Last November, when Sony launched the new PlayStation 4 Pro, a souped-up version of its market-leading video games console, it was practically unprecedented.
Normally, companies like Sony and Microsoft launch a new game console every five years or so. And when they do, the new consoles carry huge graphical upgrades — usually at the cost of instantly rendering your old games and accessories obsolete and essentially worthless.
But the PlayStation 4 Pro was different. The new console provides a big graphical boost, provided you have an ultra-HD 4K TV. And yet, it plays every last existing PlayStation 4 game out there. It's something that's never really been done. And it's led a lot of people to wonder if this means that the traditional notion of the console "generation" is finished, kaput, RIP.
That sentiment is only enhanced by the fact that Microsoft has said its forthcoming "Project Scorpio" console could signal a major slowdown of those generational console cycles. It's promised to work with every single Xbox One game, a growing selection of older Xbox 360 games, and your existing controllers and accessories.
It's an idea that's won some cautious approval from gamers and critics. But Sony isn't having any of it, as PlayStation global sales and marketing head Jim Ryan and Sony Interactive Entertainment America CEO Shawn Layden told Business Insider in a recent interview.
The notion of the game console "generation" hasn't really changed, says Layden, it's just that "tech cycles are getting shorter." In the old days, from 2000 to 2012, you could release a new console every five to 10 years and roughly keep pace with major advances in technology, Layden says.
"Those days are just gone," says Layden.
Along those lines, the PlayStation 4 Pro isn't so much a refutation of the notion of a console generation, so much as it is a reflection of that new reality. You can't release a brand-new console as quickly as you can launch upgrades to the old one, for the simple reason that "it takes developers time" to get started on new platforms, Layden says.
So when it comes to the PlayStation 4 Pro, "it is definitely part of the PS4 ecosystem," says Layden.
The implication is that Sony doesn't see it as an experiment in challenging the norms of the video game console market, so much as it is a way to keep up with the rapidly-shifting technological landscape as it prepares whatever moves it might be planning next.
That's backed up by the fact that Sony doesn't seem especially interested in making the PlayStation 4 compatible with older games. In a separate interview with Time, Ryan went so far as to question why anyone would want to play older games on their current console. Sony seems to be looking to the future, not the past.
'Pretty marginal play'
Ahead of the release of Project Scorpio later this year, the most visible part of Microsoft's master plan is a program called Xbox Play Anywhere. Under this program, certain select games give you a free copy of the Windows 10 version of a game if you buy it for Xbox One, and vice versa.
The idea is to bring Windows and the Xbox closer together. Just like Apple lets you own the same app on an iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV, Microsoft wants your games to be available whatever device you're using. And, importantly, it means that upgrading either your Xbox console or your PC means your game is still playable.
From Sony's perspective, this is interesting, but not really relevant so long as the developers that actually make the games aren't signing on. Right now, there are only about two dozen Xbox Play Anywhere titles, mostly published by Microsoft itself. And without that buy-in, says Ryan, it's a "somewhat marginal play."
And when it comes to games, well, Ryan says Sony has them in spades, and that's what matters.