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Is cross-gen development stifling next-gen games?

Welcome to the year of the cross-gen release

It's pretty evident that something has gone a bit wonky in game development with the arrival of the next generation of console hardware. Buggy launch titles and delays have been the order of the day as far as gaming news has been concerned but what is actually happening here?

The biggest examples the troubles that have struck at the dawn of the new console generation are the last minute delay of Watch Dogs and the horrendous bug issues that have plagued Battlefield 4 since it arrived back in October.

Battlefield 4 is clearly a next-gen title. Anyone who has played the game on PS3 or Xbox 360 with its sparsely populated Conquest multiplayer maps and dropped textures will be painfully aware that the previous generation of consoles can't quite handle the game. It's not a bad experience on these platforms by any means but it is definitely lacking especially to those that have also played the next-gen versions. Is cross-gen development stifling next-gen games?

Then there's the bugs. Even with all of the resources at EA DICE's disposal developing a game on five different platforms (PC, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360 and PS3) is vastly complicated task. Factor in the PC's constant evolution and the next-gen consoles rapidly evolving hardware specs and firmware building Battlefield 4 in two years was alwasy going to be like trying to catch a hyperactive eel with oily hands.

EA still tried and, in the eternal effort to best Call Of Duty, they released the current-gen and PC versions at the end of October even though the game was probably better served by the extra month of QA a simultaneous release with the next gen versions might have afforded them.

The result was the release of an excellent multiplayer experience marred by some fairly catastrophic bugs that cause a considerable amount of fury in the Battlefield community and DICE suspending development on all other projects from BF4's DLC to Mirror's Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront to fix the myriad of issues that was crippling their first next-gen title.

To their credit DICE has managed to get things under control and Battlefield 4 is now looking a lot more like the game it should have been back in November. Is cross-gen development stifling next-gen games?

The whole fiasco has shown that EA clearly underestimated the amount of work involved in releasing the game on PC and two different console generations and in the end it was the gamers that suffered.

Then there's Watch Dogs. At first Ubisoft confirmed that it would be a launch window release on Xbox One and PS4 as well as arriving on the current-gen, PC and Wii U.

Dial back to the clock to last summer's Eurogamer Expo. Ubisoft are very busy promoting both Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV : Black Flag for their releases in November.

Assassin's Creed IV is playable on both PS4 and PC and takes up a considerable portion of the mature gaming floor upstairs in Earl's Court. Watch Dogs by comparison has one shroudded booth where gamers are shown several live gameplay demos and videos throughout then course of the four-day expo. Is cross-gen development stifling next-gen games?

The comaprison was stark and slightly worrying given that both games were due out in November at this point within three weeks of each other. Something was clearly up in the Watch Dogs camp. Several weeks later Ubisoft would announce that Watch Dogs would not be released in Novermber after all.

Now the game is destined for release in the spring of this year on PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360 with the Wii U version suffering further delays.

Here it seems that it was Ubisoft that underestimated just how much work was involved in producing a game on six different platforms. At the same time the Watch Dogs team were also developing a brand new bespoke game engine for the game as well. It doesn't really take a genius to figure out the reason for the delay.

It seems that Ubisoft, has in fact had three separate next-gen game engines in development at the one time, one for Watch Dogs, one for Assassin's Creed and one for The Division. It's just another layer of work that needed to be completed by overstretched staff crunching their hearts out. Is cross-gen development stifling next-gen games?

At least EA has had the sense to commit themselves to the Frostbite engine for most of their next-gen projects but then again they still forged ahead releasing Battlefield 4 before it was actually ready to be released.

Then there's the case of Thief, Eidos Montreal's second Ion Storm revival project which was announced as a next-gen project last year and is due out at the end of this month.

The studio revealed that they decided to develop the game for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One using the aging Unreal Engine 3 because of how early they started work on the project.

Soon after making this statement they announced that it would be released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well indicating a second equally-valid reason for choosing the UE3 over it's in-development successor Unreal Engine 4. The PS3 and Xbox 360 would be incapable of running a game built with UE4. Is cross-gen development stifling next-gen games?

It's perfectly understandable that despite the PS4 and Xbox One shifting three-to-four million units that studios would want to try and leverage the outgoing generation's massive installed base as well to make as much money as possible out of these titles.

We don't want to see more talented developers go out of business but at the same time it looks like gamers who have invested in the shiny new and extremely powerful hardware could be getting short-changed here by publishers grabbing for cash.

2014 is the year of the cross-generational release. Titanfall, Destiny, Dying Light, Thief and Watch Dogs have all confirmed as releasing on current and next-gen platforms. It will be interesting to see just how well they will look and play compared to titles like Evolve, The Witcher 3 and Lords Of The Fallen that have committed themselves fully to the next-gen.

So far though, releasing on both generations hasn't fared that well.