We are now at the gates of the generation to come. Many things have changed and many others will change: we have seen the passing of the baton between Don Mattrick and Phil Spencer, we have witnessed the step backwards of Reggie Fils-Aime from the presidency of Nintendo of America, we have commented on the farewell of Kazuo Hirai from the direction of Sony and we gave our final farewell to the legendary Satoru Iwata.
We tested mid-gen consoles for the first time, hardware that will probably make the technological leap feel less than usual, and we got a taste of Cloud Gaming, which presented itself on the stages of the GDC as a great antagonist for the traditional market.
What will change with the advent of the next-gen? We are not talking about technical innovations, but more about creative philosophies, services and exclusives. The four actors at the center of the parlor gaming scene have hinted at what their respective strategy will be: here, then, what we should expect from the future of Google, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.
The Stadia infrastructure, connection permitting, would lead to the overcoming of home hardware, where the effort would pass all through the data center.
It was in the air for some time, since the test of the service then known as Project Stream, and it finally happened: Google officially entered the world of gaming by passing through the preferential lane of the Cloud. What happened during the Game Developers Conference, however, went beyond all expectations: the Mountain View giant announced Stadia, a Cloud ecosystem designed to bring the video game streaming on all existing devices, from smartphones to televisions passing through any type of PC, including less performing laptops.
Stadia is one step away from operations: Google’s data centers can carry the signal to most of the world by exploiting the over 7500 network nodes on the planet’s surface, using a GPU born from the hands of AMD and, listen, of 56 computational units capable of 10.7 Teraflops of computation, about double the sum of the potential of Playstation 4 Pro and Xbox One X. We have seen Assassin’s Creed Odyssey running in 60fps for 1080p on a laptop, on a full HD screen and even on a mobile phone using different control systems, among which the new original Stadia branded gamepad stands out.
Accessing the title is as simple as clicking on a link: imagine watching a gameplay video of the latest Assassin’s Creed chapter on YouTube. Get to the bottom, and the ‘play now’ button appears on the screen: Just a click, and you enter directly into the world created by Ubisoft, without any need for downloads, patches or latest generation hardware specifications. The game is saved automatically, and you don’t have to sacrifice even a moment of play in switching between one device and another.
We have seen Assassin’s Creed Odyssey run on any type of device at the push of a button.
Google then introduced the public to the functioning of multiplayer, intrinsically free of the danger of cheaters thanks to the Cloud infrastructure and at the same time free from the problems related to latency between servers and hardware. All this will be seasoned with a game sharing system that will allow users to join friends in the blink of an eye, as well as share bailouts and request help at any time. In short, in a few small steps it will be possible to merge the high accessibility of the mobile experience with the most avant-garde Triple A products on the market, where the only limit lies in the quality of the connection, regarding which the top management of Google remained. strangely silent.
Towards the end of the presentation, Jade Raymond came to take the stage, announcing the founding of a first-party environment linked to Google that is able to make the most of all the computing potential of data centers. “The future of gaming isn’t a box. It’s a place.” It is with these words that the presentation of the service ended, which will debut on any device with a screen by the end of 2019. A line-up will be announced this summer, simultaneously with the publication of the dev-kit intended for developers interested in a partnership.
There remains only a few cumbersome unknowns: how much will Stadia cost? Will it be a subscription service or a simple virtual platform on which to purchase individual games? Even if a good chunk of users has proved confident, the public is hungry for details regarding prices and technical requirements, not to mention that no platform dedicated to gaming can hope to be successful as long as it lacks a level line-up, perhaps also full of exclusive content.
Microsoft Xbox ‘Scarlett’
Xbox could take advantage of the engineering skills gained around Xbox One X, currently the most powerful console in the world.
A few weeks ago, Phil Spencer released a statement suggesting the possible landing of Xbox Game Pass on the shores of Nintendo: “We want to bring Game Pass to any device someone wants to play on. Not just because it’s our business, but because it’s a model that allows fans to discover titles they would not have played anywhere else. ” The Game Pass has undoubtedly proved a successful experiment, having debuted what is the richest subscription offer encountered so far, and the words of the spokesman have done nothing but further underline the importance of services for the future of the house in Redmond.
The question is, if Microsoft were to devote most of its efforts to boosting the service ecosystem, would it still make sense to talk about exclusives related to the Xbox platform? It seems quite evident that Microsoft has no intention of leaving the hardware dimension entirely behind, but the machine of tomorrow will see the offer of services at the forefront, opening the doors to the world of Project xCloud and pushing the Game Pass beyond the boundaries of platform. Would it really be so serious to lose the exclusivity of some works in favor of a greater presence on the market?
The management behind the Xbox brand is well aware of the importance of exclusivity, and demonstrated it by first inaugurating the much discussed temporal agreements that linked a product to the single platform, as well as having debuted in the console universe through legendary works such as Halo. And it is precisely for this reason that the new Microsoft Studios set themselves the ambitious goal of building a completely renewed line-up, filling the biggest gap of the current generation to get to cover the largest possible number of dimensions.
The Initiative is one of the studios to watch the most, as it has brought together some of the industry’s greatest talents.
The investment of the Redmond house was gargantuan: the current Xbox Game Studios can count on the contribution of 343 Industries (Halo), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few), Inxile (Torment, The Bard’s Tale), Minecraft Studios , by Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), by Obsidian (Pillars of Eternity, Fallout: New Vegas), by Playground Games (Forza Horizon), by Rare (Sea of Thieves), by The Coalition (Gears of War), by Turn 10 (Forza Motorsport), Undead Labs (State of Decay) and the new super studio The Initiative, to unearth a new generation of IP.
However, Microsoft is well aware that the war of the future will be fought on other battlefields and has been gearing up for some time to transform Windows 10, the most popular operating system on the planet, into the largest gaming ecosystem. All that remains is one question to answer: what would happen if a service like Xbox Game Pass landed with its baggage of exclusives on all platforms, including Nintendo Switch, taking full advantage of the push of Project xCloud?
It was the fall of 2015 when Spencer outlined his vision of the Xbox platform of the future as follows: “The console experience is obviously the beating heart of our philosophy, and the Xbox platform is the most important for our company. At the same time. , we know that there are tens of millions of gamers who access Microsoft services in other ways, be it through Windows, a smartphone or Skype. Every day a new platform could be born, and my will is to expand what we do so that can reach as many people as possible “.
Sony’s philosophy has led Playstation 4 to carve out a special place in the world of gaming, where its titles have been able to shine several times among the best of the generation.
It should not be surprising, therefore, the idea of one day seeing titles like Ori and the Blind Forest playable via Game Pass also on Nintendo hardware, especially in light of the rumors regarding xCloud and following the announcement of Cuphead for Switch. Following in the wake of what Google has announced, in the not too distant future any device with a strong enough internet connection will turn into an Xbox platform, be it a TV, a smartphone, a Nintendo console or a simple plug-in.
The next hardware will have to be marketed in a more than satisfactory way to convince users to bind to the platforms, especially if the console concept itself proves obsolete in the light of the new generation of services related to the cloud. The right path for the Redmond house could be that of performance, riding the wave of results achieved with mid-gen consoles. The 14 Teraflops suggested by a recent dev-kit leak don’t seem so unreachable, and Microsoft has already demonstrated some know-how with the engineering apparatus.
Given and established that we must not forget the media power of first party productions, would these be equally effective if deprived of the concept of exclusivity? Let’s say that the new Microsoft Studios came out with a revolutionary title, perhaps the result of the experience gained by Playground Games, and distributed it on all platforms compatible with xCloud: it would be enough initiative to convince users to bind to the new Xbox hardware. ? To effectively answer this question we will have to wait for further clarification regarding the future of Microsoft services.
Sony Playstation 5
PS5 is not as close as we thought: the console could debut in 2020 and stage a rather soft handover.
Sony comes out of the current gen head-on: the software exclusivity model has shown that it can dramatically increase the perception of the brand in the eyes of consumers, regardless of actual profitability. God of War, for example, had sold 10 million copies in September 2018, a number that, while it may seem important, pales in front of the more than 90 million Playstation 4 consoles distributed (according to VGChartz, about 100 million). However, the mental association between The Game Award winning title and Sony’s system leads to an image advantage that, in the frame of the current generation and in the perspective of the next, seems to be more indispensable than ever.
The result of the Sony branding choices has resulted in the concrete realization, in the eyes of the communities, of that “For the players” that is the slogan of Playstation 4, and which at the moment seems to represent the only force capable of opposing to the streaming revolution being pursued by Stadia. The Google service, at present, aims at the complete elimination of the costs related to hardware, often prohibitive and currently necessary to access the latest generation titles, but it still lacks a line-up, except for Doom Eternal and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
We must take into account more than ever the lesson taught by Sony, which since the sunset of the last generation has set up a strategy diametrically opposite to that of Microsoft and Google, close to the shores of Nintendo, skimping on specifications and services but focusing on everything. on the coat of arms of the original productions. In short, even if an actor between xCloud / Game Pass and Stadia were to be able to effectively translate into the Netflix of video games by maximizing the spread of cloud gaming, it is not certain that he will be able to win against a new injection of first-party titles of excellent workmanship.
Who knows if they will remain the absolute protagonists of the market even during the next generation.
The hard core of gaming, the user that defines generational trends and the international specialist press have implicitly elected PS4 as the winner of the hardware skirmish, where the latest unofficial sales data, dating back to the close of 2018, gave the Sony console by now almost double the units distributed (93 million) compared to the Xbox counterparts (41 million). If we think of the beginnings of the current generation, Sony has brought home the result precisely because it has been able to fully embody the historical tradition of gaming, putting on the plate an offer that is more classic than ever.
The impressive thing is that despite having staked everything on the contribution of exclusives, Sony found itself generating most of its profits through PS Plus, not to mention the debut of PS Now also on the Italian territory. In short: the image of the Japanese manufacturer has once again found itself close to the glories savored at the time of Playstation 2, and it is precisely for this reason that it is difficult to imagine a sudden change of course.
And so, after months of silence, this week the technical specifications and the first details on the Playstation 5 have appeared on the net, a console that apparently will not debut by the end of 2019. Mark Cerny, on the pages of Wired USA, confirmed the backwards compatibility and heralded a slow disposal period for the current-gen, releasing some details on the hardware: third-generation 8-core AMD Ryzen and customized Radeon Navi, accompanied by the SSD in replacement of the hard drive for an amalgam that, in its together, it should support 8K resolution right from launch.
If, then, Sony were to present itself at the dawn of the next-gen with an offer similar to that already seen with the debut of PS4, adding to the cauldron some heavy weight in the period of the release such as a God of War 2, a Death Stranding or a Final Fantasy VII Remake in exclusive time, could maintain its position of absolute juggernaut of the console landscape without worrying absolutely about the revolutions brought by the competition.
Nintendo goes its own way, a path that is leading it to earn the respect of all gamers through unique and unforgettable works.
It is clear that Nintendo, at least for the moment, is not aiming to compete directly with Sony, Microsoft and Google, but rather wants to continue down an intimate and personal path. That of Switch is still a revolution, even if numerically less important than the one that occurred through Wii, and is making the happiness of both historical enthusiasts and the latest arrivals under the wing of the great N. The first party catalog unique of its kind and portable nature are helping to make the ‘Nintendo Difference’ more evident today than ever.
The hypotheses on the future of the Xbox Game Pass have found fertile ground precisely because the relationship between Microsoft and Nintendo is reaching a level of confidence that goes beyond simple flirtation. During the recent cross platform discussion, Sony emerged as a black sheep among hardware manufacturers, a suit that fit Microsoft in the Xbox 360 era. It is natural that anyone in a position of dominance applies targeted policies. to consolidate the situation, but a possible ‘alliance’ between the Redmond giant and the historic Kyoto company could be too much even for Kratos and his companions, probably even for the Mountain View giant.
Nintendo then broke the traditional rhythm of hardware evolution; if initially some doubts arose around the curious drift, especially in light of the poor results achieved by WiiU, Switch has definitively rekindled the spotlight on the strengths of the house: accessibility, portability, tradition and innovation. It may be that soon we will see the debut of a mid-gen of the Kyoto house but, regardless of the recent edgy Nintendo Switch Online offer, the focus is always and in any case linked to the stock of titles.
The technical component has definitely taken a back seat, leaving room for the creativity of the designers and the particular innovation brought by Labo, which has recently crossed the border of virtual reality. We must not forget, then, the excessive power shown by proprietary software on mobile platforms, above all that of Pokémon Go, which has crushed any record ever recorded by the reference App Stores. In short, between one experimentation and another, Nintendo seems to have managed to make its ‘difference’ felt once again, and it is plausible to think that it will continue to do so in the years to come thanks to Link, Mario, Samus and all the other heroes. out of the fantastic incubator of the brand.