Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a reminder that all sequels don’t have to be next-gen
The arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One era has in many ways mirrored the start of past generations. A fistful of first-party titles were shoved out the door as day-one incentives, the big-wigs of the triple-A scene are a year behind schedule, and every developer under the sun is hoarding announcements so they can ripen on the vine (read: get maximum exposure during press events).
Similarly, we’re also seeing a middle-ground of two generations, the awkward gray area that gives early adopters a reason to sigh and pickier gamers—presumably waiting on a radical price drop, a certain game, or a holiday sale—an excuse to look smug. You know what I’m talking about: games are still releasing for last-gen hardware. But is that really such a bad thing?
Bear in mind we’re not just talking indies and underdogs here. To equal parts dismay and relief, several big titles have been confirmed as PS3- and 360-only releases including Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Persona 5—two sequels to the flagship IP of their respective studios.
You're gonna love it either way and we both know it.
I know, I know, you bought a shiny new toy and you want all the kids in the neighborhood to take notice. I get it; I bought that toy, too. And to some extent, you’re right; you’re entitled to get use out of the system you dropped three digits on and developers should be expected to keep up with the times. However, keeping up with the times and tossing a project on the backburner solely for the sake of putting a higher number on the box art (or a lower one in the case of Xbox One … I will never understand that branding) are very different things.
Again, there’s that thorn of entitlement. The damn kids haven’t noticed the awesome thing you bought. That or they refuse to show their interest, the selfish twerps. But let’s think about this: What will Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Persona 5 lose by not releasing on the newest platform? Significant hardware horsepower, clearly. A few potential doodads and whatchamacallits like camera and voice control, and maybe a marketing gimmick or two... I promise, life will go on without them.
But that’s just the consumer perspective. What would Gearbox and Atlus risk by jumping ship now and forcing their titles into the next-gen mold? The obvious drawback is time: time to optimize for a new platform, time to get production and distribution on board, and time to recruit the people to handle those behemoth tasks. All that time can only result in delays, and we’ve already seen enough delays to maintain the industry’s stock of hesitation for months. So we’re good on those, triple-A studios—you hear me?
It was all summed up quite well by Gearbox President Randy Pitchford back in April. Granted, 30 days in the games industry is tantamount to the rise and fall of a centurial empire in real time, his explanation holds up. Responding to inquires of why Borderlands: TPS wouldn’t be making the next-gen shift, he said:
“It’s a tricky thing, ‘cause I’m a crazy hardcore gamer and I’m right on the cutting edge. I have all the new stuff as soon as it comes out … we’re all dying for new content, but we have to remember our fans, the people that have supported us—they don’t necessarily have the same kind of disposable income that we do and they’re not as quick to adopt the new platforms. The idea of leaving any of those guys behind is just something that we couldn’t feel good about.”
Aw. Love you two, Gearbox.
They’re pretty words, but even looking past the altruism, Pitchford’s right. Strictly from a business perspective—the stiffest, blackest, most uncomfortable suit you’ve ever seen—holding releases back a generation has its benefits. It means studios don’t have to deal with the aforementioned time and people, and the expenses therein. Arguably more importantly—the pesky practicality hidden in Pitchford’s fan love—it ensures that a game will have a large market upon release. Next-gen consoles are selling like hot-cakes, sure, but they’re not yet comparable to the 150+ million PS3s and 360s floating around. This is only truer for Persona 5 which will accrue roughly 110% of its sales from people seeing the word persona on the box.
Now, if Borderlands: The Pro-Monologue isn’t on PS4 and Xbox One, I’d consider throwing labels of cowardice and stagnation at Gearbox. I’d also question their creativity, but that’s beside the point. As it stands, there’s no defensible reason to gripe about past-gen sequels. We both know you’re getting plenty of use out of your new toy and plenty of people are already playing with you. Besides, you’ve got no room to gripe about wanting the best toy when the kid down the street—the one who would actually die from seeing sub-60FPS gameplay—went out and bought himself a PC.
With that said, I do feel sorry for any studio planning to announce a PS3/360 title at E3 2014. They may as well throw bones to a pack of lions. While standing in the lion exhibit at the zoo.