When Sony’s PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S video game consoles hit store shelves in November, the companies will be talking up all the new technologies that power them. New storage systems that load games quicker, new graphics chips to give games even more detailed visuals and support for immersive surround sound.
But with thin lists of exclusive launch titles, the biggest selling point of these new consoles is how they tap into your love of older games.
Throughout the summer, Sony and Microsoft have continually put focus on their back catalogs of fan-favorite games, which in some cases the companies say will be upgraded or remastered to look better and play faster with their new systems.
For Sony, these are games like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man, both of which were released in 2018 and have upcoming installments on the PS5. There’s also 2013’s post apocalyptic shooter The Last of Us — originally released on the PS3 in 2013 and then remastered for the PS4 a year later. The three titles, plus a few more, will be free for PS5 owners through the PlayStation Plus Collection, offered for $9.99 per month.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has the gritty Gears 5 shooter, the 2018 racing title Forza Horizon 4, and its online adventure game Sea of Thieves. Microsoft has also created a service called Smart Delivery, which guarantees owners of these and other Xbox One games will get upgraded versions on their Series X/S for free.
This reliance on older games is part of a broader trend of tapping into your nostalgia for extra revenue. Offering old hits also helps Microsoft and Sony give people more choices when they first buy their new consoles, helping to justify the investment in a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, both of which cost $500 with a disc drive. Without them, Sony’s most anticipated launch title is Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a spin-off and not-quite-sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man. Microsoft, meanwhile, had to delay its headline game, the action adventure Halo: Infinite, until next year.
Executives at both companies have trumpeted their back catalogues too.
“What we’ve always prided ourselves upon, and that we think that our games have stood for, has been a sense of narrative and a celebration of the art of storytelling,” said PlayStation head, in an interview earlier in the summer.
“We want you to be able to experience as many great games as possible,” Xbox headsaid during a July announcement event.
This reliance on nostalgia is a strategy that the music, TV and movie industries have relied upon for years as they reboot and remake franchises from DC’s Superman to Mamma Mia, a film whose music comes from the hit 70s Swedish pop group Abba. Spider-Man alone has endured three Hollywood reboots since 2002, and the most recent go-around has been the most lucrative.
In the video game world, we see fewer remixes or reboots. These days, successful games are remastered to work on new devices. That strategy’s worked for Take-Two Interactive, which rung up an estimated $595 million in 2019 from Grand Theft Auto 5 for the PC, PS4, Xbox One and more. That’s six years after the game originally launched on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Take-Two intends to re-re-launch the game on the PS5 and Series X/S too.
It’s not just Sony and Microsoft. One of Nintendo’s key releases this holiday season is Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a collection of some of the character’s most popular games: 1996’s Super Mario 64, 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine, and 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy, with upgrades for the Switch video game console’s HD graphics. It was released on Friday.
A key reason Sony and Microsoft in particular have been willing to port games from this generation onto the next one is that doing so is easier than before. Games from 2013’s PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were built using the same style of chips as standard PCs. This shared x86 architecture, as it’s called, means apps effectively speak the same language in their code, making it easier to switch between devices.
Before these most recent consoles, Sony and Microsoft used x86 alternatives, making it significantly harder to move old games to new devices. The companies did do that in limited ways, but evidently such ports were often too much of a hassle, and too expensive, to justify.
The companies also just have larger catalogs today than they did a decade ago. “Back in 1995, the oldest person playing games was probably 20, in 2005 they were 30, now they’re 40, and 40-year-olds have plenty of nostalgia for what they used to play,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.
In addition to Microsoft and Sony marketing their older games as part of the appeal for their new consoles, Pachter also expects more games to be remastered. “There’s never been a Grand Theft Auto collection,” he said, noting that the game’s gone through more than seven major iterations, most of which are critically acclaimed.
When the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles land on store shelves, they’ll work with an existing library of thousands of games.
Sony and Microsoft aren’t stuck in the past. The latter hopes that Halo: Infinite, launching early next year, will make the Series X/S a must-have. It’s also working on Project xCloud, a cutting-edge gaming service that’ll let you play even the most robust console games on your phone. Sony is banking on exclusive titles even more, such as the recently announced and God of War 2: Ragnarok coming in 2021 and Final Fantasy 16, which doesn’t have a public release date.
Right now, though, nostalgia is carrying Sony and Microsoft into a new generation. And it’s a trend that’s likely here to stay.