The nature of the new consoles and backwards compatibility has destroyed the "need" for filler/shovelware at launch

It's new console day today (and Thursday) for those lucky enough to snag one, and that means some discussion about launch libraries. Leaving aside comparisons between the two (for the record I think PS5 wins easily, even though I did not manage to get one) one thing that's interesting about them is how little filler/shovelware there seems to be.

Launch exclusive games generally fall into one, or more, of three, or four, depending on how you look at it, categories:

System sellers: Great games meant to make the system incredibly desirable from day one. Your Halos, your Soul Caliburs, your Super Mario Worlds.

Tech demos: Games meant to show off the power or features of the new system. Your Resoguns, your Astro Bot Playrooms, your Ryse: Son of Romes.

Filler/Shovelware: Basically everything else; from the pretty good (Dead Rising 3) to some of the worst games ever made (Fighter Within was also a tech demo, but was very much in the shovelware category too.)

It used to be that basically every game on launch day was a tech demo. The jump between NES and SNES, or PS2 and PS3, was so massive that any game that even made an attempt to use the new hardware's features would look much more technically impressive than games on prior hardware. This stopped being true in the move from 7th to 8th generation, where the upgrades were more subtle than in prior gens, and is even less true in the move from 8th gen to 9th gen, where a lot of the benefits seem to be in frame rates and resolution rather than poly count or fancy new effects (though ray tracing is a thing.)

In addition, because most systems did not feature backwards compatibility, there was a lot of room for library "filler" so people would have things to play on their new systems after they finished with the few big guns and messing around with the tech demos. Not all the "filler" games were bad. Condemned: Criminal Origins was definitely a "filler" title for the Xbox 360, but is very well regarded to this day. But a lot of these games were short or kind of janky and clearly just existed to fill out that library a little and take advantage of the new system hype. And plenty of them were actual shovelware, and flat out stank. Launch software is famous for its low quality.

This year there seem to be a few of those games (like Bright Memories and the Falconeer) but none of them have much budget behind them and aren't getting much attention. And this makes sense, because these machines are launching with massive libraries full of stuff to play. Backwards compatibility means that there are literally thousands of games available on both consoles from day one, and many of them will run better on the new hardware and already look and play great. There's no need for Killzone: Shadow Fall on a system that has Doom Eternal, Titanfall 2, and Overwatch. There's no room for something like Knack (which was also a tech demo) on a system that has...well...Knack!

Of course these systems are launching with a bunch of cross-gen stuff, as all systems since the Xbox 360 era have, but Assassin's Creed Valhalla isn't really a launch game per se, it's just a game that was going to come out anyway that is launching at the same time. And you see that with the number of these games that launched before the systems on other platforms, like Watch Dogs: Legion and Dirt 5.

We're just not getting anything along the lines of Amped 3 this time. A game that clearly existed to fill a niche on a new box. All those niches are coming pre-filled thanks to backwards compatibility.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I'm certainly not sad that there isn't going to be a LocoCycle or Crimson Dragon for the Xbox Series X. Those games just aren't necessary and are often a big waste of money. On the other hand these "filler" titles could sometimes be experimental in a fun way. The Xbox One Killer Instinct is a really good game that also showed an interesting model for fighting games with a very small roster that built over time. Amped 3 is nuts in a good way. Smuggler's Run and Motorstorm were solid racers that led to even better games down the line (not a direct sequel for Smuggler's Run, but its influence on the studio.)

The lines between generations have never been blurrier. Xbox Series X is launching with zero exclusives, and PS5 is only launching with a few. Every great game from the prior generation will be playable on the new one, fresh out of the box, often with enhancements. It's a weird time. And part of that weirdness is the lack of the traditional filler launch game. So let's pour one out for Summoner, Fantavision, Fuzion Frenzy, and Bloodwake. We'll probably never see your like again. For better or worse.

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