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Next Generation Games Won’t be Defined by Better Graphics; At Least, Not Right Away

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In prior years, the arrival of a new generation of video game consoles has heralded the dawn of a new era of graphical fidelity. However, this year, that graphical leap won’t be nearly as pronounced as in prior generations.

While the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 do sport higher resolutions and better graphical fidelity than their predecessors, graphical performance is running into an issue of diminishing returns.

Instead of being defined by their improved graphics, it’s more likely that the next generation of home consoles will be defined by other, harder-to-see improvements. While things like “loading times” and “quickly resuming your game” aren’t exactly splashy for a commercial, they’re what defines the newest generation of systems.

Sony via GIPHY

Load Times

Few people who haven’t used the new hardware appreciate how much long loading times function as a barrier between themselves and their gaming time. One of the surest ways to encourage a player not to do something is to put it behind a lengthy load-in. For an example, take the decade-old fan-favorite Skyrim.

In Skyrim, if you enter a building, you’re greeted by a lengthy load screen, a hallmark of Bethesda’s sprawling open-world games. If you then realize that you’re in the wrong location and need to head back out into the city, you’re greeted by yet another, longer loading screen, as the game rebuilds the outdoor setting. You then enter another building, and get another loading screen. Oops, wrong building.

You can see how rapidly this turns a fun gaming session into a boring series of chores. However, the new generation of home consoles seeks to eliminate that friction, pairing cutting-edge processors with solid-state memory hardware.

Perception vs Reality

Of course, the idea of simply “loading in faster” is hard to market as a reason to scoop up a $500 piece of hardware. The perception of getting a new system to be blown away by realistic graphics will have to bow to the reality of the first wave of next-gen games.

That reality is that these games were built for older hardware, and it might be over a year before we see games built for these new systems from the ground-up.

However, this new generation does show something important. For almost a decade, some industry commentators have speculated that console generations are going to come to an end. After all, what can a console do that a gaming PC can’t? Well, look to the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 for your answer.

A Niche for Consoles

A home console can offer ray tracing and lightning-fast load times for $500, something you’d spend easily double that on PC components. A home console can be plugged into your TV and wall and boot up instantly, a luxury PC gamers don’t have. When you boot up your console, it works.

With a PC, you need to be educated about all the components within. What do you do if something begins throwing up errors? When you upgrade to new components, how will you know which are compatible with your existing rig?

Maybe consoles aren’t pushing the boundaries of power with the same intensity that PCs are. Maybe they’re more limited, locking players into a walled garden where they can only access one company’s storefront.

However, consoles also offer the least expensive way to get into high-end gaming, and they do so with a  fraction of the time investment or knowledge requirement of building and operating a gaming PC.