PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the Lifetime of a Game Console

Eight years after the Xbox 360 first hit shelves, and seven years after the PlayStation 3 premiered, both consoles' successors are making their long-anticipated debut on the gaming scene.

With their connected features, emphasis on social sharing, apps and television access, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are significant departures from previous consoles. Nevertheless, a look back might help show how today's new consoles came about and how they might also develop in the future.

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For example, the indie gaming scene changed profoundly during the life cycles of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The concept of "mainstream indies" may seem oxymoronic, but the Xbox 360 enabled just that. The 2008 game "Braid," published on Xbox Live Arcade, introduced a whole new generation of players to the concept of indie games, and kicked off a renewed support for small studio developers and the quirky, left-of-center experiences they could produce.

Since 2008, the Xbox 360 has lost its early lead on mainstream indies. Today, the best place to find indie games is on the PC, particularly on the Steam gaming platform by Valve, but that doesn't mean that indies can't still find life on consoles. 

In 2013, Sony began promoting the PlayStation 4 as a supporter of indie games, with great success. Both consoles have launched with small-studio titles, but the PlayStation 4's wider selection, as well as Sony's more vocal support of indie titles, pleased audiences that have come to expect games like 2011's "Bastion" and "Journey" on their consoles.

From game console to entertainment hubs

The Xbox One has also caught some criticism for its emphasis on television and apps, which some critics and consumers see as the Xbox moving away from its roots as a gaming console. But the Xbox has been expanding its nongaming content for years now. The Xbox 360 was the first gaming console to offer Netflix, starting in 2008. In 2011, Microsoft changed its interface to the Metro design used in the Windows operating system, and expanded its nongaming capabilities. Both are signs that Microsoft doesn't see the Xbox as just a game console, but rather as a device that can access the full range of Microsoft's features.

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Meanwhile, the PlayStation platform has been focusing for years on getting both exclusive triple-A titles (games developed by large studios with huge budgets) and supporting indie development. The PlayStation 3 only added nongaming features like streaming television after Xbox did, though by the end of the consoles' life cycles, the two consoles were relatively even in terms of nongaming features.

It's likely the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will be around for a while, at least the seven to eight years of its predecessors. But the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 aren't going away quite yet, and their legacy will continue to shape the decisions Microsoft and Sony make with their new consoles, as well as the way gamers receive them.

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Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.