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Useful Notes / The Ninth Generation of Console Video Games

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A new phase of the Console Wars began in November 2020 with the duel between the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S kicking off this new generation.

Having both standardized around PC-style x86 architecture in the previous gen, the new consoles utilize customized versions of the drastically improved AMD Zen CPU and RDNA GPU platforms.note  An even more significant change, however, is the transition from mechanical hard drives to high speed NVMe SSDs, allowing game assets to load near instantaneously.

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Despite boasting similar hardware to not only their predecessors, but also each other, the divergence in business model between Microsoft and Sony that began in The Eighth Generation of Console Video Games continues in full force. Sony remains very much a hardware-first company: PS5 is pushed as a clean break, emphasizing new entries to its first-party IPs that it claims cannot be done on old hardware, despite its backwards compatibility and plethora of cross-generational games within its launch window. To this end, the system introduced the DualSense, a new controller that significantly abandoned the DualShock/Sixaxis design that PlayStation consoles have used since 1998. Microsoft on the other hand, has chosen a more iterative approach more akin to the smartphone market: buying the newest console will net consumers the best experience, but new games and experiences will continue to work on the Xbox One for at least a few yearsnote , while the controller and accessory lineup is largely unchanged. This goes in hand with a shift towards selling Xbox as a broader gaming service with many different entry points across consoles, PCs, and mobile devices via cloud streaming; hence the existence of the cheaper Series S console which lacks the Series X's native 4K and disc drive to offer next-gen performance at a lower price.

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In the booming PC space, Microsoft has continued to integrate Xbox services into Windows, with Game Pass having a PC only subscription option along with Ultimate which supports console, PC, and cloud games, and all the features of Xbox Live Goldnote  and console features such as direct storagenote  being added to DirectX. Most new Xbox Game Studios published games launch on console and PC simultaneously while there are also some PC exclusive titles such as Age of Empires IV, or ones that were released first on PC with a console version later like Microsoft Flight Simulator. The new Microsoft Store in Windows 11note  has removed the previous Apple-like "walled garden" approach and allows 3rd party marketplaces such as Steam to integrate directly into it if they desire. Microsoft also publishes their games directly on Steam for players who prefer using it and don't benefit from game pass or the ability to play on both PC and console. Sony, while having emphasized their consoles as the only place to play their first party titles, has begun walking that back by releasing a number of them on PC, although not for some time after. Despite the view that exclusivity brings prestige, when you haven't been able to keep your console in stock for a year, making your games more accessible to more people is a decision that benefits mostly everyone.

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Nintendo, the final member of the "Big Three", was thrown off the standard generational cadence when they threw in the towel on the Wii U halfway through the last round in favor of launching the Nintendo Switch. By the time the PS5 and new Xbox consoles launched, the Switch had been on the market for over three years and had proven its "hybrid" concept — wherein the system can be treated as a home console, a dedicated handheld, or both depending on a consumer's need — to be a successful one. That doesn't seem to be changing any time soon either, as the system continues to sell gangbusters. Nintendo's bold claim around its launch that the console could possibly exceed the sales of the Wii no longer seem outlandish, especially after the Switch benefitted from a huge spike in sales thanks to a lot of people staying home throughout 2020 that helped it surpass that goal by the end of 2021. A handheld-only variant known as the "Lite" was released in September 2019. An updated "Pro" model was rumored in 2021 by various tech news outlets to have 4K capability and increased hardware power through the integration of NVIDIA's DLSS technology; whether this was false or a change of plans due to computer chip shortages, Nintendo instead released a more premium SKU of the existing Switch called the "OLED model". Rather than be a hardware upgrade similar to the previous generation's PS4 Pro or New Nintendo 3DS, the "OLED model" is more in line with Nintendo's usual handheld revisions, simply offering an improved and nicer build to appeal to new consumers as opposed to encouraging current ones to upgrade.

While acting as multimedia set top boxes and breaking into mobile was the goal during last gen, this time around, it is all about the cloud. Even the most successful previous efforts at game streaming from companies such as OnLive ultimately failed miserably thanks to issues of latency and inadequate hardware, but with sufficiently fast internet now being more prevalent than it was a decade prior, the effort is once again being made among the major tech giants, with a few new names joining the fray. While the ninth generation is considered to have started in November 2020, cloud services began a bit earlier during the so-called "eighth-and-a-halfth generation". The most visible of these cloud services is Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming (colloquially known by its development name xCloud) which entered beta testing in November of the previous year before formally launching in September 2020 for Android devices, later adding support for other devices via web browser and the Xbox app on Windows PCs. PlayStation Now predates it by a few years, but has existed more as a vehicle for playing legacy PlayStation games that were incompatible with their current hardware. However, with pressure mounting and continued comparisons to Microsoft and other cloud services building, Sony is expected to revamp the program in the future.

This generation sees a slew of newcomers to the gaming market, though a few of them are actually returning players from generations past. In this group, the real fresh faces to the gaming market are Google, Amazon, Apple, and (bafflingly enough) Kentucky Fried Chicken. The former two are joining through 100% cloud-based services called Google Stadia and Amazon Luna that each make use of their respective company's ubiquitous Chromecast and Fire TV devices to find a place in people's living rooms. However, one major hurdle that holds back these services in the mobile space is Apple, whose infamous App Store policies, means that xCloud and Stadia have been prevented from appearing on iOS devices like Apple TV. Apple's desire to bolster and promote its own gaming subscription service, Apple Arcade (launched September 2019), probably plays a factor in this as well. Amazon and Microsoft worked around this with web-based versions of Luna and xCloud, but the question will remain of whether Apple will ever loosen up on this front. Meanwhile, KFC's collaboration with Cooler Master has brought about the KFConsole: not a console per se, but rather an Intel Core-based gaming PC that boasts 240fps 4K visuals, 1TB of storage space, and a compartment specifically designed for storing fried chicken to keep warm via the console's natural heat and ventilation system. Yes, this is indeed real, and a release date has not yet been specified. Google didn't completely gave up though, as they are testing Google Play Games for PC to make playing Android games on the PC easier and with Valve's help, ported Steam to Chrome OS. Microsoft did not like it and responded with Amazon Appstore for Windows 11.

Of the entrants who haven't been seen in decades are Atari, Intellivision, and SNK. Despite having little in the way of prominence since the 1980s, Atari and Intellivision both announced plans to release new hardware towards the end of the previous generation. The Atari VCS is a Linux-based mircoconsole/mini-PC geared towards playing classic Atari games and smaller indie titles, though its ability for the user to boot a second operating system means owners can also access games on Steam and similar PC gaming libraries. Despite a troubled development that had many question if it was really a scam, the console would hit stores in June 2021; but unfortunately for Atari, critics weren't very impressed and consumer response so far has been rather muted. Meanwhile, the Intellivision Amico aims to differentiate itself from the competition through a heavily curated gaming library; games for the Amico, which include remakes of classic Intellivision titles, will consist of family-friendly titles (no game for the system will be rated above ESRB E10+ or PEGI 12+) and focus mainly on 2D and 2½D games. Intellivision currently sees skepticism and mockery from gaming pundits, such as PatTheNESPunk, both for its laughable policies, controversial defenses that brand owner Tommy Tallarico has made to defend the console, and it seeing even more delays than Atari's console. SNK also plans to release a successor to the Neo Geo in 2021, but no details other than that are currently known. The ZX Spectrum and Amiga came back under ZX Spectrum Next and Amiga A500 Mini. Sharp X68000 would also have its own Mini variant, but release is unknown.

On the handheld side of things, outside the "Lite" variant of the Nintendo Switch, we have handheld gaming PCs. Due to extreme optimizations of CPUs for mobile devices (that being the Intel Tiger Lake and the AMD Ryzen 5 4500U), these device are now seen as more viable options than they had been previously. The GPD Win 3, AYA NEO, and the ONEXPLAYER all have entered into said market, each having their campaigns on Indiegogo to massive success. While the GPD Win did have previous iterations, limited technology meant that they struggled to play anything newer than seventh generation games. The AYA NEO and the ONEXPLAYER are both newcomers and have comparable specs to the GPD Win 3, and all three are able to run, for example, DOOM (2016) at 60 frames per second at minimum settings, which makes it run better than the Nintendo Switch port, which ran at 30 frames per second (which often would dip) BELOW minimum settings. This performance comes with the caveat that since these are PCs, they are more expensive than other systems, costing in the range of thousands of dollars. Following this, Valve released the Steam Deck, the successor to their Steam Machine concept, on February 2022. This handheld is powered by an AMD SoC that consists of a mobile Zen 2 processor and RDNA2 graphics, and has an entry price of $399 US Dollars. Out of the box it will run the Linux based SteamOS with the ability to run Windows games using a compatibility layer called Proton, but Valve has confirmed it will support installing alternative operating systems including Windows. We have yet to see how the emerging handheld gaming PC market will effect on the gaming industry as a whole, but they are a testament to just how far technology has come and a reminder of how quickly it can advance.

This generation also saw the release of Intel's Arc GP Us. They, especially Arc A770 and A750 are designed as lower-cost alternatives to Nvidia RTX 3060 for playing games at max FP Ses, even have AV 1 support. However, driver problems and incompatibility with Direct X 11 or older caused a huge strain on the GP Us' reputation.

Unique to this generation is its cultural impact, having begun in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Throughout the worldwide lockdowns in 2020, gaming in general got a huge boost in sales, with a special mention for escapist titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons which launched only a week after the world's collective Oh, Crap! moment and the start of restrictions. In the lead up to the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series, premiere events like E3 were moved online forcing Sony and Microsoft to adjust the format of their presentationsnote . The first livestream of 3rd party titles for Xbox including Assassin's Creed: Valhalla was infamously panned for its lack of in-depth previews rather than trailers, and the awkward presentation which was done in Microsoft Teams. It did get better as everyone adjusted to it, but it did leave a bad first impression of the Series X for some. For games in development, the abrupt move to remote work resulted in across the board delays and accelerated an already looming labor crisis, with rank and file developers pushing back against crunch time and toxic working conditions. The result was a lot of games either being delayed for months like Halo Infinite, which left Microsoft without a flagship launch title, or in an atrocious Obvious Beta state like Cyberpunk 2077 which nearly ruined CD Projekt RED's reputation.

The most significant impact of all however was the act of simply acquiring any of the new hardware. To accommodate social distancing, retailers opted to not carry the new consoles on store shelves, offering them only for order online to be either shipped or picked up. Without the option of camping out before a store opens, any attempt to purchase a PS5 or new Xbox was at the mercy of functioning servers and a hope that they wouldn't sell out immediately before scalpers running automated shopping bots get to them first. Scalping has always been an issue with new consoles but the lack of brick and mortar availability, the bots, and a sophisticated network of scalpers selling access to those bots created what is effectively a pyramid scheme keeping consoles out of the hands of normal folks. It wasn't just the newcomers either, with the now 4 year old Switch disappearing from shelves for stretches at a time, and PC hardware, particularly graphics cards, becoming exceptionally rare as they were being swiped up for crypto mining. Retail prices of the NVidia 3000 and AMD 6000 cards which were already increased from their previous generation, got further inflated by OEMs and retailers, and then getting scalped. If you weren't lucky enough to get in on the small allotment of reference design cards sold directly from the chipmakers, you could expect to be paying well over $1000 for even a mid-range card. All of that started before the full effect of the global supply chain meltdown even hit and disproportionally affected AMD as the chips for both Sony and Microsoft's consoles plus their own CPUs and GPUs sharing the same production capacity. As of early 2022, the only positive development is more consistent availability of the Xbox Series S, due to its significantly smaller APU allowing more to be produced at one time compared to the X and PS5. This was an unexpected boon for Microsoft, with their bet on offering a low-end SKU paying off and allowing them to discontinue the Xbox One family and free up even more production capacity, while Sony was forced to continue production of the PS4 until at least 2023, which along with cross-generation titles and PC ports has diminished the original marketing narrative of the PS5 as the only way to experience new games, although that clearly hasn't stopped people from buying it.


Consoles and Cloud Services of this generation

Microconsoles and Handhelds of this generation

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    New IPs of this era 

    Games of older IPs 

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