PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio not Upgrading Consoles as Expected

Once every week I push my red lawn mower around my yard. If I owned a riding lawn mower maybe I would use it, but it wouldn’t help. No matter what I use, the sun beams down and the trees block the way. But a farmer with a huge yard rides off into the sun, trimming the grass faster than any push mower available.

Like a riding mower, the PS4 Pro targets a very specific buyer. The hardware touts improved visuals on 4K televisions and allows for people to play in virtual reality (VR). But the rest of us, the ones sweating over our grass patches, wonder if the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio improves how we play.

Applying Purpose and Improving Interaction in an Open World Game

When DICE revealed Mirror's Edge Catalyst, the shift from linear parkour to an open world didn't matter. I waited eight years to play another Mirror's Edge and nothing would stop me. As I slow my sprint through the City of Glass, I also stop to understand the purpose of an open world. While Catalyst recreates the awe of free-running parkour, I don't credit its huge city for discovering that feeling. The main character, Faith, still runs regardless of the world around her. Without tying her movement and mechanics to the landscape of rooftops, the space leaves voids between the focal points of a game.

Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) haunts me with the dozens of lost hours spent driving. Whether you play a mission, go to a mission or explore away from a mission, you spend way too much time driving. With such a large open-world, cars speed up travel. Rockstar doesn't give you a better option for fast travel besides a paid taxi ride. And since many missions require some sort of vehicle to even trigger the event, why bother fast travelling with a taxi. Despite an elaborate heist story, GTAV's best use of city exploration and travel is to plop you in a car.

The Effects of Cosmetic Sales, Free Updates and Paid DLC

As players grind levels for loot boxes in Overwatch, I assume Blizzard works hard on their promise of free DLC. They fund free updates with revenue from selling randomized loot boxes of items already in the base game. Even after the retail sale, Blizzard wants players to spend even more by locking dozens of skins and emblems.

Some people may not qualify skins as content, but it does affect the value of a game. Item rarity takes from Overwatch's already thin launch package, and questions the effects of free DLC plans. Cosmetic marketplaces keep the community at the same version of game, yet it adds an item grind not found with paid DLC plans.

In Battlefield 4, players must pay for more content, but in Overwatch players can also invest time. The maps, weapons and vehicles in each Battlefield DLC also bundle camouflage variants, weapons skins and new emblems. The skins and emblems DICE considers as "extras" in each DLC, Blizzard positions as the main source for paid content. If players don't buy loot boxes, then they must invest time to level up, all the while performing at a high level. There are no experience boosts or quests rewards, it comes down to performance, time and luck.

Multiplayer User Retention and Skill Ceilings

For the first time in almost a decade, a new Halo sustains a healthy, active player base. Josh Holmes, 343 Industries studio head, says Halo 5: Guardians' player retention is the best since Halo 3. While each Halo iteration sells millions, both Halo: Reach and Halo 4 saw its player population nose dive a few months after launch. Halo 5 lives post launch because of the one characteristic many multiplayer games lack: skill gaps.

Developers roll out regular, sometimes free, content updates for their games, but content alone won't satisfy your player base. Halo 4 released regular map packs with free Spartan Ops missions every week. Raptr, a once console gameplay tracker, conducted a case study on Halo 4 and the hours logged during Spartan Ops releases. Despite the free missions each week, they failed to stop the plummeting playtime. In December, a month after launch, Halo 4's weekly playtime dropped from 400,000 hours to just below 168,000 by the end of January. While a drop-off makes sense post holidays, a month later it plummeted again to just above 110,000 hours. Regardless of the combination of free content and paid DLC, the total hours played dropped faster than in Halo: Reach.

Competitive games like DOTA 2, League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, sees stability and even growth in their population because of competitive skill gaps. High skill ceiling games separate average players from the best players, but it also encourages practice. No one wants to get worse at a game, and so they return to - at the very least - perform to their ability. There's an addictive quality in competing, and an even greater feeling when competing at a high level.

Competition breeds player investment, yet it won't matter if the game lacks in quality. I don't attribute much to review scores or aggregate score websites like Metacritic, but they do mean something. Positive reviews for Halo 4 and Halo: Reach at least indicates a positive reception at launch. I can't quantify the quality of either game or even Halo 4's post launch content. All I can say is: I played most of Halo 4's DLC and I enjoyed it, but I didn't play between content releases. To keep players invested, games require both a combination of exciting content and challenging mechanics.

Video Games Journalism Isn't Worth It, Especially for Canadians

The video games press operates in a doomed state. As the video game industry grows, the rate for writers shrinks. On average, a writer earns $150 per article. A feature length article with interviews takes days or weeks to complete. Interview transcription alone takes hours to sift through. If a writer somehow manages to publish one feature article every other business day, the rate means an annual salary of $19,500. You can compare the near poverty rates of many press outlets with this crowdsourced Google Doc spreadsheet.

One well edited spreadsheet later, I've decided to abandon a career in games press. It's a scary, uncomfortable decision I never wanted to make. I worked for years to become a permanent member of the press, yet industry circumstance forces me to adapt. Writers accept the criminal rates for the experience and hope for a better opportunity. But as the spreadsheet shows, a better opportunity doesn't mean a sustainable career choice. 

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