Opinion: Why Xbox One's inferior graphics hardware might actually matter

Xbox One (Console) Screenshot - Xbox One

By all accounts, the Xbox One doesn’t have the graphical horsepower of the PS4. No one denies it, not even Microsoft. From a raw numbers/tech specs angle, the PS4 has a not-insignificant edge. The question is whether it matters.

In an interview with OXM, Xbox product planning boss Albert Panello argued that it doesn’t. “For me, I'd rather not even have the conversation, because it's not going to matter," Panello stated. “The box is going to be awesome. The games are going to be awesome. I heard this exact same argument last generation and it's a pointless argument, because people are debating things which they don't know about.”

Is the argument the same as last generation, though? In a lot of ways it is. The PS3 had more power than the 360, and for the most part it didn’t matter. He’s right, in a sense, but I’m not so sure history will repeat itself this time.

Playstation 4 graphics

There’s good reason that the technical differences between PS3 and 360 never amounted to anything. For one, the PS3 was notoriously difficult to develop for, making it hard for anyone to tap into that extra horsepower. In addition, the 360 had a headstart, built up a larger fanbase, and as a result, often received more attention with multiplatform games. It happened again and again. From Bayonetta and Skyrim, to Assassin’s Creed II and Battlefield 3, the PS3 versions either didn’t look as sharp, or were plagued with weird issues that took months to fix.

But if you take The Last of Us and put it up against just about any 360 game, you’ll see the PS3’s graphical edge in full effect. The difference in detail is staggering. If PS3 hadn’t been hampered by constraints, we may have seen the differences go beyond first-party offerings and into the multiplatform versions.

When the less powerful console is also the most popular, it’s easy to justify developing for the lowest common denominator. The question now isn’t whether graphics horsepower matters, but whether it matters when the sales figures are reversed.

The Last of Us graphics

Of course there’s no guarantee that one platform will sell over the other. It’s still anyone’s game, no matter how we might personally feel about each console. Early talk puts the PS4 in higher favor, but there’s a world of difference between online chatter and actual consumer sentiment. Microsoft has done a phenomenal job of addressing people’s issues and they’ve probably changed some minds in the process. They even bumped up the GPU speed in a recent hardware tweak. It’s still anyone’s game.

That said, suppose it’s the PS4 that sits in the position the 360 sat in this generation. When the console with the bigger install base is more powerful, it probably makes more sense to tap into that power and then port down to the weaker platforms, right?

That could be a problem for Xbox One versions of multiplatform games, and the source of many console war battles to come, as fans compare versions side-by-side and argue over their platform of choice. That will happen regardless, but my point here isn’t to fan the flames of the console wars. My point is that the differences between the two consoles shouldn’t be neglected this time around.

Xbox One out of the box

The PS4’s extra horsepower should matter. Not for Microsoft’s first-party offerings, but certainly for multiplatform games coming to both consoles. That extra horsepower should be harnessed by more than Sony’s core franchises. After all, shouldn’t developers take advantage of all the power they can get their hands on? Shouldn’t we want more games to look like The Last of Us, if they can? 

I’ve been a 360 owner for years, and only recently got my hands on a PS3 to play a few exclusives like The Last of Us. I still think both consoles are great, but it’s sad to think the popularity of one was holding back the other (and I’m sure PC gamers have much nastier things to say on the topic). For that reason alone I’d like to see the PS4 come out on top, to encourage developers to make the best games they can.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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