How long will the current gaming console generation last?


Last week the NPD numbers for September came out, and once again the Playstation 4 was the top selling console. In spite of price cuts, bundles, a decent library of exclusive titles and the announcement of backwards compatibility, the Xbox One can't seem to catch up.

Of course today is the day Halo 5 launches, and it's possible that could be the event that helps Xbox One sales overtake the PS4. It also is worth noting that sales for the Xbox One are ahead of where they were for the Xbox 360 at a comparable time in its lifespan, so it might be that Microsoft is content. But I doubt it.

Neither the Xbox One or the Playstation 4 are true powerhouses. Both companies designed modest machines they could sell for a relatively low price. And now there's a rumor that the Nintendo NX could launch next year and be more powerful than the current machines from Sony and Microsoft.

All of which has me wondering what kind of lifespan the Xbox One will have. Microsoft hasn't been in the business long enough to establish a pattern. There was a 4 year gap between the Xbox and the Xbox 360, but 8 years between the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One. The difference between these two advances is that the Xbox struggled against the PS2 while the Xbox 360 dominated the PS3 (at least in Microsoft's home region of North America) for much of the cycle.

At the same time Microsoft is struggling to catch up to Sony, 4K TVs are dropping to where most consumers who upgrade will be going 4K in the next year or so. The Xbox One struggles to generate a 1080P image; there's no way it (or the PS4) are going to hit 4k.

All of this has me coming to the conclusion that there'll be a new Xbox before very long; I'm guessing 2017. That said, I don't think it'll be radically different from the Xbox One; it'll just be more powerful.

Think about it. The Xbox One is basically a PC. Microsoft could produce the Xbox One 4K, a system with a similar architecture aside from a beefier CPU, GPU (or possibly a pair of GPUs) and more RAM. The machine I'm imagining would be 100% backwards compatible with Xbox One games and would run the same dashboard that the Xbox One runs.

Game developers would have three choices; create an Xbox One game (which will run identically on the Xbox One 4K), create a game that runs on both systems but offers better graphics and framerate on the Xbox One 4K, or create a game that only runs on the Xbox One 4K.

I think this system could work out well for Microsoft because it wouldn't create huge pressure on current Xbox One owners to upgrade. One of the dangers of too short a console life cycle is that customers feel like they're being asked to abandon the game library they've accumulated. With this Xbox One 4K idea, gamers would keep getting new content for the Xbox One and game developers will be able to build on their experience with the system rather than starting over with an entirely new ecosystem. When gamers do upgrade, all their games will still work, and some will look better than ever.

Interestingly while I was pondering this idea, a post cropped up on Gamespot about the potential for Sony to do the same thing. Someone asked Sony Computer Entertainment senior vice president Masayasu Ito about the possibility for a higher powered PS4 and he said that it would be possible but that it isn't in the cards right now.

I wouldn't think Sony would invest in this kind of upgrade while they're basically on top of things; after all the company doesn't have Microsoft's deep pockets. That said, I'm encouraged to hear that it's something they've at least thought about.

I'm pretty sure that by 2017 I'll be more than ready for a console with a bit more horsepower, as long as I'm not asked to give up my current game library. What about you? Are you happy with your Xbox One (or PS4)? Are you looking forward a nice long console cycle, or are you more interested in getting something more powerful in the shorter term?

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