New consoles one year later – was it worth it?

It’s been a whole year since the launch of the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5. The consoles debuted a week apart in early November 2020, and I thought I’d mark the occasion by taking a look back on what has to be considered a pretty rough year for both machines.

At time of writing, both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are out of stock in the UK – and this has been the case for twelve months. Occasional deliveries of consoles to retailers are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered or are snapped up within minutes of going on sale – often by bots. Availability of the less-powerful Xbox Series S has been spotty, but generally better than its more powerful cousin, which is good news for gamers on a budget. However, availability overall has been poor.

Promotional image of the Xbox Series X.

These aren’t the first machines to launch without the supplies to meet worldwide demand, and it’s likely that they won’t be the last. But as I argued last year, this particular console launch feels far worse and more egregious than practically any other. It’s certainly true that other consoles in the past had supply issues. Getting a Nintendo Wii in the UK in 2006 and into 2007 was difficult, for example. But this feels far worse than that, and when compared to the launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2013 it’s pretty damn bad.

As we keep hearing on the news, issues with “supply chains” abound across the world, and this was true a year ago as Microsoft and Sony prepared to launch their new consoles. Many components involved in the manufacture of the machines – from silicon to microprocessors – were feeling the pinch due to a number of factors. The pandemic had hit manufacturers in China and Taiwan hard earlier in 2020, but there were also additional pressures from a growing cryptocurrency mining craze that ate up vast numbers of graphics cards and other components. As a result of all of these factors and more, both the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 launched with far less availability than necessary.

Two PlayStation 5 editions – with and without a disc drive.

Ever since the transition from 2D to 3D, it’s taken game developers a while to truly get to grips with new hardware and release games that can fully take advantage of the computing power on offer. As a result, for at least a couple of years following the launch of a new console many games are in transition – looking slightly better, perhaps, than the prior generation, but still nowhere near as good as they could. With the diminishing returns on offer considering that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 titles could already look decent, many games released for the two new systems over the past year haven’t really felt new or innovative.

This generation, like the one before it really, will almost certainly go down as an iterative step rather than a transformational one. When consoles from the previous generation could knock out visually-stunning titles like Red Dead Redemption II, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Ghost of Tsushima, it really feels like there’s limited room for improvement! Put the average player in a room with the best-looking games of the last generation and some of the first titles from this generation and they’d struggle to tell the difference.

Last generation’s Red Dead Redemption II is a stunningly beautiful game with an expansive open world.

There’s a case to be made that Microsoft and Sony should’ve waited. Rather than letting down their audiences by having totally inadequate supplies, if they’d delayed their releases by a year and used that time to build up stock in anticipation of a bigger launch in 2021, we could be talking about the new consoles releasing this month. It’s still possible that they’d both sell out just like last year – but it’s also possible that the extra manufacturing time, without the pressure of fulfilling pre-orders from increasingly irate customers over the past twelve months, would have led to a better launch window for both consoles.

So I guess that’s where I come down on the issue. The consoles were launched callously by both companies without adequate levels of stock to meet the demand that they knew existed. The predictable outcome has been that scalpers and touts have been re-selling consoles all year long for close to double the recommended retail price, lining their own pockets in the process. It seems as though Sony and Microsoft don’t care about this in the slightest, and they’ve been content to leave the problem of bots and reselling to retailers. Some retailers have tried to put in place mechanisms to prevent bots from buying up every available machine, but as we’ve seen all year long these reactions have been more miss than hit.

A handful of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles being offered for sale via a popular auction website. Prices are easily approaching twice the recommended retail price for both machines.

In terms of games, both Microsoft and Sony – as well as practically all third-party developers – have pursued a year-long policy of making titles available on last-gen consoles as well as the two new machines. Only a handful of titles have been true exclusives, with PlayStation games like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal carrying their flag. Microsoft fans have to be content with basically no exclusives right now, with games like Forza Horizon 5 and the upcoming Halo Infinite also launching on PC and Xbox One.

Might there be some buyers’ remorse among PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X players? I would think so – especially if they paid over the odds for their console to an eBay scalper. Neither machine feels like particularly good value even at their recommended retail price, let alone at the prices folks have actually had to pay to get their hands on them! The handful of exclusive games are backed up by “enhanced” versions of last-gen titles, but in many cases I’ve genuinely struggled to tell the difference between different consoles’ versions of the same title. The improvements on offer over the past year have come in terms of things like frame rate – jumping to 60fps from 30fps for certain titles – and then in comparatively minor areas like controller battery life. These things are hard sells.

The PlayStation 5 DualSense controller.

There have been some changes over the past year, though. Microsoft’s aggressive pursuit of the Game Pass model represents great value for players on a budget, opening up an entire library of titles for a relatively low monthly fee. Sony still hasn’t caught up and doesn’t have a functional Game Pass competitor yet. Both companies have also made big moves into supporting PC gaming – with games that were once PlayStation exclusives making their way to a new platform. In lieu of having enough PlayStation 5 consoles to sell, perhaps that’s something of a consolation prize for Sony!

Overall, I can’t even be generous enough to call the past year a “mixed bag.” There are far more negatives than positives as I see it, and unless both companies can get to grips with the supply and demand issue, this Christmas will be the second in a row where folks are either going to have to pay silly money for a new console or go without. That isn’t a good look, and the longer these problems drag on the worse it will get for the reputations of both Sony and Microsoft.

Last year I felt that it was wrong to launch the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X given the low levels of stock and the myriad other issues that a pandemic-riddled world was facing. The past twelve months have done nothing to change my mind or convince me I was wrong about that. Inadequate manufacturing capacity has kept both consoles out of too many players’ hands, and those who did succeed at getting a pre-order – or more likely who paid close to double the price to a scalper – have found a perishingly small number of exclusive games on a machine that doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over the last generation. The Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 have potential – but over the past twelve months, neither have come close to reaching it.

Xbox and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Microsoft. PlayStation and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only is not intended to cause any offence.

Thoughts on the PlayStation 5 downgrade controversy

As we approach the PlayStation 5’s first anniversary in just a few weeks’ time, I don’t see how anyone could possibly challenge the assertion that Sony launched the console far too early. The PlayStation 5 has been out of stock since day one, and occasional shipments of consoles are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered one months earlier, or else are snapped up by bots or the occasional legitimate buyer within minutes of becoming available. To be fair, this isn’t something exclusive to Sony – Microsoft has had similar problems with the Xbox Series X and S.

As a result of ongoing shortages, Sony is clearly scrambling to make more units available as quickly as possible. Failure to do so will see the brand continue to take a hit, and if there isn’t sufficient stock in the run-up to Christmas, with parents and gamers forced to either go without for the second year in a row or buy from a scalper at over-inflated prices, the PlayStation 5 might take a long time to recover. Enter the downgrade controversy, which has been doing the rounds online in recent days.

The PlayStation 5 is still out of stock around the world.

In short, newer PlayStation 5 consoles appear to have smaller, lighter cooling systems, which obviously saves Sony a bit of money and presumably makes consoles easier and cheaper to ship around the world. The internal components are otherwise the same, but the heat-sink and cooling apparatus have been significantly changed. Many folks are calling out Sony for this, saying this represents a significant downgrade. Controversy and argument has ensued.

Let’s get the obvious things out of the way first. No one is suggesting that PlayStation 5 consoles are suddenly going to burst into flames or melt or explode or set your house on fire. That’s the dumbest, most pathetic straw-man argument I’ve seen put forward by some Sony fanboys as they try to defend the company. But it is clear that Sony has started using smaller, presumably less effective cooling solutions in newer consoles, so what’s going on? And is it a risk or a potential problem?

An original PlayStation 5 cooling setup (left) and a new one side-by-side. The new model is clearly a lot smaller.
Image Credit: Austin Evans via YouTube.

Heat is bad for sensitive electronics, like the microprocessors used in video game consoles and PCs. The reason why manufacturers spend such a large amount of time and energy on figuring out the best cooling solution is because of this plain and simple fact. If an electronic device – like a PlayStation 5 console – runs at a higher temperature, there’s a higher chance of its components wearing out sooner than if an identical machine could be cooled better and more efficiently. That’s the heart of this discussion – not straw-man arguments about “catching fire.”

So the question I have is this: was the original PlayStation 5 cooler over-engineered? Or to put it another way: was the original version essentially “too good” at its job, providing a level of cooling that the PlayStation 5’s internal components didn’t need? Anyone who’s ever built their own PC can tell you that it’s possible to go overboard with cooling – eventually you hit a point of diminishing returns where cooling is as efficient as possible. Adding more cooling capacity is meaningless if a component or machine is already cooled as efficiently as possible.

Newer PlayStation 5 consoles may look identical to older ones, but they’re lighter and with smaller coolers.

If that’s the case, and the original PlayStation 5 had more cooling capacity than it could reasonably need, then perhaps this downgrade is perfectly understandable. The difficulty with figuring this out is that the console is less than a year old, and any long-term effects from overheating aren’t known right now. These things can take several years to fully manifest, and by then it could be too late for players who’ve bought a downgraded console if indeed there is an issue there.

From Sony’s point of view, this is already a PR problem. Disassembly videos and articles by popular tech websites and YouTube channels have already highlighted the downgrade, and whether or not it represents a genuine threat to the longevity of newer PlayStation 5 consoles and their internal components, there’s no denying that some people are concerned. Not only that, but it risks Sony looking cheap, like they’re skimping out on the PlayStation 5’s internals. That perception – regardless of whether it will actually cause a problem for the average player – is a real danger for the company.

Headlines like these – from reputable outlets – could be incredibly damaging for Sony, creating a perception that will be difficult to shift.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, the launch of the PlayStation 5 has been rocky at best for Sony. “Supply chain issues” has become a buzzword for all sorts of companies over the past year or so, but the public’s tolerance for such things is limited. Add into the mix the perception that Sony is trying to circumvent some of their shortages by cheaping out on something as important as cooling and you have the makings of a significant challenge for the console’s reputation – and the company’s.

Sony will need to address this issue, and do so quickly. Their response will be significant for the future success of the PlayStation 5, because if they allow the console to acquire a reputation for being hit-and-miss or for having cheap, low-quality components, that will be hard to shift. Microsoft had to spend a lot of money repairing the damage done by the Xbox 360’s dreaded “red ring of death” in the mid-2000s, not just in terms of replacement hardware but in terms of the console’s reputation. Sony doesn’t have the financial resources of Microsoft, so they need to get this right first time around.

This could turn into a major problem for the PlayStation 5 if Sony doesn’t act fast.

In summary, then, I’m not sure whether this downgrade is a significant issue. If the original PlayStation 5 had an unnecessarily large cooling capacity – which seems unlikely, but you never know – then perhaps all this is is an attempt at efficiency. My suspicion is that Sony is trying to find ways to cut the costs of shipping given the sudden jump over the past year in the price of sending products around the world – reducing weight is a great way to save money right now, and PlayStation 5 consoles are heavy. This downgrade does have the potential to be damaging, though, as sensitive electronic components that aren’t sufficiently cooled will wear out more quickly. Any impact, however, seems likely not to arise for months if not years.

Where Sony needs to worry is in terms of reputation and PR. Right now there’s a growing image among consumers that the company is skimping out on the PlayStation 5’s internal components, and they need to act fast to prevent that from becoming the headline – especially with the holiday season approaching. The PlayStation 5 has already endured a difficult launch, but until now the biggest issue Sony has had is that folks want to buy a PlayStation 5 but haven’t been able to. If this perception sets in and takes hold, the company could soon find that many of those would-be PlayStation 5 buyers have changed their minds and don’t want a console after all – and that will be a much more difficult problem to solve.

The PlayStation 5 is out now – assuming you can find one. PlayStation, PlayStation 5, and other properties mentioned above are owned by Sony and/or Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Cyberpunk 2077 returns to the PlayStation Store!

More than six months after a cataclysmic, bug-riddled launch saw Cyberpunk 2077 quite deservingly removed from sale by Sony, the game is finally back on the PlayStation Store. But is this the triumph it appears to be?

It’s been a while since we last took a look at the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077, and this seems like a good opportunity to consider the game’s progress – and how far it still has to go. On the surface, Cyberpunk 2077′s return to the PlayStation Store seems like a win for beleaguered developer CD Projekt Red. They’ll want to spin it as testament to the work put into the game since launch, and that it must be representative of a significant improvement for the game… even though its PlayStation Store listing comes with a major caveat that warns players of “performance issues” and that buying the game for PlayStation 4 is “not recommended!”

Cyberpunk 2077 is finally back on the PlayStation Store.

Let’s not forget, before we go any further, that Sony doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to gatekeeping on the PlayStation Store. Some truly awful games have been released there and allowed to remain on sale even after being shown to be buggy, unplayable messes. That’s one reason why the decision to pull Cyberpunk 2077 was so shocking! Sony allowing the game back means it’s finally at the same level as PlayStation classics like Life of Black Tiger and Sword of Fortress the Onomuzim.

The general consensus, even from Cyberpunk 2077′s remaining supporters, is that the game still has a long way to go. There are still a lot of glitches and issues to correct, but most significantly there are underlying gameplay problems, more of which become apparent with every bug fixed. Cyberpunk 2077 was rushed out the door to meet an arbitrary deadline, and the result of that isn’t just the bugs and glitches. Many aspects of the underlying gameplay just aren’t all that good.

Many elements of Cyberpunk 2077 – including driving – have been heavily criticised.

Non-player characters don’t react naturally to situations that transpire around them. There are many video clips you can find on YouTube of half a dozen characters performing an identical animation when the player takes out a gun or fires a shot. Night City’s police don’t exist dynamically in the world in the same way they do in games like Grand Theft Auto V – or Grand Theft Auto III, come to that. Instead, they spawn in when the player commits a crime – often within a metre or two of the player.

If the version of Cyberpunk 2077 that launched in December felt like an early alpha version, six months later what we have at best is the equivalent of a closed beta. It’s ready for play-testing by a large professional QA team who would report all of these bugs and glitches to the developers so they could be fixed before launch. In a game of this size, this phase of development could easily take six months or more. Being as generous as we can, Cyberpunk 2077 is still in dire need of months of development time to get to a state that’s anywhere close to acceptable.

Cyberpunk 2077 launched in an appalling state… and despite some improvements, is still nowhere close to acceptable.

And that’s before we get into new problems. CD Projekt Red and the development team are still reeling from a major hack that exposed the private data of many individuals who work for the company. That will undoubtedly have damaged morale. But to my great surprise, in recent interviews CD Projekt Red has already begun discussing its next game – which is assumed to be The Witcher 4.

They quite literally and demonstrably have not finished working on Cyberpunk 2077 and they’re already talking about moving on to new projects? Ouch. I think we can kiss goodbye to any Cyberpunk 2077 expansion packs or DLC! CD Projekt Red has also announced sales figures for the first quarter of 2021, and as you might expect given the state of the game, those numbers are catastrophically bad – Cyberpunk 2077 sold somewhere in the region of 800,000 copies. That’s less than 6% of the 13.7 million copies of the game that were sold in December 2020.

As you might expect, sales tanked following the game’s disastrous launch.

Then there are refunds to take into consideration. Many players chose to get refunds directly from Xbox, Steam, and other outlets where they’d purchased the game. This is a big part of the reason why Sony took the game down – there were so many refunds being requested, and Sony was concerned about their ability to handle all of them. CD Projekt Red directly refunded only around 30,000 players – but that doesn’t account for the vast majority who got their refunds from the shop they purchased the game from. The total number of refunds as of June – according to unofficial reports – may be in excess of two million.

Even if that number is inflated, a huge number of refunds have been paid out, and that’s had a massive impact on CD Projekt Red’s bottom line. The company has seen more than 50% wiped off the value of its share price in the last six months, and a recent investor presentation saw further falls as investors were disappointed at the lack of clarity about the company’s future – and Cyberpunk 2077 in particular.

CD Projekt Red’s stock price from June 2020 to June 2021.
Image Credit: Google Finance

I’ve spoken at length about how Cyberpunk 2077 has become the latest in a long line of “release now, fix later” failures, but the point needs to be re-emphasised: this is not how you make a video game. Players have a right to expect basic functionality and playability at the bare minimum, and even as Cyberpunk 2077 returns to the PlayStation Store, those basic expectations are still not being met. The game remains in a poor state, unworthy of being called a finished product.

As the old joke goes: if you can’t be a success in life, maybe you can still serve as a bad example. And that’s what Cyberpunk 2077 is right now: a warning to any other publisher that thinks they can get away with releasing a broken, bug-riddled, unplayable mess and promise to fix it later.

Cyberpunk 2077 will be studied in the years ahead.

I had been hopeful that Cyberpunk 2077′s updates over the last few months would kick off a No Man’s Sky-style revival, with the game crawling its way slowly toward commercial success and critical acclaim. That’s still possible – though if CD Projekt Red are already considering their next game, I’m not encouraged by that. But as things stand, the updates and patches released so far haven’t succeeded at getting the game to anywhere near its promised condition.

Some of the bugs are gone. But each bug removed seems to uncover something else about Cyberpunk 2077 that’s disappointing – in a way, the game’s reputation for being unplayable due to bugs concealed what may come to be seen as its true failing: Cyberpunk 2077 is just not that fun to play. There may be a decent story, but in terms of gameplay, what’s there is a roleplaying-shooter that’s mediocre at best, with gameplay systems that other titles did better years earlier.

The reputation of CD Projekt Red has been badly damaged by the Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco and will take a long time to recover.

Considering the financial impact on CD Projekt Red, in a way I could quite understand the desire to move on. Cutting your losses and racing ahead to a new project makes business sense in some circumstances, and may even be helpful in the medium-to-long term for team morale. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear in the next few months that there won’t be any more Cyberpunk 2077 updates; that this is as good as the game will ever get.

BioWare did this twice in recent years – with Mass Effect: Andromeda and with Anthem. So before you dismiss the notion out of hand, keep in mind that it’s happened before. Games companies are notorious for cutting their losses and abandoning underperforming projects. And if we’ve learned one thing from the Cyberpunk 2077 clusterfuck it’s that CD Projekt Red, despite their earlier glowing reputation with players, behave just like every other major games company on the planet.

If you’re still playing Cyberpunk 2077 – or holding out hope for its future success – I’m with you. I don’t want this game to be forever bad; it had so much potential and I’d like nothing more than to see it succeed. I’m just not holding my breath any more. There have been too many underwhelming updates and too many strange noises coming from CD Projekt Red.

Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Projekt Red. Some promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another surprising twist in the Cyberpunk 2077 saga

Having said all I wanted to about Cyberpunk 2077 both before and after its release, I was content to sit back, wait for the patches and updates to be rolled out, and not discuss the game again until I’d played it for myself – something I still hope to do some time next year. But out of nowhere came a truly shocking piece of news and I just had to add my two cents to the conversation. If you somehow missed it, here’s the lowdown: Sony has removed Cyberpunk 2077 from sale on the PlayStation Store and is offering a refund to every single PlayStation player who picked up the game.

People throw around words very easily these days, so forgive me for emphasising this point: this action is unprecedented. Sure, some games do get removed from sale from time to time, sometimes for rights or licensing reasons, sometimes for copyright, sometimes because they were literally cobbled together from pre-bought assets and barely function. And of course Nintendo has its “forced scarcity” business model that we’re seeing with Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which will be pulled from sale in March.

Cyberpunk 2077 is being removed from the PlayStation Store.

But in all the years I’ve been involved with the games industry, I have never seen such a major release as Cyberpunk 2077 being removed from sale. Never. Nintendo and their anti-consumer practices aside, the only games that tend to get pulled from shelves are the non-functional pre-bought asset “games” that have been put together by amateurs. A major release on this scale has, as far as I know, never been unceremoniously de-listed in this way. It is wholly without precedent.

On the one hand, I actually sympathise with CD Projekt Red (the developers behind Cyberpunk 2077). There is a process involved in getting a game onto the PlayStation Store in the first place – as indeed there is for any digital shop. Part of the process requires approval from Sony, who will have been given pre-release access to the game to test for themselves. So from CD Projekt Red’s perspective, they may feel that Sony acted unfairly, and that if they didn’t want to sell the game they could have denied it access to their platform weeks ago.

Cyberpunk 2077 was developed by CD Projekt Red.

However, as with everything to do with major corporations, it’s more complicated than that! In a competitive market, with Sony up against Microsoft both with the Xbox One/Xbox Series X and PC gaming, they could hardly be the only place Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t available. In short, if there was going to be a prohibition of the game’s sale due to bugs and glitches, if Xbox didn’t follow suit it would hugely disadvantage Sony in the short-term. Secondly, I have no doubt that CD Projekt Red wooed Sony with promises of day-one updates and patches to some of the major issues that they surely uncovered during their own tests.

But most importantly there’s a legal component to what’s happened. CD Projekt Red initially offered refunds to anyone disappointed with Cyberpunk 2077 on their platform of choice. Sony, by some accounts, had difficulty processing those refunds when players requested them. In order to avoid legal action from players who had been promised a refund, or from players who may claim the game was not as advertised, Sony have stepped in and used the proverbial “nuclear option” as a last resort.

Cyberpunk 2077 launched in a broken state.

When I first saw this news break I thought the individual writing about it must have got confused or been exaggerating for clicks. It simply did not seem possible that a major game from a huge company would be pulled from sale entirely on the PlayStation. After all, Cyberpunk 2077 has hardly been abandoned; patches, hot-fixes, and updates have already been rolled out and more are already scheduled. Even if the game is buggy at launch, improvements are on the horizon. I was stunned to learn it was true, and it’s even been covered by mainstream news outlets here in the UK.

It’s hardly the first time a major game has arrived with bugs and glitches. Fallout 76 a couple of years ago was truly awful on that front (in addition to being just an awful game all around) yet it remained on sale. As did the likes of Skyrim, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Assassin’s Creed Unity. Despite having incredibly buggy launches, none were pulled from sale in the way Cyberpunk 2077 has been. And this must surely irk CD Projekt Red.

The notoriously buggy Assassin’s Creed Unity is still for sale on the PlayStation Store.

Despite what I said a moment ago about feeling a pang of sympathy, let’s not overdo it. This is entirely CD Projekt Red’s own fault. Despite having been willing to delay the game twice, they ultimately decided to force a release before the title was ready – if indeed it ever can be ready on current-gen consoles given its obvious PC and next-gen focus. There are two reasons I can see why they chose not to delay the game into 2021 – a desire to get the game out in time for the Christmas season (also known as the E.T. problem) and perhaps because the board game upon which Cyberpunk 2077 is based is called Cyberpunk 2020, and there was a clear desire to release the game in this calendar year.

When I wrote about Cyberpunk 2077′s first delay all the way back in January, I said that “the response from the [gaming] community when any game is delayed is almost always overwhelmingly positive.” That is a universal truth. There are a handful of troublemakers and brain-dead idiots who get upset and say stupid things – such as making death threats – when a title is delayed, but everyone else understands. We would rather play a good game in six months than a broken one now.

We’ve been talking about this game for a while!

In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, the hype bubble got out of control. Partly what’s happened is a result of CD Projekt Red trading on past success and their good reputation; they hadn’t released a new game since 2015, and it’s easy to seem like a good, pro-consumer company when you aren’t in the trenches. Perhaps the insane hype that grew around the game is why the company chose not to shift their focus entirely to next-gen hardware and higher-end PCs. That would be a difficult pill for many players to swallow, but had such a decision been made a year or more ago, by the time the game finally made it to its launch date practically all of that would have abated.

So the question now is: what happens next? CD Projekt Red have completely botched this launch. Many players found the game so bad it was unplayable, and by now the plot and even the side-missions have all been spoiled for a lot of people. The excitement of playing the game for the first time has gone, and for players who had a disappointing experience, even if it’s patched and fixed over the next few months, they can never get that back.

Cyberpunk 2077 will not be available on PlayStation 4 for the foreseeable future.

Given that the PC version is generally more stable, I can’t imagine the big PC gaming shops like Steam and Epic Games will be willing to follow suit and refund everyone who bought it. Microsoft might, though, and it’s possible in the coming days (or even hours) we’ll see Xbox make a similar announcement.

I’m still shocked. Even though I could tell the hype bubble around Cyberpunk 2077 was completely out of control, and I expected at least some players to find the game underwhelming, I had no idea what was coming. CD Projekt Red have gone from one of the best-loved games companies to one of the most criticised in a matter of days, and it’s not unfair to say that the hype bubble has completely burst. Cyberpunk 2077 is not the amazing, barrier-breaking, genre-redefining interactive experience that fans hoped for. As I predicted, it’s just a game. A bug-riddled game that’s so “unplayable” for many that Sony had to step in, refund everyone who bought it, and pull it from sale. Absolutely extraordinary.

Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC and Xbox One. The Xbox One version is compatible with the Xbox Series X. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Projekt Red. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The real price of next-gen consoles

Were you lucky enough to secure a pre-order of the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5? If so, congratulations! You’re one of the few who managed that feat. Both consoles sold out as soon as pre-orders were available, meaning a lot of people hoping to pick up one of the new machines this year were left disappointed.

A lot of factors came together to make this happen, and we’ll look at them in turn. First is the confusing way in which both Sony and Microsoft made their consoles available. Pre-orders for the PlayStation 5 “accidentally” went live hours ahead of schedule, meaning a lot of people who had planned to pre-order at the promised time missed out. There is no one place where consoles may be pre-ordered either, with retailers from big outlets like Amazon and supermarkets down to smaller specialist games or electronics shops all offering to take customers’ money. As many found out later, problems with stock availability and allocation meant that a lot of pre-orders were either cancelled, rejected, or could not be fulfilled on launch day.

The newly-released PlayStation 5.

Then there are the “bots.” Automated computer programmes bought up a significant percentage of the available supply of new consoles, leaving many machines in the hands of touts and scalpers. These consoles are currently being re-sold for well over the asking price to disappointed gamers who missed out.

Finally there’s the question of how many machines were manufactured. When coronavirus hit China hard earlier this year, production of next-gen consoles was majorly disrupted. Some factories were closed for weeks, others cut back their output, and the consequence for both Sony and Microsoft was that far fewer next-gen consoles were available in time for launch than they expected. I noted this a few months ago when I asked the question: is now really the right time to launch these machines?

There was always going to be high demand for these machines, and both Sony and Microsoft knew that they’d sell out on launch day. In fact that’s usually part of the plan; selling out makes a machine look exciting and cool, and fear of missing out drives sales. No company wants to see images of huge numbers of unsold machines sitting on shelves in the period after launch.

An Xbox Series S/X control pad.

But even in that environment, the reduced manufacturing capability has had a huge impact, make no mistake. The plan had been for millions more consoles to be available; Sony told us this directly when they announced a few months ago that they would have several million fewer consoles ready to go on launch day than they initially planned. When their business model was already based around artificial scarcity, the loss of several million units has made an already difficult pre-order process practically impossible when combined with the other factors listed above.

So on to the title of this article: how much does an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 really cost if you want to get one before the end of the year? I went to a popular auction website and compiled a short selection of listings. Take a look:

A selection of auction listings for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles in the UK on the 17th of November 2020.

As you can see, prices are approaching double the recommended retail price here in the UK, with scalpers and touts even selling pre-ordered consoles that they don’t actually have in their possession yet. Anecdotally I’ve heard from friends in the United States of PlayStation 5 consoles being sold for upwards of $1200 – well over double the asking price.

In a way, this is “pure capitalism.” This is what happens when companies don’t have enough stock for consumers; the law of supply and demand kicks in. If someone is willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5, then there will be a market for that. The true price of these machines right now, in November 2020, is not the recommended retail price of £450. It’s £700, £800, or £900. And with no indication of the availability of either console improving before Christmas, those prices may yet rise further.

Companies are totally fine with this. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to Microsoft or Sony whether a genuine player buys a console or a bot picks up that console for a scalper or tout to re-sell later. They still make just as much money no matter who the buyer is, so they have absolutely no incentive to find ways to stamp out this behaviour. Likewise, retailers from game stores to supermarkets to giants like Amazon don’t care – and it’s through online retailers that the vast majority of pre-orders have been taken.

The market – that amorphous entity that economists love to talk about – determines the price and value of products. If people are willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5 then that’s its true value. But is it worth it? Could any video game console possibly be worth £900?

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that my answer is a resounding “no.” Not only are these machines not worth such a ridiculous amount of money, they’re probably not even worth their official price right now.

This new console generation is, at best, a minor improvement over the current one in most of the ways that matter. Add to that the fact that practically every game currently available for the PlayStation 5, and every single game currently available for the Xbox Series X, are also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, most players would find it hard to tell the difference between playing on a current-gen or next-gen machine. There are iterative changes, such as faster loading times, better controller battery life, and so on. But there’s nothing significant in terms of graphics or gameplay that make either console a “must-buy” in 2020. Any such improvements won’t be seen for a year or more; perhaps by 2022 you could make the case that games are getting better thanks to these machines. But not yet.

There was a lot of hype and buildup to the launch of these new consoles, as is to be expected. And a lot of players were sucked in by the hype and decided that they needed a new Xbox or PlayStation on launch day no matter what. If they paid over the odds for their machine from a scalper or tout, I bet a lot of them regret that investment today.

With the new consoles offering small improvements at best, there’s no need to get one right now. Don’t reward the scalpers and touts with their scripts and bots who bought up as many consoles as they could. Jump off the hype train and be patient, and enjoy the exact same games on current-gen hardware. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.

The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X and Series S – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Is it the right time for new video game consoles?

A lot of things in the world are a mess right now, upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the tragic loss of life we’ve seen lockdowns, job losses, and economic chaos on a level unseen for a long time. And tech companies – including Sony and Microsoft – have suffered as a result of major disruption to supply chains and manufacturing facilities. Yet despite all that, both companies are pressing ahead with their new video game consoles, scheduled for release in November. But is that the right decision? Or might it have been better to wait a year or two?

One of the things that struck me most when looking at all the gameplay and footage released by both companies is how absolutely minuscule the so-called “upgrades” are, at least in terms of the way games will look on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Both companies use graphics as one of their major selling points, yet when you stack up a current-gen and next-gen version of the same title side by side, it’s hard to really see a difference.

Perhaps some consumers who have an incredibly fancy (and incredibly expensive) television – or superhuman eyesight – will notice a big change. But I didn’t, and from what I can tell by reading and listening to the reaction from players, a lot of other folks can’t either. There is more to a good game than graphics, but when it’s a key selling point I think it’s not unfair to say that players expect something more than either new console is able to offer.

The trouble is that even on the oldest version of current-gen systems – those consoles released in 2013 – games look pretty good. Players have been enjoying the visual style of titles like The Witcher 3 for years, and even some launch titles from 2013, like Ryse: Son of Rome, look fantastic. Any upgrade was always going to be minor, and things like slightly more realistic controller rumble or faster loading times are difficult things to market to the average player. The result? It’s hard to escape the feeling that the two new consoles already feel like a minor upgrade at best… and a waste of time and money at worst.

That’s before we account for the fact that disruption across all areas of the industry has massively complicated matters.

The Xbox Series X is going to be released without its key launch titleHalo Infinite. This game should have been one of the console’s selling points – despite its simultaneous launch on Xbox One. Without it, the Xbox Series X will be released with some cross-platform games and not a lot else.

However, things are even worse for Sony. The company recently announced that they were producing several million fewer PlayStation 5 consoles than expected. As a result there has been pre-order chaos. Initial plans to hold a “lottery” to determine who could pre-order a machine didn’t pan out, and the console sold out within minutes of being made available. Reportedly, some shops have either cancelled pre-orders outright, or informed irate gamers that they may not receive their console on launch day despite thinking they’d secured a pre-order.

We’ve seen consoles launch without sufficient stock numerous times. Here in the UK, getting a Nintendo Wii was nigh-on impossible in 2006 and throughout most of 2007, such was the lack of stock. Even with that in mind, though, this feels worse. Reducing the number of units available worldwide is clearly indicative of a company struggling with production, yet rather than delay or take steps to rectify the situation, Sony has been quite happy to make the PlayStation 5 impossible to get hold of – something which will only be to the benefit of shady resellers who’ll happily sell the console for double its asking price in the run-up to Christmas.

All of this comes at a time when many people are in financial difficulty or face an uncertain financial future. As the pandemic drags on and the idea of “getting back to normal” seems further away than ever, companies are closing left and right, and as temporary schemes like the furloughing of employees come to an end, many people will be out of work. A £450/$500 outlay in that environment is an impossible ask, and feels decidedly anti-consumer. This is made worse by price rises of games themselves, many of which look set to retail for £65/$70 when the new generation arrives.

As we approach what could be a bleak and lonely Christmas for many people, players and parents are looking at these companies and asking themselves how they could possibly have the audacity and lack of awareness to go ahead with something like this. The minor upgrade that most people perceive is incredibly overpriced at £450, and even the Xbox Series S with its lower price will still be out of reach of many in 2020.

I look at these consoles, and the footage the companies selling them have released, and I’m asking myself who would be interested? At least Microsoft can say that their policy of releasing games on Xbox One for the next couple of years – bizarre though that is in many ways – means that players can stick with their current systems and don’t need to shell out a ton of money for this minor upgrade. But Sony still plans on having exclusive games, and are in effect gating off those titles behind a very expensive paywall, one which will prove insurmountable for many players in 2020.

“Big companies do something anti-consumer” is not a surprising headline, either in the games industry or beyond. And as someone who worked for a large games company in the past, I understand that there are many factors at play, including research, development, and manufacturing contracts that were almost certainly too far along to be undone at the time the pandemic hit. Even so, I’m struggling to see how releasing these machines now is a good idea. A one year delay would allow both companies to resolve manufacturing issues, produce far more stock, and allow more development time for launch titles in order to overcome pandemic-created problems. We might even see marginally better graphics as a result. And a delay of a single year wouldn’t mean the internal components of either machine would feel out of date – they would still be cutting-edge devices even if they weren’t launched until November 2021.

Regardless of what some of us may think, the console launches are going ahead. Manufacturing is well underway, and with mere weeks to go until launch day it would be very difficult – if not outright impossible – to slam the brakes on at this late stage. Despite my misgivings both machines will still sell, and will be picked up by enthusiasts with enough disposable income. The beginning of a new console generation always leaves behind those who can’t afford to make the switch; this time around there’s just more people in that position. Hopefully things really will get back to normal soon so everyone can enjoy the next generation of consoles… and the minor changes they have to offer.

The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be released in November 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

At least the PlayStation 5 will have exclusive games…

The PlayStation 5 presentation.

Xbox undoubtedly lost the current console generation. Sales estimates put the PlayStation 4 at more than double the sales of the Xbox One, which is a bit of a surprise coming on the back of the Xbox 360’s dominance in the previous cycle. Aside from an incredibly rocky launch, where the Xbox One’s online-only model, inability to share or trade-in games, and forcing the console to be bundled with the Kinect were all criticised, Xbox One’s biggest problem through the whole generation has been a lack of exclusive games.

Just off the top of my head I can name a number of PlayStation 4 exclusives, many of which were well-received are considered among the best titles of the generation: there’s God of War, Uncharted 4, Spider-Man, and Horizon Zero Dawn, as well as remasters of titles like The Last of Us and Uncharted 1-3. What does Xbox have in response? The Halo series, but with the recent release of those titles on PC, only Halo 5 remains a true exclusive. Other Xbox One titles, like the Forza series, Sunset Overdrive, and Sea of Thieves were also released for PC. That doesn’t have to be a problem, but not having any exclusive titles robs a console of one of its major selling points. The fact that Xbox’s lineup of titles have been generally thought of as average rather than great definitely didn’t help, and Xbox One has been an underwhelming console ever since it launched in 2013.

The PlayStation 5 family of devices, which were shown off yesterday.

I didn’t see anything in yesterday’s PlayStation 5 reveal presentation that blew me away. As I wrote previously when looking at Microsoft’s Xbox Series X gameplay trailer, the biggest selling-point for new consoles since at least the era of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 has been graphics. And none of the titles on show either for Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 look significantly better than what’s currently on offer. As a result, in order to stand out in a difficult market, the consoles are going to really have to push their exclusive titles, and this is where PlayStation 5 has the upper hand.

The issues Xbox has had this generation are not going away. In fact, they’re compounded by the strange decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on the Xbox One for at least the next couple of years. This means that any new Xbox title is constrained by the system specifications of 2013’s Xbox One and will need to remain compatible with that device. So far it seems like PlayStation has avoided this pitfall, but even so I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat thinking how amazing PlayStation 5’s graphics were.

Games in 2020 look great. PC games can run in 4K resolution with high frame rates, and even the oldest versions of the current crop of consoles manage to output decent-looking titles. The Nintendo Switch, despite its small form factor, can run games like The Witcher 3, and even titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons look great on that system. PlayStation and Xbox have long billed themselves as the “hardcore gamer” brands, and they’ve both put a big focus on graphics and how games look. While it seems that the reaction to the PlayStation 5 announcement is generally positive, I’m disappointed that neither brand is really doing anything different.

The new PlayStation 5 controller – the DualSense.

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – which has a truly awful name – feel like minor iterations of what we already have. There will be some quality-of-life improvements for sure: better battery life in the control pad, faster loading times as a result of using SSDs instead of hard drives, a better rumble/vibration feature in the control pad, etc. But beyond these small things, there are no new genres being pioneered as there had been in the past. There are no new ways to play – both systems have control pads scarcely any different to current generation controllers. The graphics on display look great, but graphics already looked great and I didn’t see anything in the PlayStation 5 or Xbox presentations that wouldn’t feel right at home in the current generation. In short, is there really much point to a new generation of consoles in 2020?

If the new consoles can’t do anything fundamentally different or transform players’ experiences in new ways, there’s definitely an argument to be made that it would be better to continue with the current consoles, even though they’re into their seventh year of life. Nintendo at least offers innovation – the Wii introduced motion controls, and the Switch is a hybrid between a handheld system and a home console. Xbox and PlayStation are really just offering more of the same.

In this environment, what will matter is exclusive titles. Whichever brand is perceived as having the best exclusives and the most exclusives will benefit, because when the graphics look samey, when the consoles look samey, and when it’s hard to really upsell a small difference in loading times or longer batter life, exclusive titles are what players will be focusing on. While PlayStation 4 won the argument this time around, any time a new console generation kicks off it’s a case of the slate being wiped clean. It should be up for grabs, and both companies should be going for it. But they aren’t.

Horizon Forbidden West will be a sequel to 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn.

PlayStation 4 will pass the baton of varied and great exclusive titles to PlayStation 5, as they demonstrated last night. Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Project Athia, Returnal, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Destruction All-Stars, and Horizon Forbidden West, as well as a remaster of Demon’s Souls makes for an impressive-looking lineup. None of the titles blew me away in terms of their graphics, but they all look like they have the potential to be great games. And this matters! Exclusive titles are going to be a huge selling point this generation, and if Xbox Series X doesn’t offer many, and only has multiplatform titles like Assassin’s Creed or FIFA, it’s hard to justify picking up that console instead of a PlayStation 5, which offers those same titles plus a bunch of exciting exclusives.

PlayStation is playing essentially the same hand that it has since 2013. Why mix it up too much if it works, right? Xbox looks set to stumble into the same trap it did this generation too.

All that’s left now is for both companies to sort out their price structures – and to make sure that the coronavirus pandemic won’t disrupt their launches. If I were advising Microsoft, I’d suggest the best chance they have right now is to try and undercut the PlayStation 5 in a big way. If Xbox Series X could manage to be £100 or more cheaper, it suddenly seems like a better option, even if its exclusive lineup is lacklustre. But we’ll have to wait and see.

All brands and properties mentioned above belong to their respective owners. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are scheduled to release by the end of this year (2020). This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My thoughts on the “console war”

Barring a major shift in circumstances, which we may yet see if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t sorted out in the next few months, Xbox and PlayStation plan to launch new consoles before Christmas. They will replace this generation’s Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which were released in 2013, and will join the Nintendo Switch to form the “big three” gaming platforms heading into 2021 and beyond.

When I’m in a gaming mood I’m primarily a PC player. I find PC to be a more versatile platform, and the abundance of digital shops on PC means that sales and discounts are aplenty, which I absolutely feel makes PC an appealing choice even if the up-front costs can be higher than a console. But that’s a whole different article!

When Google Stadia launched towards the end of last year, I felt it had the potential to be disruptive to the gaming market in all kinds of good ways. To understand why, we need to step back in time.

The Xbox Series X was unveiled late last year.

For a brief moment just after the millennium, there were four companies in the home console market, and they were, broadly speaking, all trying to appeal to the same core audience of gamers. There was Sega, with the Dreamcast, Sony, with its PlayStation brand, Nintendo, and Microsoft, which launched its first Xbox console in 2001. This moment wasn’t to last, of course, as the Dreamcast would prove a failure forcing Sega out of the market altogether. Nintendo’s GameCube was also not a resounding success, and the lessons the company learned led to the creation of the Wii in 2006, and from that point on, Nintendo has been fishing in a different pond to the other two console brands.

So since the mid-2000s, when Nintendo decided to go in a completely different direction with the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation have been the two main brands in direct competition. Nintendo’s current offering, the Switch, is a very different platform from anything Microsoft and Sony have, being half-handheld and half-console, and has a very different hardware setup. As a result, many gamers (myself included) will have a primary platform for playing most games and a Nintendo for playing their titles. I’m currently in the early stages of building my island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons so stay tuned for my thoughts on that at some point!

The two main competitors, PlayStation and Xbox, have taken very different routes since 2013, and the console market is in danger, I feel, of becoming a monopoly. It needs something major to shake things up – hence my excitement at Stadia potentially doing so. Microsoft’s Xbox brand has been focused on being a “multimedia” brand instead of purely gaming, and its output reflects that. Microsoft has also seen a steady growth in the PC gaming market and has chosen to release some previously exclusive titles on PC as well – the most significant being Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is as close as Xbox has to a signature franchise. Only Halo 5 remains a console exclusive right now, and I have to say it feels like only a matter of time before that, too, is ported to PC. Microsoft have been working hard to turn the Xbox One into a multimedia centre – something people could have in their living rooms to watch television, use streaming services, and even do things like make video calls.

As a result of Xbox’s foray into the PC space and using their platform to promote things like video streaming as much as gaming, PlayStation has been the dominant force in this console generation. They’ve offered many more exclusive titles, and the PlayStation 4 has outsold the Xbox One by at least two-to-one, perhaps even more. While Xbox as a brand is still healthy and commercially viable, it doesn’t leave the overall state of the market feeling especially great, as competition between the two companies is necessary to keep quality high and for developers to keep pushing the boundaries.

The DualSense controller is all we’ve seen of the PlayStation 5 so far.

Google Stadia is clearly not going to be the disruptive force I hoped for, at least not any time soon. Its minuscule userbase and tiny library of games has seen to that, though I hope Google will continue development as the core technology is interesting at least. And as far as I know, no one else is planning to get in on the home console market right now. There have been past attempts, like the Ouya and other android-based consoles, but none have been particularly successful. It took a company with the clout and financial resources of Microsoft in 2001 to break into the market for the first time as a newcomer, and if Google is unable to successfully enter the gaming space I can see that failure being offputting for anyone considering investing significant money into a new home console.

So we’re left with a two-plus-one situation in the home console space. PlayStation versus Xbox, with Nintendo off to one side largely doing its own thing. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be comparable in terms of their internal hardware, especially as both seem to be using AMD’s Zen chips and incorporating ray-tracing graphics, so the choice between systems will be more about marketing than technology. Xbox has already signalled that their multimedia and PC plans will continue into the new generation, and it was even suggested at one stage late last year that every Xbox Series X game will also be available on Xbox One for the first year or two of the new console’s life. This combination will, I feel, give the PlayStation 5 a distinct advantage.

So where do I stand? I’ll be honest, I don’t really have a dog in this fight any more. As someone who plays primarily on PC it’s less important to me. Later in the generation, when prices start to come down, I can perhaps see myself picking up a console, but it would only be if there was some must-play exclusive that didn’t make it to PC. And of the two, PlayStation seems most likely to offer something along those lines so it’s not impossible I’d pick up a PlayStation 5 in the next few years. It certainly won’t be at or near launch, though.

However, I’ve never really been a big PlayStation gamer. In the generations after the first PlayStation launched I owned a Nintendo 64, a Dreamcast, an Xbox, and then an Xbox 360. It wasn’t until much later when I picked up a second-hand PlayStation 3. By then I was less into gaming and I’ve only played a handful of PlayStation 3 and 4 titles over the last few years. This is purely subjective, but as someone who likes to play some games with a controller instead of keyboard and mouse, I find Xbox controllers more comfortable to use. The original Xbox controller from 2001 – known as the “duke” – is actually one of my favourites, despite the justifiable criticism it received at the time for its large size!

The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will join the Nintendo Switch in the home console market.

Looking in from the outside as someone who has no plans to purchase either of the new consoles imminently, what I hope is that both are successful for their parent companies and that both are going to be great platforms for gaming. I’d like to see a bigger stride this console generation than the last, particularly where graphics are concerned, but it seems unlikely. Many PlayStation 4 and Xbox One titles don’t look much different from games released in the latter part of the previous generation, and gameplay and graphics in general have not advanced nearly as far over the last few years as they had in previous generations. Earlier console generations brought huge advancements over their predecessors. The Nintendo 64, for example, was an incredibly powerful machine compared to the Super Nintendo, which was itself streets ahead of the earlier NES. I remember in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was talk of genuine photorealism by 2010, 2015, or 2020. While some projects can come close to that, we aren’t there in a general sense. And to make a long story short, the fact that the next generation of consoles will be a progression or iteration on what is already available in terms of graphics and gameplay makes them less exciting to me personally.

What we will see are smaller quality-of-life improvements. Things like longer battery life in wireless peripherals like controllers, as well as a move from hard discs to solid-state drives will give console gamers something to appreciate. There might also be things like faster download speeds, quicker installation from optical discs – which are still going to be present – and support for 4K resolution and video playback. With most new televisions being 4K that makes a lot of sense.

Overall, the biggest issue that is currently facing Xbox and PlayStation is the pandemic. Both in terms of disruption to their manufacturing and logistics and the wider economic impact on consumer spending, the launches scheduled for later this year may yet be delayed, and if they aren’t, sales may not initially be as strong as they were in 2013 or 2005/06. The consoles themselves will be of some interest, but what I’m most interested to see is how new games plan to take advantage of some of the new hardware capabilities. Pushing the boundaries and creating games that are bigger, better, and more visually impressive than ever is something I’ll always be interested to see, even though I don’t really mind which brand or company “wins”.

All brands mentioned above are the copyright of their respective parent companies. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.