I am not a fan of Neo or Project Scorpio. These half-step consoles are the next iterations of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, promising greater graphic fidelity, VR integration, and no impact to fans who enjoy the current models available for each system. They are positioned as the shiny, new best for the proper hardcore or VR supporters.
And that's a complicated mixed-messaging I don’t believe — if the upcoming hardware are truly the most powerful consoles ever created, how will the current versions hope to keep pace with their new siblings? There will eventually be a game which plays noticeably worse on the base model compared to the mega-charged, extreme-powerhouse version. (For example: Hyrule Warriors on 3DS compared to New 3DS or low-specs gaming compared to high-specs gaming on PCs.)
The two-pillar concept is never successfully supported; new hardware always replaces old.
Let’s set aside the multiple-sku-ecosystem and treat the releases as what they will probably be: brand-new hardware. I think four years is still far too soon for an updated machine. Look at the differences in capabilities from Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario 64 to Majora’s Mask, Uncharted to The Last of Us or Call of Duty 2 to Black Ops 2 — developers are nowhere close to unlocking the full potential of these systems. A new system released this soon is unprecedented and uncalled for!
Or maybe it isn’t.
Turns out, this release will mimic the time frame between the Xbox and Xbox 360 releases.
Furthermore, if you account for the fact that the last generation of consoles ran slightly longer than the average time between consoles (5.48 years), then the holiday 2017 releases will be a course correction of sorts. It's arguable that the additional time the PS3 and Xbox 360 were the newest consoles on the market could be viewed as a sort-of borrowed time against the life of the PS4 and Xbox One.
What the release dates don’t take into account is the player engagement rate or software sales of the consoles. The PS2 was still the lead platform for third-party games years after the PS3 was released due to increased development costs and a low adoption rate.
Just because new hardware will be released in 2017 doesn’t mean it will be the most relevant.
There is a precedent for a four-year cycle. The proposed holiday 2017 release is within the statistical variation compared to other console cycles. Sony and Microsoft are constantly stating that this isn’t truly a new console generation but an enhancement to the current ecosystem. All data indicates that I should accept the new systems and set aside my skepticism.
But I can’t.
I don’t want to see hardware manufacturers borrow their cues from the smartphone market.
The iterative life cycle is a trap. The iPad Gen 1 was an antique by the time the iPad Gen 3 came out. Whenever someone has an iPhone 5, people wonder how that person functions with such Stone Age technology. Consoles aren’t PCs — variable hardware, multiple models, and compatibility issues are the reasons console fans stay away from PCs.
At best, Project Scorpio and Neo will become the next-generation consoles slightly ahead of schedule. At worst, they will be the first step in a new business model which will confuse consumers, complicate development, and usher in an artificial arms race in which specs matter more than gameplay design.