Bonus Round: Starfield delayed

Hi everyone, it’s Tom here! Welcome to Bonus Round, a weekly column offering a few thoughts on some of the week’s biggest gaming stories. And what better time to launch a brand new feature than on Friday the 13th? What could possibly go wrong?

Xbox streaming stick

GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb has reported that we’re within 12 months of an Xbox streaming stick for televisions. Much like a Roku or an Amazon Fire Stick, this device would plug into your television and let play streaming games. The console hardware itself sits in a server farm, receiving your controller inputs over the internet and beaming back the video feed to your TV.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise; Xbox boss Phil Spencer has mentioned that this is in the works before, as well as an Xbox app for Samsung TVs. Still, it’s interesting that we seem to be getting closer to the point of it becoming a reality. This device is going to be a key player in Microsoft’s plans to make Xbox Game Pass as ubiquitously available as Netflix or Disney+.

I’ve played around with Xbox Cloud Streaming a bit on my phone and laptop, and while it’s technically impressive, it’s definitely not perfect. I’d never choose to play a shooter or a fast-paced action game via streaming; there’s simply too much lag for it to be an enjoyable experience. But for more casual kinds of games, it does work pretty well. Certainly, if you can’t justify the cost of an actual console, it’s an incredibly accessible way to get your gaming fix.

This is all part of Microsoft’s wider strategy to make Xbox games available on essentially any device that has a screen and a Bluetooth connection. It’s not that they’re not interested in selling consoles; they’re just not particularly bothered about selling more consoles than Sony anymore. Microsoft doesn’t seem to care what hardware you’re accessing your games from, just as long as you’ve got recurring billing for Xbox Game Pass switched on.

For any subscription service to work, though, it needs a steady drip of new content. And about that…

Starfield and Redfall delayed to 2023

A recent yet vibrant tradition in gaming is that of the Twitter image card announcing a delayed release date. This is the game industry’s equivalent of a celebrity Notes app apology, and it was publisher Bethesda’s turn this week: Starfield and Redfall are moving from 2022 to some time in ‘the first half of 2023’.

To be honest with you, Arkane’s Redfall wasn’t even on my radar as releasing this year. The vampire-killing co-op shooter did previously have a release window of summer 2022, but this never seemed realistic. It was announced at E3 last year with a trailer that contained no actual gameplay, and we’ve seen nothing more of it since. Arkane is a talented developer, with games like Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop among its output; hopefully Redfall will be worth the wait.

Starfield getting delayed is somewhat more surprising, even though we’ve not seen any actual gameplay of that game either. Bethesda released its original release date of 11 November a year in advance, suggesting a certain amount of confidence that it would hit that date. A spiritual successor to The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Starfield is incredibly highly anticipated. It’s also set to be Bethesda’s first massive Xbox exclusive since the publisher was acquired by Microsoft. Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier has suggested that the original date was optimistic, even when considering Bethesda’s reputation for releasing buggy games; perhaps it’s better that Starfield stay in the oven for a while longer when so much is riding on it.

Starfield and Redfall are hardly the only games to be delayed as of late. Many of 2022’s biggest games, like Horizon Forbidden West and Hogwarts Legacy, were once set to release in 2021. The effects of Covid on game development are still being felt, and that will likely still be the case for quite some time; we should probably start getting used to seeing 2022 games get pushed to next year, too.

All this leaves Xbox with essentially no big ticket exclusive games for the rest of the year. There are certainly third party and indie games on the horizon that are worth getting excited about, but not many of them are reason enough to upgrade to a newer console. Sony isn’t in much of a better position; their only guaranteed blockbuster this year is God of War: Ragnarok, and with no firm release date announced yet, it seems all too possible that Kratos’ latest adventure will slip to 2023 as well.

Gotham Knights ditches PS4 and Xbox One

I love my PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S; games look great on them, and modern conveniences like instant load times are not to be underestimated. If you were to ask me if you should upgrade your console, though, I would probably tell you ‘no’. The reason is simple: there are still only a handful of games that can only be played on newer consoles. Almost every brand new game is still being released on PS4 and Xbox One.

That has only really begun to change this week, with the revelation that the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Gotham Knights have been canceled. This news was somewhat obscured by the release of a new gameplay trailer and the announcement of a 25 October release date. The game looks fine; I’m personally not too interested in a Batman game without Batman, but I’m sure it’ll find an audience. I’m far more interested in the sea change that this news represents.

It makes sense why there haven’t been many next-gen only games until now; chip shortages have meant that PS5s are still as rare as hen’s teeth, and supplies of Xbox Series consoles are only just beginning to meet demand. Many gamers simply haven’t been able to get their hands on new consoles, and that’s before you take into account the fact that many people are in vastly different economic positions than they were two years ago.

Restricting a game to brand new consoles severely limits potential sales and a result, Microsoft and Sony are still releasing most of their big titles like Halo Infinite and Gran Turismo 7 on platforms old and new. That doesn’t give third parties much incentive to totally make the jump to next-gen either. If the console manufacturers themselves won’t fully bet on their new hardware, why should anyone else? It’s something of a shame that new games aren’t taking full advantage of the full hardware, but the decision makes sense from a business-minded point of view.

For whatever reason, WB Games Montreal appear to have discarded good business sense and made this change based on what’s best for Gotham Knights as a game. It’s possible that this is purely a pragmatic decision; releasing the game on two fewer consoles means two fewer versions of Gotham Knights to bug-test and support with maintenance and additional content.

It’s also highly possible that for whatever reason, the game simply wasn’t running well on older hardware. You have to remember that the PS4 and Xbox One were released nearly a decade ago. It’s frankly astonishing that games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West look as good as they do on the PS4, but not every developer has the ability to squeeze that much performance out of older hardware.

The switch to PS5 and Xbox Series consoles won’t happen overnight. Many games to come will still be released on PS4 and Xbox One; gamers with older consoles won’t suddenly find themselves left out in the cold. But Gotham Knights is a sign of things to come, and and slowly but surely, we’re going to start seeing games built from the ground up for new consoles. It’s only at that point that we’ll start to see what this generation is truly capable of.