Not far from the new PlayStation and Xbox systems, or series of systems, fans are counting down the days until launch. Promised updates to hardware and system infrastructure mean that the coming ninth-generation could be one of the most important yet. For many players, the most critical aspect of new console developments ties into competitive opportunities.
Having seen significant development in the last couple of generations, the ninth gen is poised as one where the bar is raised to an entirely new level. So, what features come into play to create this belief, and what does the mean for the greater gaming environment?
More Open Systems
Arguably the most visible change to modern online systems in the last-gen has come form the increasing acceptance of what is called cross-play. This refers to the ability for different consoles and systems to play together, on the same network. While the idea is hardly a new one, having some famed roots back in 2002 for the PS2 and PC versions of Final Fantasy XI, greater adoption of this technology has been slow.
In this generation, the major console developers, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, finally began to soften their approach. The most reticent of these companies, Sony, originally made some conservative and controversial moves, only to have their hand forced. During an ‘accidental’ enabling of PS4 cross-play by Epic Games in 2017, the floodgates were opened, and Sony had no choice but to jump in or face even greater public backlash.
The next-gen systems, rather than being forced into the cross-play world, appear to be built with it in mind. While cross-play might not yet be universal, the next generation will lean far more into the idea than any systems that came before.
Improving Software and Physical Limitations
Playing a big part in some games are improvements to how online connectivity works. As the backing structure of how players connect, new software like roll-back net code has made online play significantly smoother even while connection speed remains the same. Roll-back specifically has been a god-send to fighting game players and is globally celebrated. This not only makes games that integrate it like Injustice 2 or Mortal Kombat 11 more playable, but it also considerably increases the distance at which competitors can engage.
It’s worth noting, though, that for most video games these solutions can mitigate slower connections, but they cannot overcome them completely. Once a certain threshold for fast-paced games has been reached, usually around the 100ms mark, competitive play becomes essentially unfeasible due to reaction speeds not mattering. This is why players in Asia or Europe tend not to share games with players in the Americas.
The other major limiting factor is that of legality, which changes heavily by continent and country. Online gambling in India serves as an example as, today, any of the games on these websites could play perfectly almost all over the world, in theory. Due to licensing agreements, however, there are restrictions placed on casinos that can vary enormously by location, regardless of physical proximity. India has very different online rules than it’s neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, and thus access varies massively.
Combatting these problems is difficult, but there has been some progress made in the form of multinational agreements. An illustration of this we could turn to the EU, where some shared online rules for systems like GDPR have added a degree of standardisation in countries like Spain, France, and Germany. Should these agreements become more common, better connectivity on a legal level would inevitably result.
A More Challenging World
The cumulative result of coming changes is that online gaming, no matter where you are, is going to get bigger and run more smoothly than ever before. In real terms, this means larger player-pools, which has been repeatedly shown to drive the complexity of upper-tier play.
As a form of competition that’s still relatively young, such growth of competitive gaming will likely prove beneficial to all sides of the industry. From pushing to a higher level of play to letting online communities last longer, to making eSports careers even more viable, this next console generation is looking to add more than just flashy visuals.