The expensive days of the upgradable game console may be close at hand

Open Xbox controller

Owen A./Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

The extended life of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 may have been marked anomalies.

Are you ready to spend double or triple the amount of money you normally spend on video game consoles?

This is the choice you may be facing if it’s true that Microsoft and Sony are thinking about new console hardware (not even two years after the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4). And in the case of Sony specifically, signs are looking good that we do have another PlayStation on the way.

Video game console cycles from 1985 to the present have historically lasted roughly four to five years. Console gamers depend on not having to constantly upgrade their hardware the way PC gamers usually do in order to be able to play the newest and best games. 

Now we’re seeing signs that console manufacturers are seriously acknowledging the weakness of the fixed-hardware model, namely that consoles simply can’t keep up with advances in graphics technology.

What that means for you if you’re a console game is possibly having to shell out for a new Xbox or PlayStation much earlier than you ever expected to, unless you want to be left behind and/or deal with worse hardware performance than you have to.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox at Microsoft, at the Xbox Spring Showcase event in February dropped hints that we may see incremental hardware upgrades for the Xbox One, by pointing out that console ecosystems lack the “continuous innovation” that you see on PCs. 

Last week during the Game Developers Conference, Kotaku reported that multiple sources have confirmed Sony is working on a “PlayStation 4.5,” and is even briefing game developers about the new hardware.

The fact that both companies are already talking about new hardware, when the previous console generation lasted for eight years, might be unnerving for console gamers.

Considering our concerns about whether or not the PlayStation 4 can live up to the technical demands of virtual reality, and the recent announcement that PlayStation VR will be released in October, Sony upping its game on the PlayStation’s hardware power makes all the sense in the world.

That would arguably then force Microsoft’s hand. The PlayStation 4 is already regarded by many as a superior console to the Xbox One. Standing still in the face of an evolving PlayStation would not be in Microsoft’s best interests, if the company wants any hope of staying competitive Sony in the current console generation.

Andrew House, president and group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, at the PS VR reveal event on Mar. 15 revealed that 36 million PlayStation 4 units have been sold to date. An estimated 19 million Xbox One units had been sold as of January. We’re talking about a lot of console gamers who may be facing the question of whether or not they want to upgrade their gear.

If virtual reality turns out to be the motivation for new PlayStation hardware this early, current PS4 gamers can probably rest easy, if they don’t care about VR. And Microsoft currently has no plans to provide VR support on the Xbox One, which even in the face of a PlayStation 4.5 upgrade might buy Microsoft more time to delay any eventual Xbox One upgrades.

But we also know that console game developers are experts at squeezing every iota of power they can out of console hardware, and the temptation to build for higher technical specifications if and when updated console hardware is released in the near future might be tremendous. A PlayStation 4.5 could kick off a new round of the console wars regardless of whether or not Microsoft cares about supporting VR on the Xbox One.

And then, if you’re a console gamer, you may have some tough decisions to make about new hardware, way earlier than you thought you’d have to make them.

Photo by Owen A./Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

Dennis Scimeca

Dennis Scimeca

Dennis Scimeca was the Daily Dot's gaming reporter until 2016. He loves first-person shooters, role-playing games, and massively multiplayer online games. His work has appeared in Salon, NPR, Ars Technica, Kotaku, Polygon, Gamasutra, GamesBeat, Paste, and Mic.