Start saving your money because E3 2018 told the world that the next console generation will start in 2020. No, nobody took the stage and declared 2020 to be the start of the next gaming generation. Doing so would have caused panic. Or, at least, panic relevant to the video game corners of the internet.
Microsoft and Sony still want to sell as many PlayStation 4s, Xbox Ones, and all the games that go with them as they possibly can before telling people that it’s time to upgrade. Any deviation from that plan by a company employee would result in a visit to the corporate gaming gulag (which we are told is eerily similar to an actual gulag).
Nobody had to come out and say that the next generation of gaming will begin in earnest in two years, though. Microsoft and Sony spent so much time at E3 2018 dancing around the elephant in the room that one might think they were participating in some kind of ritual designed to appease it.
To Microsoft’s credit — which is a phrase we haven’t been able to use often enough lately –the did announce that it’s working on a next-generation Xbox. Granted, nobody really expected Microsoft to come out and say that Mr. Gates has decreed that that three shalt be the number of Xbox generations thou shalt count (although we did float the merits of that approach), but it was nice that someone at least acknowledged the impending arrival of the next generation of gaming consoles.
Otherwise, the next generation would have been the specter that silently lingered over this year’s show and blocked some of the light from shining on what is typically the biggest video game event of the year. That’s not to say E3 2018 was bad or even a disappointment. However, the overall show sometimes felt like the second to last day of school. At this point, everyone’s attendance is beginning to feel a bit inconsequential.
Nowhere was the impending arrival of the next generation more obvious than at the Sony conference. While Sony’s conference was kind of awkward in general — needlessly shuffling a hundred game journalists from room to room felt like the kind of power play you read about in a discount “How to get ahead in business” book — Sony’s decision to almost entirely focus on games that we already know exist or games that will be coming out no later than 2019 was an odd move for a company that once revealed Shenmue 3 and the Final Fantasy VII remake in the same, tragic year.
On the opposite end of that approach was Bethesda, which couldn’t help but announce the first two confirmed next-gen titles – Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI – in what we assume was a move executed to both generate buzz for the company at the biggest media event of the year and to ensure that Walmart Canada won’t screw them out of another big reveal ever again.
Nintendo, meanwhile, decided to devote an astonishing amount of its E3 Direct presentation to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. While company representatives have said that Nintendo just wanted to focus on titles set to be released soon, it’s not hard to imagine that someone at the house that Mario built thought it best to hold off on showcasing some of the company’s biggest upcoming games so that they can be used to help derail the hype train that will carry the announcements of the next PlayStation and Xbox to next year’s show.
Of course, it’s more than a feeling that’s got us talking about 2020 as the possible arrival date of the next generation of gaming. Even if you put aside Microsoft’s confirmation that it’s working on a next-gen console, you still have Ubisoft’s CEO talking about how the next generation of gaming might be the last, you have Sony admitting that the PlayStation 4 is entering the final phase of its life cycle, as well as insiders from development studios identifying 2020 as the year that at least one major next-gen console will debut. Nevermind the fact that the Nintendo Switch is, for all intents and purposes, a next-gen console that is tearing up the sales charts.
Still, it was E3 2018 that served as the strongest proof yet that we are living in the final days of this console generation. In a way, the feeling is haunting and a bit disconcerting. The spectacle of games like Ghosts of Tsushima, Cyberpunk 2077, and Gears of War 5 reminds us that it is in a console’s final days that we typically see that system’s most impressive games. Developers have figured out what makes the current breed of console hardware tick and they’re more than capable of maximizing the potential of these devices to create the games that they have dreamed of making for years.
The end of a console generation is a magical time when the possibilities are endless and gaming’s greatest maestros offer up their swan songs. Ultimately, that’s why we’re so sure that gaming’s next generation will begin in 2020. You just don’t get games this good unless they come in at the very end.