PlayStation 5 won’t have much of an impact on the future of PC gaming
Has the current generation of consoles hindered PC gaming, and will the next-gen PlayStation 5 help push PC gaming forward? This is an accusation and theory I’ve seen many times over the years, and at first glance it sounds like a reasonable statement. Games are becoming increasingly complex, often costing tens of millions of dollars to create. Developers and publishers want to sell as many copies as possible, which means catering to a wider range of hardware. Since consoles have been around for five years or more, many games must be “watered down” to ensure existing consoles can still run them. Or the reasoning goes like this.
If you want to see the future of consoles, all you have to do is look at what’s been happening in PC gaming over the years.
The problem with the above thinking is that it’s not just consoles that are holding us back. How many PC gamers are actually using state-of-the-art PCs? The Steam Hardware Survey arguably provides the best public snapshot of PC gaming hardware as a whole. According to a Steam survey, about half of all Steam PCs today have graphics cards as powerful or better than the PS4’s GPUs from 5 years ago, and 35% of Steam GPUs are the same or faster than PS4 Pros. Additionally, 40% of the PCs surveyed were running CPUs with a clock frequency of less than 3GHz, and 82% were 2-core or 4-core processors.
In other words, if consoles get in the way of PC gaming at all, they’re only part of the equation. Older and slower PCs are also to blame, as they have at least two-thirds of potential buyers buying these new, increasingly complex games.
The good news is that “regular gaming PCs” are getting faster too. 13% of all Steam PCs surveyed had GPUs not only on par with the PS4 Pro, but significantly faster than the PS4 Pro. That’s about 20 million gamers, and the number of PCs in this elite group is growing — up 2% since the start of 2019, and could reach 20% or more of total PC gamers by the end of the year.
By the time the PS5 arrived, more than a quarter of all gaming PCs were already delivering similar performance. So what does PS5 really mean for PC gaming?
Basically, it means continuous improvement, what has already happened. Gaming hardware requirements rarely increase significantly. The arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One didn’t immediately kill the last generation of consoles, it was just that Nvidia’s RTX cards suddenly obsolete all GTX 10-series hardware. Instead, games are steadily evolving towards more complex and demanding titles, driven by PCs and consoles.
Gaming will become more and more demanding as console and PC hardware improves. Eventually, even very high-quality Metro Exodus with ray tracing enabled will be viable on mid-range hardware.
Sony’s reveal of the PS5 hardware gives us a glimpse of what’s to come (about 18 months from now).It’s true that a good PC today can offer the same or better specs, but it’s actually going to use all available hardware for gaming, that’s ok Require It won’t be on the day the PS5 is released. It’s been more than nine months since Nvidia pushed ray tracing with its RTX cards, and we still only have a handful of games using the technology. As more PC gamers upgrade and next-gen consoles start shipping, developers will have more incentive to implement all these fancy new features.
But just like the active support of PS3 and PS4 coexisting for a year or two, the arrival of PS5 next year does not mean that PS4/PS4 Pro will end immediately. This in turn means no need for ray tracing, but an extra feature not available on older consoles. Like what we’re seeing in the PC space now.
This is arguably the biggest takeaway from Sony’s “PS5” announcement. If you want to see the future of consoles, all you have to do is look at what’s been happening in PC gaming over the years.
Physical media is disappearing, digital downloads are the future.
Large SSDs have become sufficient to replace slow hard drives.
Esoteric designs like the PS3’s Cell microprocessor are obsolete in favor of x86 CPUs – the Xbox One’s snazzy DDR3 + 32MB ESRAM design is upgraded to the Xbox One X’s 12GB GDDR5.
Console hardware isn’t becoming more specialized, it’s becoming more general.
This is inevitable. Not only does it take a lot of resources to design faster and better hardware, but reinventing the wheel is also difficult. Technology tends to be “best” implementations, and the PC has repeatedly proven itself to be the best place for hardware companies to experiment. Valid ones are copied, not eliminated ones. In the end, we all benefit.
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