It's new quality-of-life features, not raw processing power, that could make this generation uniquely memorable.
We're still awaiting details on the next-gen consoles' releases dates and prices, but additional details continue to come into focus. The latest development concerns the PS5's backwards compatibility situation and how pre-PS4 games won't be supported. Xbox Series X will be backwards compatible with Xbox One, as well as the much of the Xbox and Xbox 360 library. Below, we take a look at how PS5 and Xbox Series X may make the games you can play that much better.
The next generation of consoles is pushing hardware power further and faster, but the gulf of noticeable graphical and technical upgrades between generations is shrinking. Microsoft, for example, is consciously blurring the line by promising cross-generation support going forward with the launch of Xbox Series X, with first-party titles also being bound for Xbox One as well. That makes quality-of-life features more valuable than ever, including at least one that's more significant than it may seem: multi-game suspension.
The feature has largely flown under the radar, part of the suite of new features casually announced when Microsoft first revealed its next-gen plans. It was announced alongside other ambitious plans and quality-of-life features for new hardware, like an SSD to support faster load times and a new version of its standard wireless controller.
Sony has not detailed specific plans for multi-game suspension, but it stands to reason that the feature could be included into the PlayStation 5. The company has already talked about a similar feature, reportedly to be called Activities, that will let you jump into individual game modes straight from the console dashboard without needing to load into a game's standard menu. It's conceivable that both console manufacturers could borrow these ideas from each other.
These types of features could have a huge impact on how we interact with games, and what we expect from our console interfaces well into the future. These sorts of minor improvements that reduce friction in your everyday life end up becoming normalized, taken for granted, and then missed if they're ever gone. In five years, it may seem frustrating or even unacceptable not to be able to swap between multiple games on-the-fly or jump straight into a multiplayer match without the hassle of a game bootup.
Imagine, for example, you're in the middle of a narrative single-player game mission. A friend messages you looking for a fourth for a battle royale quad, but she only has time for a single match. Rather than leave your friend hanging as you finish the mission or lose your mid-mission progress, you simply accept the invite, play a match, and hop right back in where you left off. Or you could play several single-player experiences back-to-back, jumping between them like novels with bookmarks.
The feature may also be a boon to game demos and subscription services like Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Now. Sometimes the frequency and volume of updates to these services make it difficult to sample everything of interest. Being able to keep your place in a game while quickly sampling a bunch of new offerings can help encourage trying more new games and create more discoverability on the platforms.
Before long, the seemingly small features we never knew we wanted could feel like ones that we can't live without.
Whatever one may think of Apple devices, Apple's marketing brilliance has been based around simplicity. In the aughts, the company rocketed to unprecedented financial success by pitching its interfaces as simple, intuitive, and user-friendly. Some features we now take for granted were introduced this way, instilling a sudden sense of "why didn't anyone think of this before?" clarity. As consoles increasingly gain value in the mainstream market, it makes sense that companies would begin to focus less on pushing polygons and more on this simplicity-focused approach. Creating a device that works the way you wish it would is significant, even if those changes solve the problems you didn't realize you had.
The coming generation looks to be an evolutionary step for console gaming. Its visual upgrades are bound to be impressive but may not signify the evolutionary leap we've come to expect from previous transitions. That means the generation could be much more defined by expansive online services and quality-of-life improvements. Before long, the seemingly small features we never knew we wanted could feel like ones that we can't live without.