Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One are both off to strong starts. Sales numbers from around the globe show that PS4 is the more popular product, but the beginning of the most recent console hardware generation is off to a better opening than many had anticipated. Software sales are rapidly transitioning to the new platforms, and it looks like both consoles will be able to build healthy user bases.
While hardware and software sales have been undeniably impressive, there is a notable lack of high-profile content that is only available on the new platforms. Many important games from Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision Blizzard will be purchasable on last-generation hardware as well as the new machines. Meanwhile Take-Two Interactive's (NASDAQ:TTWO) earnings for the year will be largely dependent on updated versions of 2013's biggest software hit, and Microsoft and Sony will each count on remastered games to drive interest in their new consoles. How did these titles come to be so important? Will a reliance on remakes damage the mainstream appeal of PS4 and Xbox One?
The Last of Us: Remastered
Created by Sony's premier first-party developer Naughty Dog Studios, The Last of Us first released on PlayStation 3 in the summer of 2013. The game debuted to nearly unanimous praise and was upheld as one of the year's few titles to aggressively advance the medium. In addition to winning countless awards, the title also posted great sales, with more than 6 million units sold as of March 2014.
The Last of Us: Remastered will hit PlayStation 4 on July 29 and will feature updated models, 1080p resolution, and an improved framerate. The title is of particular importance to Sony due to the PS4's otherwise sparse lineup of triple-A exclusives. Former-2014 game The Order: 1886 had initially been positioned as the company's big holiday game, but delays have pushed the title into next year. Meanwhile, Sony's social racing game Driveclub will launch this October, but numerous delays and changes in project direction make it something of a shaky prospect. The Last of Us: Remastered should serve as a reminder of the high points served up by the platform holder's first-party studios.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Early in 2014, comments from Microsoft indicated that the next mainline entry in the Halo series would be ready for release this year. Not long after the company's announcement that Halo 5: Guardians would not release until fall 2015, the unveiling of Halo: The Master Chief Collection arrived to soften the blow.
The Master Chief Collection assembles the first four mainline Halo games and updates them to run in 1080p at 60 frames per second. In celebration of Halo 2's tenth anniversary, the collection will include an additional version of the 2004 megahit. The aptly named Halo 2: Anniversary will offer a complete graphical overhaul.
There's been some recent indications that Anniversary's campaign mode might not display in 1080p, but a slight resolution drop should have little impact on the game's appeal. Whether or not The Master Chief Collection has system-selling draw will be a big factor in Microsoft's ability to catch up to and surpass the PlayStation 4 in sales.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Developed by Rockstar Games and published by Take-Two, Grand Theft Auto V was the most successful console game of 2013. Its incredible launch broke the records for fastest entertainment product to gross $1 billion and most revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours, according to Guinness World Records. As of May 2014, the title had shipped more than 33 million units across just two platforms, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. This fall will see a graphically enhanced version of the critically acclaimed sandbox action game launch on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
While Grand Theft Auto V has already posted incredible numbers, there's likely to be no shortage of gamers willing to double dip on a graphically enhanced version. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners have shown a voracious appetite for software, and few games can match the profile of GTAV, even if the game made its big splash last year.
Take-Two will rely heavily on the game's performance. Given that much of the necessary development legwork was done for the game's initial release, the updated version should be highly profitable for the company.
What do remakes and cross-gen games mean for the PS4 and Xbox One?
In a year that will see the first anniversaries of the PlayStation 4's and Xbox One's respective debuts, it's somewhat staggering to think that the biggest games from three industry powerhouses are remakes and remasters. To their credit, the cross-generational software strategies favored by big publishers appear to be working and are yielding little in the way of damaging effects. Then again, much of the new generation spending has come from gaming enthusiasts. It's still too early to tell how the highly important casual audience feels about this cycle's software landscape.