With power and affordability at the forefront of everyone's mind, it may be time to start thinking about launching a new console generation with multiple hardware SKUs in the same family. We've seen the success of PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, but these released mid-cycle during the console generation. Even Nintendo recently announced a budget version of the Nintendo Switch that might as well just double as a money printing machine for the company. It's possible Sony could make a bigger impact right out of the gate if they offer a high and low-end console at the same time upon release.
One of the most notable industries that offers multiple SKUs upon launch is the cellphone industry. Every time a new iPhone or Android phone is announced, you'll notice there are several models to choose from depending on its specs. You could get one with more storage, a better camera, higher screen resolution, a size difference — you name it. I'd like to see the gaming industry replicate this release model with similar success.
Offering a cheaper model would make the purchase much more appealing for a lot of people.
I realize it's difficult to compare cellphones and game consoles in this regard because of what goes into development for each platform, but seeing as Sony and Microsoft have launched more powerful hardware around mid-cycle of the PS4 and Xbox One's lives, it looks to be doable. Developers already have to develop for PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, and Xbox One X right now with each console's specs and limitations in mind. This isn't a new concept. Though not every game is Xbox One X or PS4 Pro enhanced, a good number of the biggest games to release are.
This also allows customers the freedom of opting for a cheaper console depending on their budget. It's a tall order to ask someone to pay $500 upfront for a brand new console, not to mention that any games you want with it will likely cost $60 a pop. It's not an investment to sneeze at. Offering a cheaper, streamlined model would make the purchase much more appealing—or even just feasible—for a lot of people.
Releasing a high and low-end console at the beginning of a hardware generation presents problems of its own, though. Microsoft reportedly wanted to launch an Xbox family of devices (Project Scarlett) with a cheaper console codenamed Lockhart and a more powerful, expensive console codenamed Anaconda. Lockhart, however, was reportedly shelved because of problems that studios were having trying to develop for two models at once, with many rumored to have been focusing development with the weaker "Lockhart" console in mind. You can imagine this is something that Microsoft wanted to avoid after the notion that the Xbox One was underpowered last generation.
You never want to advertise games as inferior because they were developed for the lowest common denominator, but this is something that PC games seem to have bypassed. You'll always have minimum and recommended PC specs when determining how well or if your computer can run a game, usually with the option to adjust various settings that greatly affect how the game looks and performs. Turn off ambient occlusion, turn on anti-aliasing, tweak your resolution and frame rates. Consoles tend to have the simplest of options — graphics vs performance, 4K 30FPS vs 1080p 60FPS — but with new technology on the horizon, it would be nice to see these options become more complex, allowing for greater control and customization of your experience.
As of right now, it looks like Microsoft is solely focusing on Anaconda, what would have been the more powerful of the two consoles by a large margin. Because Microsoft seems to have encountered this issue, it's within reason that this is something that Sony could run into as well should it decide to go that route. But it's almost inevitable that it'll release a console refresh mid-cycle anyway.
You never want to advertise games as inferior because they were developed for the lowest common denominator.
Regardless of what Sony decides, all signs point to the PlayStation 5 being a beast of a console. It will feature near-instant load times thanks to an SSD and support 8K graphics, ray tracing, 3D audio, and should be entirely backward compatible. Its unknowns are less worrisome and more intriguing than anything — though I am always nervous about how the physical design will look after Apple went and made a trash can and cheese grater for the Mac Pro.
I can't wait to see what Sony has in store for us, and fingers crossed the design is as equally appealing as the specs.
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