What’s So “Pro” About Console Upgrading?

New console generations have been an integral component of console gaming, lasting from five to as long as ten years with the seventh generation: the era of the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii. However, the present-day eighth generation has been an interesting yet confusing time to be a console gamer. With the obscurity of the Nintendo Wii U, the beginning controversy of the Xbox One, and the booming popularity of the PlayStation 4, it has undoubtedly been one of the most bizarre timespans in video game history. In the last year, though, it has become even stranger.

In said last year, video game corporations Sony and Microsoft have announced upgrades to their current generation consoles—the PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio (which is a tentative title). While it isn’t uncommon for video game companies to re-release consoles—usually as smaller, more compact versions typically referred to as “slim models”—this is a different case than many of the past. The new PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio have different technical specs and more powerful hardware than their original brethren, but are not however meant to be entirely new consoles. While gaming PCs are commonly upgraded periodically to work with the latest and greatest games, should the same be done for consoles?

It’s no secret that people feel comfortable having the latest and greatest technology—shown in how quick people are to upgrade their smartphones and other devices when possible and affordable. But what is it worth for video game consoles? After all, consoles are by no means a cheap luxury. With the PlayStation 4 Pro aiming to cost $400, Project Scorpio’s price point remains unknown as we await its release in late 2017, though the current main Xbox One model currently ranges around $349.99 MSRP. This doesn’t even account for buying the games to play on the console, which already tend to cost around $60 each as well as buying additional controllers and accessories to further increase the total investment. Usually, however, this doesn’t tend to be an issue with most consumers because they’re given the idea that video game consoles will last them a number of years before moving onto the next generation with no maintenance necessary that comes with harboring a gaming PC.

But with the PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio acting as mid-generation improvements rather than an entirely new console like a “PlayStation 5,” it begs the question if users who already own their older variants of whether or not upgrading is worth dropping the cash. According to Polygon, though Sony has announced a transfer process between consoles, this still requires having both consoles present while the consumer receives no sort of discount for upgrading. The only option of receiving any reimbursement is selling the older console afterwards. Project Scorpio however has no sort of transfer process currently announced.

However, with Project Scorpio, Microsoft has already begun talking about its potential and capabilities. Among them was Scorpio’s upgrade of having “6 teraflops of computing power,” which in simpler terms means that it processes much faster than the Xbox One’s original power of 1.32 teraflops. This makes Scorpio a more significant upgrade, along with the fact that Microsoft promises 4K resolution gaming and utilization of virtual reality headsets. Yet despite being such a significant improvement, Microsoft promises gamers that no one will be left behind.

“Will there be a range that developers will take advantage of in Scorpio? Absolutely, but again, that’s going to be a developer choice,” said Xbox Services General Manager Dave McCarthy, according to Windows Central. “But, on our devices, all of your games are going to work. Period,” continued McCarthy.

The upgrade itself seems appealing, but at the same time it’s hard for early adopters of the Xbox One in 2013 to not feel betrayed, especially at the initial price of $499.99 USD.

Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 Pro is an odd situation. Going back to the “teraflops” argument, the original PlayStation 4 was the stronger system at 1.84 teraflops compared to the Xbox One’s 1.32, while the PlayStation 4 Pro tries to boast an increase of 4.14 teraflops. Though the PlayStation 4 Pro is to arrive earlier than the Scorpio, by the end of this year, it is notably weaker than its upgraded competitor.

Sony even continues to boast that its 4K gaming capabilities, something gaming PCs have been able to do for some time, yet this isn’t entirely true. According to VentureBeat, not many games will run in true 4K resolution on the PlayStation 4 Pro and even less will be able to run games at a smooth 60 frames per second, a technical phrase that has come to be a huge buzzword for hardcore gamers. Yet despite all of this, Sony also promises with Microsoft that all PlayStation 4 games will run on both the original and the new Pro systems.

However, if all of these facts are actually true, is buying another box to take over the living room really worth it? For those who have yet to purchase a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One, it’s much less of an issue. Yet it seems almost punishing to early adopters when over 40 million consumers worldwide have already purchased a PlayStation 4. With consoles becoming similar to gaming PCs while still being weaker in power, it has never been a more appealing time for gamers to make the switch and invest in computers powerful enough to render more crisp graphics and run far more smoother and faster.  

Gaming PCs have always been ahead of the curve compared to consoles. One of the biggest advantages to being a console gamer include not worrying about upgrading, but also not worrying about whether or not games will run properly on the system and knowing the consumer got their money’s worth for a machine that could last them years. With the PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio however, this is an advantage that may be lost if companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo decide to implement mid-generation upgrades to their video game consoles from now on in the future. If it becomes a pattern, it may not only affect initial console sales as people “wait it out” in anticipation for stronger consoles, but in turn, this could also end up harming the gaming industry in the process.

The other advantages that consoles have continuously had are their use of physical media and their ability to trade, rent, and buy used copies of games for a cheaper price. But even in this generation, companies have tried to fade out this ability. The Xbox One initially intended to launch with games as installation discs and required constantly being connected to the internet, refusing to let consumers utilize used games. This was met with a huge backlash of criticism that forced Microsoft to backpedal on this decision. Yet even afterwards, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have tried to encourage consumers to buy video games digitally by promising small advantages—a transition that has failed to fully work as of this point.

Though there are certainly huge changes and revolutions happening in this generation of console gaming, it hasn’t quite been for the better for the customer. Consoles have had the best convenience with the simple process of buying a box, plugging it into a TV, inserting a game into the console, and playing immediately. Now, consoles are gradually transitioning to glorified, weaker gaming PCs that require long game installation times rather than playing right away and are trying to push pricey upgrades that seem nowhere near worth the trade-off.

Even if these upgrades turn out to be more important than initially realized, will early adopters still feel content with their original purchase and will no one actually be left behind?

Whether these upgrades prove to be special and early adopters won’t have to worry about upgrading, the issue still remains: if consoles continue to try going down this route rather than focusing on what makes them different from gaming PCs, it may not be long before they become obsolete in the gaming industry.

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