factor is certainly price. I started buying steam games when they introduced weekend deals, I bought all vita games in sales. Because of all the above reasons I don't like buying digital at full price.

          I'd probably start buying all stuff digital if I get an incentive like a flat 20% off or something.

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            August 29, 2014 5:43 AM

            Yeah, at this point, I only buy digital on consoles if it's not available otherwise, or there's a big discount.

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          August 29, 2014 7:12 AM

          I can't help but think a hardware company like Sony isn't jealously watching Apple sell a shit ton of iPads every year as they incrementally upgrade. I can't help but think that if consoles were to upgrade every couple of years, people wouldn't take advantage of it. I know I totally would.

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          August 29, 2014 10:22 PM

          I don't think it's unreasonable when the hardware you're using is specialized, and game consoles have always been highly specialized hardware.

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      August 29, 2014 4:05 AM

      I think consoles are in their death throes. Not that I am any PC Master Race advocator, but I think game streaming will become a much bigger deal and VR as well, so the next really successful wave of consoles will not need to be as powerful as this one.

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        August 29, 2014 5:45 AM

        IIRC, the current systems are outselling their predecessors in the terms of the time from launch. Consoles aren't going anywhere.

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          August 29, 2014 6:02 AM

          Only if you exclude the top selling console from the last generation. Total sales are down significantly because everyone was buying a Wii.

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            August 29, 2014 6:10 AM

            I'm referring specifically to XBO compared to 360 and PS4 compared to PS3.

            Nintendo is an outlier in both cases, with the Wii having done crazy numbers and the Wii U being a dud.

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              August 29, 2014 10:36 PM

              Considering Microsoft had to convince people the 360 was going to be much more successful than the original Xbox I'm not surprised folks were apprehensive about plunking down 500 dollars for the model with a HDD.

              There was also a whole lot more to consider 8 years ago. You've got Sony's past dominance particularly with the PS2, Microsoft's lack of interesting titles outside of Halo, and the looming launch of what was marketed and believed to be a significantly more powerful system.

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        August 29, 2014 6:17 AM

        They're far from death but I think they definitly lost their fight to be the ubiquitous in-house entertainment center. They had to make a place to tablets and PCs.

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        August 29, 2014 6:50 AM

        Considering neither current console is truly powerful enough to push 1080p 60 fps in everything I doubt consoles will take a step back and be less powerful in the future.

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          August 29, 2014 10:44 PM

          With game streaming the power of your local hardware doesn't matter. It just has to be powerful enough to output a picture in whatever resolution you wish to view it at.

          You could in theory stream a game to your phone that looks better than what you can do on a PS4 today. Then output that picture from your phone to your TV. At this point all controllers are wireless so just use that as your input. You'd now have a device with a fraction of the processing power visually outpacing a more powerful setup.

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            August 29, 2014 11:48 PM

            assuming no latency sure - but unless things change in the US and carriers start investing in infrastructure I don't see that as being viable for a while. Hell just getting ISPs to stream Netflix properly has been a pain as of late so while in theory streaming sounds cool I have a feeling the ISPs will be a big problem.

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              August 30, 2014 8:55 AM

              I don't either, but it does solve the performance issue.

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      August 29, 2014 5:35 AM

      I think this is the last round of actual consoles. This stream stuff is here to stay and it just makes sense for MS and Sony to go that route. Design your games to basically run off a game server. Yes, it will require a constant internet connection. But, they'll justify the headache as a mean to combat piracy. Plus, it'll all be a license vs actually owning any physical media. BUT, it also means game designers can design 'console' game much closer to how they design PC games. Also, should mean 'console' streamed games should be able to take advantage of iterative increases in hardware - not sure how that'll play out actually.

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        August 29, 2014 6:09 AM

        VR needs a lot more horsepower, I doubt if it could stream, could it? You could have the content on a server I guess and do away with media and almost all local storage, but you'd need something with a lot of tflops and massive bandwidth within 10ms of the player.

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          August 29, 2014 6:10 AM

          Oh, sorry, not sure where I got the VR from there.

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          August 29, 2014 6:23 AM

          All true. But, think about it in terms of what tech we'll have in five or seven years from now. Five years ago we didn't have Kepler and tegra3 was the hour mobile chip. Yes advances in broadband will be required. But onlive shows us were not as far off as we thought.

          Oh and why kepler? It was specifically designed for virtual gpu.

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      August 29, 2014 6:25 AM

      I don't really understand your Tomb Raider point. It's a Fall 2015 game that is STILL coming out on 360. Isn't that the problem?

      If I had to bet, I'm guessing AC: Unity and Batman AK will be the two biggest games to push new consoles. Those are established franchises that people are invested in, and they are both mainstream enough to finally convince some people to switch to the new consoles. AC in particular is one of those franchises that even my casual friends play. It has become an annual tradition for the "I only buy 4 or 5 games per year" crowd.

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      August 29, 2014 6:58 AM

      /tinfoil hat I wonder if the Xbone played a part. You have the PS4 traditional console and the Kinetic driven One that I'm certain MS was barking at publishers to force their developers to support. However I'm not aware of 3rd party Kinetic games every selling well. At the end of the day publishers want to target the largest demo, hence the focus still on 360 and ps3.

      Now that the community has spoken and MS has listened, maybe throughout 2015 we will see a lot of proper next gen game announcements from publishers for a 2016 - 17 release.

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      August 30, 2014 12:07 AM

      Rushed hardware (Xbone) and hardware kept well under wraps (PS4) could have meant that a lot of developers and publishers were taken somewhat by surprise by the new gen. Sure, they had targets and estimates, but how long did they have access to dev kits before consumers did?