Why the games industry needs to stop talking about next-gen specs
We’re now a scant month away from the dawn of the PlayStation 4/Xbox One era, and both the journalistic and consumer sides of gaming have already begun to swell with anticipation. And rightfully so—among other things, the indie scene has seen more coverage than ever, stability—particularly network reliability and temperature safeguards—is finally receiving the attention it deserves, and new IP are so plentiful that they’re falling off the cart. And yet, in the face of this colorful renaissance, a majority of gamers are glued to the raw specifications of the hardware and software they’ll soon be booting up. From clock speeds to resolution, it seems every aspect of next-gen gaming has been saddled with a statistic. Far be it from me to question the tech-minded, but in the case of consoles, it’s a needless argument.
Let there be consoles.
It’s understandable to gush over the horsepower that next-gen systems will provide, especially if you’re actually working with the things. However, it’s more than a bit counterintuitive to obsess over comparatively minor specifications because they’re not representative of the next-gen experience, much less the console one. Consoles are predicated upon the ease of access granted by their forgiving entry price and linear functionality, and their accessibility as, quite literally, a box of games. Consoles are not about power, and they’re not bought because gamers are gunning for the cusp of modern processing or seeking unrivaled visual splendor. No, consoles line shelves and TV stands everywhere because people like games, and consoles get you to them.
Of course, what’s under the hood is indicative of what we’ll see on the software side of things. This leads us into the issue of evaluating numbers. On the whole, all the GPU overclocks and RAM banks in the gaming world, including the many we’ve heard about thus far, are entirely worthless until we see how they translate in real-time gameplay. Visual fidelity is certainly important, but we’ve already seen more than enough footage to conclude with confidence that next-gen titles will set a high bar for polygonal eye candy. The more pressing issues are things like frame-rate, the frequency and duration of loading times, and connection reliability—the nuts and bolts that will improve every gameplay experience, not just put our jaws to the floor.
Speaking of dropping jaws: This.
Visual fidelity also touches on the increasingly popular topic of image resolution, which has seen a horde of coverage in recent weeks, in no small part thanks to inner bickering among Sony and Microsoft which invariably finds its way onto the web. While the step up to 1080p has long been necessary for console gaming, it’s important to remember that console hardware is not the sole determinant for its viability. After all, even if the potential to do so is there, video game developers are less likely to spend the resources optimizing for increased resolutions if the television market itself is predominantly 720p. Simply put, regardless of whether hardware supports it, the other side of the console coin—the TVs the things are hooked up to—may be stuck. This same principle is behind the crawling adoption rate for 4K televisions—but to a greater extreme.
Arguably most important is the blind vitriol that tech “debates” have wrought. More often than not, the reveal of each new specification is met by ravenous fan boys, all eager to find a figure to flaunt in the face of the equally eager opposition. Clearly, knowledge can’t be held responsible for the industry-disparaging feedback from one-sided gamers, but a continued emphasis on inconsequential figures will only spur more blunders like the recent Toys ‘R Us fallout—something about a hornet’s nest, and what not.
Yeah, those "debate" are kind of like this.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of what we know of the innards of PS4 and Xbox One leads to the two proving entirely comparable. With x86 architecture and AMD-centric infrastructure at the core of both, software releases alone will likely decide the merit of the two. Graphics won’t differ to any appreciable degree no matter how many percentage points you ratchet up a GPU clock (I’m looking at you, Microsoft), and the many similarities far outweigh tweaks on either side. So hold your judgment until November 23rd, when everyone knows what the next console generation truly has to offer.