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Next-gen console exclusives will be few and far between through 2021

Next-gen is an iterative step forward, so don't expect to see many PS5 and Xbox Series X exclusives throughout 2021

By: Derek Strickland from 1 week, 5 days ago

Both Microsoft and Sony assert that they won't lock current-gen console owners out of first-party games when the PS5 and Xbox Series X launch in 2020.

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Next-gen isn't a full step forward, nor will it instantly cancel out existing consoles. Instead next-gen consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are extensions of current-gen ecosystems, and will eventually claim ownership over services, software, and accessories. Synergy is a big theme of next-gen and the model is predicated on bringing the past forward. But the transitional period between current- and next-gen could last multiple years as developers gain more confidence in the new hardware, and as sales mature as gamers buy into the new generational leap. This hand-off phase between gens is very sensitive, and it's absolutely critical for Microsoft and Sony to do things just right. The best way to handle the transition is keeping next-gen exclusives at a minimum, at least when it comes to first-party titles.

Today Microsoft revealed that all of its first-party games will come to all Xbox consoles for the next two years. There won't be any games exclusive to the Xbox Series X for a long while.

"As our content comes out over the next year, two years, all of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices. We want to make sure that if someone invests in Xbox between now and [Series X] that they feel that they made a good investment and that we're committed to them with content," Xbox exec Mat Booty told MCV UK.

The community was uproarious over this news, claiming there's no reason to buy an Xbox Series X now (which is ludicrous, of course, because the main selling point is that next-gen will play all games better). But this isn't a surprise. If you've been reading our coverage, you already knew this would happen.

In November, I said devs would have to make games for eight different consoles including Lockhart. It was always part of the plan at Microsoft. Along with Sony, the company has telegraphed support for both generations for months now and strongly hinted that dual SKU launches for their games.

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Everything about Microsoft's business plan indicates its first-party games wouldn't be next-gen exclusive. Again, I think people are thinking about this in the wrong way. There aren't console games or PC games any more at Microsoft. There's just Xbox games. Xbox games are now platform agnostic and release with wide availability, whether it be PC, console, or services like Game Pass (and soon Project xCloud). Xbox is a service that bridges all devices and delivers games and content across the entire spectrum.

Microsoft would be insane to break this multifaceted approach just to appeal to a comparatively small number of next-gen console buyers. The entire model is built on a deep platform and service synergy that blends all of its moving parts together.

Releasing exclusive next-gen titles right out of the gate so fast would lock a huge portion of its existing playerbase out of new experiences, forcing them to buy into the hardware or abandoning the ecosystem out of frustration. Exclusion is the death knell to any engagement-based business model, a model that thrives from getting as many people as possible to buy into your network, and Microsoft is all-in on engagement.

Also remember Microsoft doesn't really care if you buy a console or not. They're mostly interested in selling you access to games, services, and subscriptions wherever you already are, whether it be PC, consoles, or mobile phones (again via Project xCloud).

That being said, Microsoft's first-party studios will ensure that all games play better on the Xbox Series X. We're talking about 4K 60FPS, optimized frame rates for 1080p TVs, maybe even 8K playback, HDR, variable rate shading, ray tracing, ultra-fast loading times--the works. These are things that aren't really possible on current Xbox One consoles.

On top of all that, these games will also be optimized for PC with similar adjustments for enthusiast-grade rigs.

The path forward during this transitional period is enhancing current-gen versions of specific games. New first-party games should release on both PS4/Xbox One and PS5/Xbox Series X, but the latter will have special enhancement patches to add in massively improved performance features. Think of it like the current PS4 Pro and Xbox One X enhanced updates, but on a much greater scale.

This is the correct path moving forward because not only does it allow current-gen owners to experience the titles, next-gen owners also get a taste of what the new hardware can do, which of course will trickle down and eventually push current-gen gamers towards buying the new systems.

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Sony shouldn't release PS5-exclusive first-party games either

Now let's talk about what Sony has said on exclusives.

While Sony hasn't explicitly said the PS5 won't have exclusive first-party games at launch, the company has strongly indicated this won't happen--at least on a wide scale. There's a lot of reasons why Sony shouldn't just flip the reset switch and move its biggest first-party games over to PlayStation 5 in 2020-2021.

Like Microsoft, Sony needs to handle this in-between-generations phase just right. Sony has more at stake here because its platform is much bigger.

First off, Sony said it will support the PlayStation 4 alongside the PlayStation 5 for years, until about 2022.

Secondly, the PlayStation 4 has a massive 106 million install base that's sold over 1 billion games.

Alienating these gamers right off the bat and excluding them from new games is a bad idea, especially when it's the system-selling games. Not only does it lower the amount of game sales by restricting access to a comparatively smaller audience, but it sends a bad signal to gamers who've invested thousands of dollars into the PS4 ecosystem.

Third, Sony has strongly hinted the PlayStation 5 will have robust backwards compatibility support. Sony's confirmed the PS5 will play PS4 games, but we think the system will play all PlayStation 4 games.

Backward compatibility is the most important part of next-gen and will be a fundamental aspect of the transitional period. It's all about not leaving people out and carrying the games, services, and content forward into the future on the PS5. Fracturing the userbase between the two generations with gen-exclusive games right out of the gate goes against everything both Sony and Microsoft have telegraphed.

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Current- and next-gen should overlap for the next year or so until PS5 and Xbox Series X hardware sales have matured, until developers have created a more stable base to harness the true power of next-gen systems, and as more users feel comfortable paying $500 for a high-end console.

Third-party developers could still make next-gen exclusives. Godfall will be a PS5 exclusive and more games could follow. But I still think it's far, far more likely the biggest heavy-hitters will still release on last-gen consoles for quite some time just to maximize sales.

Remember, selling games is more important than selling consoles. And it's certainly more important than making them look amazing. That's not to say third-party devs won't make their titles look incredible on PS5 and Xbox Series X, because they definitely will, but ultimately the games industry is predicated on selling software and services to a mass audience. And in 2020 and even well into 2021, I doubt either the PS5 or Xbox SX will have a huge audience of users because of their higher price tags.

Xbox Series X is due out by Holiday 2020. No pricing has been announced.

Check below for confirmed specs and details, and a huge content listing of everything we've heard about Xbox Series X so far:

Xbox Series X confirmed details (Formerly Project Scarlett):

  • 8-core, 16-thread Zen 2 CPU
  • Navi GPU on RDNA architecture
  • Highly customized 7nm SoC from AMD
  • GDDR6 memory
  • 2x Xbox One X's 6TFLOPs of GPU perf
  • 4x CPU power of Xbox One generation
  • Can deliver up to 40x more performance than Xbox One in specific use cases
  • Adaptive sync supported
  • Super-fast SSD that can be used as VRAM
  • Supports 8K resolution (likely media playback)
  • 120FPS gaming
  • Variable refresh rate (adaptive sync/FreeSync)
  • Variable Rate Shading
  • Raytracing confirmed with dedicated raytracing cores
  • Backward compatible with thousands of Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games
  • New controller with a dedicated share button
  • Compatible with Xbox One accessories

Lockhart (Unconfirmed lower-end Xbox Series hardware)

  • 1440p 60FPS
  • No disc drive
  • Super-fast SSD that can be used as VRAM
  • 7nm AMD SoC w/ scaled-down 8-core, 16 thread Zen 2 CPU at 3.5GHZ and Navi GPU
  • Lower GDDR6 memory pool (Possibly 12GB)
  • ~6-8 TFLOPs of power?
  • Aims to rival PS4 Pro/Replace Xbox One S
  • Full backward compatibility with all Xbox One games
  • Cheaper MSRP

Anaconda/Xbox Series X/Project Scarlett

  • 4K 60FPS
  • Disc drive with 4K UHD playback
  • Super-fast SSD that can be used as VRAM
  • 7nm AMD SoC with 8-core, 16 thread Zen 2 CPU at 3.5GHz and Navi GPU
  • 16GB GDDR6 RAM
  • 12 TFLOPs of power
  • 2x GPU power as Xbox One X/aims to replace Xbox One X
  • Full backward compatibility with all Xbox One games
  • More expensive MSRP

Xbox Series X coverage:

Sony is expected to reveal the PS5 in a special event in February 2020. The console will release in Holiday 2020, and it may cost $499.

Check below for more info:

PlayStation 5 specs and details:

  • Custom SoC with second-gen Navi GPU, Zen 2 CPU
  • 8-Core, 16-thread Zen 2 CPU at 3.2GHz
  • Navi GPU at 2.0GHz with 36 Compute Units
  • Navi, Zen SoC uses new AMD RDNA 2.0 architecture
  • Ultra-fast SSD
  • Support for 4K 120 Hz TVs
  • Ray-tracing enabled
  • 8K output support (for gaming)
  • Plays all PS4 games
  • Separate games that ship on BD-XL Blu-ray discs
  • New controller with extensive haptic and tactile feedback

PlayStation 5 Coverage:

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