The ninth generation of home video game consoles is coming upon us, so why not take a look at the standings? Console industry elder Nintendo has shifted itself from the usual generational cycle by releasing the Switch in the middle of the last generation, meaning it's far too early for Nintendo to kill it. But Nintendo has been making up its own rules for a while now, acting more as a supplement to the main console race, and that has worked wonders for them. It's usually about a commitment to experimentation over a raw power game. That game is left between Microsoft and Sony, and the hype to both of their releases seems to be more and more loaded. The Xbox Series X was officially revealed at The Game Awards 2019, roughly a year ahead of its Holiday 2020 release, and was teased as Project Scarlett at E3 2019. For as much as this console has been talked up in the specs department, we only really know of a couple of games for it: Halo Infinite and Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, the former of which will also see release on Xbox One. Not much of a system seller when you can buy it on a system you either already have or could buy cheaper than a Series X. Then we have Sony...
Sony, what are you doing?
That's in no way intended as sarcasm, it's a legitimate question. You have no cards on the table, save for one very obvious logo. You've spent the past year talking up the Solid State Drive and how load times will be reduced, but that's about it isn't it? Now, I'm not chomping at the bit to learn more about either console; Sony can take all the time they need to unveil this thing. But it's strange to see official rumbles about the PS5 as early as April 2019, and still know so little nearly a year later. Hype generation on that calibur speaks to a fear in me that perhaps neither Sony nor Microsoft isn't extremely confident in its ability to sell their consoles. Graphical improvement has been getting to be harder and harder to pitch, with the differences becoming less and less apparent with each passing generation. But Microsoft in particular seems to have nothing else but the same horses to beat: better specs and backwards compatibility with all generations of Xbox. I'm sure they are hiding something else, probably some of those big exclusives the Xbox One was sorely missing, but while we're all waiting for Sony to step up to the mic, I want to make some suggestions. Just some relatively easy things Sony could do to help their case.
Microsoft seems content redefining "Backwards compatible" as "Games we choose to be backwards compatible". So, go the extra mile to one up them. All Playstation games, all backwards compatible. PS1, 2, 3, and 4. All current PS4 and VR games are confirmed to work on PS5, which is a step in the right direction. And I suspect that's the only step Sony will take. But that looks marginally less attractive than the Xbox Series X's approach, where it can do all of its 8th Gen library and more. Microsoft missed the chance, so grab it. The cost of including halfway decent emulation is hardly going to drive the price any higher. Maybe at this late stage of development it would, but if Sony went into the development of the PS5 with the intention of having backwards compatibility, it shouldn't be a problem for Mark Cerny to design a way for it to work. I'm probably too late on this one, but at least consider it next time.
From a way to one up the competition to a way to be friendly with them. The most brilliant thing Microsoft has done this generation is acted as a peace keeper of sorts for the industry. Xbox One exclusives pretty much all now release on Windows 10 day and date, as well as some of their other published titles such as Cuphead and Ori and the Blind have made their way to Switch and Steam. This also included a strong push for cross-platform online play, particularly with Minecraft. One of the most surreal moments of the 8th generation was a 2018 commercial with someone playing Minecraft on Xbox One with someone on Switch; an unheard of gesture of sportsmanship amid an industry famous for its somewhat childish (yet undeniably fun) lobbing of rocks. Sony, it's long time for you to mature with Microsoft and Nintendo on this. You've quietly made a select few games such as Rocket League and Minecraft cross-play compatible, but it is time to roll out the full red carpet. Let every game with online play be cross-play compatible. It's not hard to let loose on a policy, and you can do it any time. I'm not saying you have be so friendly that you put The Last Of Us Part II on Xbox Series X, but just let Overwatch 2 players play with their friends on PC, okay?
Bring Back PS Classics
Falling a bit under the backwards compatibility umbrella, Sony should bring back their Virtual Console-esque PS1 Classics selection. For some reason, Sony has limited the purchase of their backlog to just PS2 games, and not really a ton of them. My guess is because of Playstation Now, the streaming service that lags about as much as you'd expect from an attempt at Google Stadia about five years too early. With movie streaming becoming the norm, it's no surprise that every game company wants to be the one to successfully nail it. But I think they all vastly underestimate the desire people have to own their games. There are a lot of people who toss a game the moment they are done with it, selling to Gamestop or a pawn shop, that's true. But I know an equal (if not a higher) amount of people who prefer to keep their games around in case they ever want to play it again. Games aren't movies; done within two hours and you won't want to watch it again for a few months at least. Additionally, Netflix can provide a wide library of movies spanning all of time. Video games don't currently have an equivalent, aside from the previously mentioned busted PS Now. You can't buy a PS1 game at Walmart, so where are people going to get Suikoden II? This is where a digital storefront can come into play: providing games players can own forever, for a cheap price. It is a market that is sorely lacking. You had that much figured out by the PS3, and you're currently doing it for the PS2 on PS4. So why go halfway? Release everything your back catalogue has. If you can't have naitive backwards compatibility, then at least artificially make it.
Invest in a broader range of IP's
Sony has a leg up compared to Microsoft in terms of IP power, and sometimes they actually use it. God Of War, Uncharted, Death Stranding, Horizon Zero Dawn, Rachet and Clank, and (Unfortunately) Knack all got some significant play from Sony this generation. New or old, these are some strong IP's. But a rough majority of them target similar demographics. Single player, young adult, action oriented games. And a few not so great family friendly games. Nintendo is still currently the king of diverse IP's, including platformers, Kart racers, Party games, strategy games, life simulators, out there experimental genres, RPGs and even a shooter in Splatoon. All on top of adventure games. A lot of these are old, recylced franchises time and time again, but they still maintain diversity. In the three years of the Switch's life, it has more first party output than Sony or Microsoft this entire generation. No, Nintendo doesn't put out games like Sony's first parties, which is where Sony has an advantage. They can quite literally do what Nintendon't and Microsoft won't. Games like Jak and Daxter and Ape Escape showed a Sony style of creativity that's sorely missing. But it doesn't have to be those franchises, nor that kind of family friendly market. Just something that goes in a different direction from their already great, but admittedly sort of homogenized IP's that have been in play this generation. The talent is there, and it's not going to waste, but it's time that PS5 tries to broaden the consoles appeal. I want to see something like a new Puppeteer with as much press behind it as Spider Man. Really taking a risk to show that Playstation isn't just a place for one kind of player, but all players.
That's the ultimate underlying theme behind these suggestions: Inclusion. Bring back in the fans that fell off in any of the past generations by giving them a new PS1,2,3,and 4 with their 5. Don't let your online player base be isolated to only friends who chose the same platform. Strike that Sony creativity with a wide range of players, not just the most profitable demographic. Sony has a golden opportunity to take the crown again, maybe even outsell the PS2 if they play their cards right. Sony, you have shown a willingness to be inventive in the past, now is the time to show you still have it going forward. The floor is yours.
(Nick Miller is a video game historian and collector based in Cincinnati. You can reach him at [email protected])