It’s been almost 2 years since the release of the current generation of consoles yet, strangely, it doesn’t really feel like it has. Usually this long after a new console generation the previous one has become a ghost town, long abandoned by developers in favour of the latest and greatest hardware. However here we are 2 years later and games are still be released for the PlayStation3 and Xbox360. This isn’t just isolated to a few small titles either, pretty much every AAA title that has a cross platform release will end up support no less than 5 distinct platforms, 2 of them almost a decade old at this point. I honestly couldn’t fathom why this would be the case, that was until I followed the money.
If you head over to VGChartz’s global weekly chart and have a trawl through previous week’s sales figures you’ll begin to see what I’m talking about. Whilst we don’t have the very latest figures (you’ll have to pay them a rather large fee to get that) it’s clear that the previous generation consoles are still generating massive revenues in terms of game sales. Indeed until the end of March this year the platforms with the most game sales were previous generation consoles. It was only after then that the PS4 managed to stay at the top but it’s always been closely hounded by both the PS3 and Xbox360 for the top position ever since.
Some of the blame for this lies at the feet of the XboxOne which has unfortunately failed to pull as many people across into the current generation as its competitor has. The XboxOne sales have been about half that of PlayStation4 for some time now, a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. This also feeds into the trend of the Xbox360 routinely outselling it’s current generation counterpart, only changing when a new release comes out. Considering how close the previous generations were in sales this disparity will continue until the majority of current Xbox360 users make the switch. How long until that happens I couldn’t tell you, but it still seems like a fair way off at this point.
Primarily though it’s due to the unprecedented longevity of the previous generation. Prior to the PS3 and the Xbox360 you could expect a new console generation every 5 years or so, with developers having fully transitioned to the new platform within a year or two afterwards. The previous generation of consoles is well past that point and that means there’s going to be a lot more more inertia in switching away from them. It’s just like what happened with Windows XP and the transition to Vista and beyond, consumers and third parties alike got comfortable with the platform and held onto it for far longer than was healthy. Thankfully the turn around rate doesn’t seem that bad when you compare it to Windows XP vs 7, but it’s still slow enough to mean that the previous generation is here to stay for some time.
The tide is turning however. Every new release sees a new wave of people upgrading their consoles in order to enjoy the latest game. Exclusives too are still proving to be a powerful motivating force for consumers, even critical flops like The Order 1886 being able to boost console sales by 10% or more. It’s going to be a far slower transition than we’re used to, I’d hazard a guess for at least another year of cross platform releases targeting previous generation, but the trends are clear. Hopefully the transition will mean more resources dedicated to actual games rather than cross platform code but I’m not holding my breath in that regard.