A Cold Console War

We received an interesting question on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, and it’s one I’ve found myself chewing over occasionally ever since. The question was simple, something along the lines of “Are you actually excited for the next generation of consoles or just going through the motions?”

It’s a good question, and one I hadn’t thought consciously about yet. I do think I had experienced some telling internal monologue that hadn’t been fully fleshed out yet, particularly anytime some new nugget of information sprung up around the console launch. I would see whatever the thing was that I was supposed to think was important, and remind myself that I was supposed to actually care. But apparently, I didn’t.

It’s not right to say I’m not excited about the next generation. I am. Just not as much as I feel like I’m supposed to be. I remember when the Playstation or the Xbox first came out, and that rush of excitement at the unlimited possibilities provided by this next generation technology. I would go around saying how such-and-such was a true 64-bit machine, even though I had no earthly clue what that meant or why it was relevant. Apparently there was some causal relationship between the number of bits something in the machine had, or had access to — or maybe just had etched on its side, like a super-techno tramp stamp — that equated directly to how great the platform was going to be.

And the console makers seemed every bit as excited to unload useless information and constant teases of marketing, fueling great brush-fires of brand loyalty across the face of the internet. “Our 64 bits are much better than their substandard 64-bits — if they even are 64-bits that is,” their marketing message would say. I would metaphorically rise from my chair, thrust my fist in the air and shout my ignorant agreement. Obviously, I would conclude, their 64-bits were much more bittier than everyone else’s. I was younger, dumber and in love with the console cycle.

But here’s the thing: It’s not just that I’m not as excited as I used to be, whether that’s a function of knowledge, maturity or something else. Rather, I’d argue the console makers aren’t even all that excited. It’s like they’re going through the motions just as much as the rest of us are.

I think part of the problem is an intuitive feeling I have that having an XboxOne or Playstation 4 is going to be a lot like having an Xbox 360 or PS3. Not identical, mind you, but probably not anything like the leap in going from a SNES to a PlayStation, or from a GameCube to a Wii. When I look at the games coming for these systems, when I imagine myself playing them, I don’t imagine there will be much of a difference in how they feel.

For one thing, it’s evident that there is still some level of power being unlocked on the existing systems, and so we as gamers are still used to incrementally better-looking games. We haven’t been stuck under some boxed-in limitations, yearning for a hardware revolution that will finally set us free.

Which probably makes it a lot more difficult to market and build hype around these systems. You can’t just shove out a lot of still images that do the hype-building themselves. People are too apt to just look at them and think, “That’s nice. Looks like something I already play on my PS3.”

Also, the focus isn’t on raw horsepower and polygon pushing the way it used to be. People don’t think of consoles as one-trick ponies. User streaming, community management, access to independent publishers and a diverse range of media available through a single box are selling points that create a different kind of dynamic and interaction with the user. It’s not as flashy, not as focused, and not the kind of thing I’d buy a magazine to read about in detail, but at this point it’s required functionality.

After all, if the last gen proved anything, it was that a system dedicated to delivering only expensive AAA games is a system doomed to bankrupt itself. Obviously Rockstar has proved recently that under perfect conditions you can make an obscene amount of money, but my guess is that, if systems like the 360 didn’t have as many ways to take our money as it does (Xbox Live, subscription-based games, DLC, movies, music, apps), it would have ultimately proved a losing proposition.

Consoles have become sort of like oversized cell phones, in that the primary purpose of the device has become almost secondary to the things people can and want to do with the technology. I know a lot of people in this modern day and age who say that their 360 or PS3 gets daily use, and sometimes they even play video games on it.

They have become oddly practical devices: Things you have; things you need — but not things to get particularly worked-up about. I’m sure there are new advances in and models of refrigerators, stereo receivers, hard drives, washing machines and all manner of household appliances. I might even think that the new bells and whistles are sort of neat, but I won’t go around talking about the new Kenmore I’ve totally preordered for this November.

Frankly, neither will Kenmore. It’s just a different way of doing business with your consumers. Appliances live in this nebulous world between recreational luxury and required equipment. Theoretically, most families could figure out a way to get along without a microwave, dishwasher, refrigerator, washer & dryer or a water heater. And yet, they are also sort of presumed as standard accessories to modern living. I’d argue that consoles have begun to become similar. It’s not whether you have one, it’s just a matter of which one and how much you’re willing to spend.

It’s a sort of depressing way to think about consoles, as standard home fixtures that provide a consistent service, but neither is the industry as a whole stuck in its overzealous adolescence any more. Besides, in the long run, as has been stated and restated a million times, it’s all about the games. My best games of the year have been neither graphically powerful epics nor particularly defined by the platform I played them on, so it’s a reasonable question to wonder how much the next generation will actually impact what makes for a good game.

Yes, GTA5 has sold more than 15 million units and is on track to potentially sell through 25 million this year. Minecraft has sold almost 35 million units, and I’m not convinced you couldn’t get a reasonably functional version of that game going on an original Xbox.

I will buy one of the new systems, but I’m long beyond thinking that it will somehow change or redefine gaming. We are beyond the years of technology finally catching up with what game makers dream of accomplishing. For the most part, if you can conceive of a game, there is a platform that can let you match the vision, or at least the limitations aren’t in terms of processing power. That hasn’t always been true. New systems aren’t really bringing anything new in the ways they used to, and I think the makers of the consoles recognize that.

That’s not to say they offer nothing. They do, and I’m excited about many of those things. Just in a different way.

Comments

My big excitement for this season is that used systems are coming down in price. Now I can buy a PS3 alongside by old Xbox! Whole genres of games I haven't played yet!

And now this is in my head.

I think the response would also be different if games such as Watch_Dogs, Destiny, Assassin's Creed IV and Titanfall were truly next-gen exclusive rather than being cross platform. The last time we had such a scenario was when you saw games release simultaneously between the NES and SNES.

However, the amount of changes, the leap, still isn't there. AC4 will play a lot like all the other AC games. It's not going to be like jumping from Mega Man 4 or 5 to Mega Man X, with its sprawling maps, dash abilities, armor upgrades, and holy crap cut-scenes! Or even going from Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy IV (II U.S.), where the world shifted at an angle while you were in the airship, providing that illusion of being in the sky. Or how about Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and how it handled mist in the Lost Woods (or later, the shade of trees as sunlight past through some of the leaves), or multiple levels of height in a single room.

The closest leap from NES to SNES we got (aside from SNES to PSX and N64) was Playstation to Xbox, PS2 and GameCube. The difference between the PS2, Xbox and GameCube to 360 and PS3 wasn't even nearly so drastic.

Nothing generates excitement like some tangible form of change. Just look at the response to the new Pokemon. If it was just a slightly prettier version of all the previous games, there would be much less excitement. However, the game's presentation alone is a leaping difference, let alone the adjustments to some of the mechanics.

I'm excited for inFamous: Second Son, but I'd be just as excited if it were coming out for the PS3. Purchasing a PS4 is basically an expensive necessity for a game I'm looking forward to, and in some ways, that I'm willing to buy a new system for one game just points out how big of a sucker I am.

I've been battling back and forth with myself about my PS4 preorder. More and more I'm coming to realise that the PS4 (and certainly the XB1), at least at launch, have very little to offer me. My PC is an absolute monster, with multiple SSDs and a combined video and system RAM total of 20GB. Given that Titanfall is coming to PC and there's nothing else that's exclusive to either platform that I can't wait for, there's nothing in the next-gen consoles that makes a compelling case for purchase.

An interesting side-effect of this self-debate is that I've actually really been digging down into what I truly value in a game. I've found that innovation, aesthetics, and craftsmanship (in that order) are the fundamentals I seek. The PC-based indie renaissance has been a delightful source of innovative games, along with a return to a pleasing aesthetic simplicity in many cases. In a similar vein, I think the console games I've regretted missing most have all been on PS3, which seems to be a conduit for the more...Japanese of Japanese games.

So the irony of the mass marketing of the next-gen consoles is that for all of their efforts, they may have sold me...a PS3.

For me, I think becoming a PC gamer has mostly ruined consoles for me. There was a time when I would be super-excited for the emerging next gen consoles, but not so much anymore. This is because I now tend to look at it in terms of what type of hardware upgrade it is and how does it compare to my PC gaming setup. Chances are, my PC already has a better graphics card, processing power and RAM upon which I have played a bunch of the latest PC titles. I don't feel a yearning to play consoles titles much anymore because I can usually get the same if not a better experience from my PC.

I don't mean to hate on consoles in any way and I will most likely buy the PS4 when it comes out, however the reasons for purchasing it are different than they were years ago. Now when I buy it, it will usually be because of just a few titles that I have always played and want to continue playing the latest iterations, namely games like Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto. The other reason is for the media capabilities. I have my PS3 linked with my Hulu, Netflix and YouTube accounts and I find myself using it as a media box more than a gaming machine these days.

At the end of the day, the PC has become my main gaming resource, with the console becoming a secondary distraction that I venture into occasionally, probably as a result of nostalgia.

One could argue that Xbox 360 and PS3 have arrived against the backdrop of two significant events -- explosion of broadband, and the advent of affordable HDTVs. This time around, there are no such exciting new horizons for the new hardware to tap into.

ccesarano wrote:

I think the response would also be different if games such as Watch_Dogs, Destiny, Assassin's Creed IV and Titanfall were truly next-gen exclusive rather than being cross platform.

I agree. While having them cross platform guarantees greater game sales, it doesn't help the argument that we're seeing quantum leaps forward in technology with the PS4 and XBox One. I'm leaning toward the PS4 for one main reason, and that's symbiosis with the Vita which I love. There aren't any launch games I'm chomping at the bit to buy.

The other reason I'm looking forward to a new generation of consoles, is that pc gaming will move forward at a faster rate as well. Alot of games released on current gen consoles and pc are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, and as the 360 and PS3 fade we'll see concurrent improvements in pc games.

I had this thought myself about a week ago now. I had about 2/3 of the PS4 saved up. Then while at a local gamestop I noticed there wasn't anything on it I "had" to play. No new MGS, or Dark Souls. It was then that I asked this community to help me pick a 3DS or a Vita. Now here I sit with a new 3DS XL and I have this whole library of untapped games in front of me. I've all but forgotten the new consoles are coming.

I will buy one of the new systems, but I’m long beyond thinking that it will somehow change or redefine gaming. We are beyond the years of technology finally catching up with what game makers dream of accomplishing. For the most part, if you can conceive of a game, there is a platform that can let you match the vision, or at least the limitations aren’t in terms of processing power. That hasn’t always been true. New systems aren’t really bringing anything new in the ways they used to, and I think the makers of the consoles recognize that.

More so than in any time before we aren't "technology constrained" so much as we are "budget constrained".

While budget has always been a limiting factor to a certain degree its no one of the major factors in terms of limits. We can create amazingly detailed worlds with a great deal of depth to them..but at an increasing cost. Each time you sit down to craft an area in a world..every branch..or alternative you give a player will add a significant amount to the budget.

When Lord British sat down to code Ultima 3 his desires were limited by the technology.. there were just certain things he couldn't do given the limits of the "8 bit/16 color" world he was in.. Now when a development studio sits down its.. "we have $X dollars...what can we realistically do with that?"

TheGameguru wrote:

More so than in any time before we aren't "technology constrained" so much as we are "budget constrained".

While budget has always been a limiting factor to a certain degree its no one of the major factors in terms of limits. We can create amazingly detailed worlds with a great deal of depth to them..but at an increasing cost. Each time you sit down to craft an area in a world..every branch..or alternative you give a player will add a significant amount to the budget.

I wonder if we'll get around this by designing better auto-generation of content. Not necessarily on the fly, but rather as providing a fast, effective basis for creating content during development that is then modified as necessary. For example, I envision creating say, a jungle environment, by providing code that gives descriptors of how trees are made, how river banks should look, how textures are built, and how buildings are constructed. This advanced auto-generation system is then given a basic blueprint (area of x size, with rivers along these lines, a mountain ridge in this area, and villages here, here, and here), and then automatically generates terrain, creatures, and so forth based on those rules. After which, a team of artists can go through and modify/add as necessary.

I know that this is vastly easier said than done (although limited autogeneration exists as dynamic content in games such as Minecraft). But I could see it being created in the same way that the Id/Epic engines were made, and then taken by games designers for use in their own creations. After the initial investment of creating such an A.I.-based world constructor, I imagine that it would be relatively cheap (compared to today's costs) to create most common environments. It wouldn't make character creation and voice-acting any cheaper, but some reduction in cost would be achievable overall.

Put me in the not too excited camp. I have a PS4 on pre-order. But, I've bought no games for it yet. I sat down and started browsing for them, but got bored and left it for later.

It doesn't help that I'm a MMO only player for the most part. Games like Warthunder do have me excited though.

But, overall...*Yawn*

To your point, playing the Marvel Lego demo on 360 right now with my son. It looks plenty fantastic. I'll try it on my monster PC as well just to see how it differs, but between GTA5 and this...wow I feel like there is still plenty of life in current gen.

Right now, I'm excited for my planned Wii U purchase. The new consoles - eh. I'll give 'em a year and then see what they've got.

I cancelled my Amazon 'Day One' PS4 & XB1 pre-orders a few days ago. Much like I've heard repeated here and elsewhere, there's very little Exciting New Content & Experiences! (tm.) on offer during the launch window.

I was excited about Watch_Dogs and The Witness but those got delayed. My #1 launch game was actually Forza 5 but MS seemed content with driving me away from the platform with a botched reveal and questionable vision, specs and pricing for the product.

When it came down to it, looking over my gaming habits for the past year revealed that I'm not even invested in typical, traditional console experiences right now. Opting instead for strange, niche PC genres as found in titles like CK2, ETS2, KSP, Farming Sim 2013, etc. etc.

I'm sure I'll be back on board with consoles when some grand, epic titles land that demand Big Screen play. I've got a feeling that I'll be hunting down a PS4 by the time the next Elder Scrolls or Red Dead franchises hit the streets.

But for now, I'm just fine watching from the sidelines.

I'm pretty excited. I think a lot of people are underestimating the difference the extra power will make. Little things like sleep mode on the PS4. Voice recognition on the Xbox One that actually works. Faster load times for store interfaces. Solid framerates at higher resolutions. More characters on screen. More detail in the environments. Larger view ranges.

Consoles are basically snapshots of the mid-range gaming PC market at the time they were released. Would you consider an 8-year-old PC a viable gaming platform today? The only reason the consoles are able to keep up at all is because they're a known quantity, and devs are able to optimize the hell out of the games they release for them. Remember when MS first added the ability to install your games to the 360's internal drive for faster load times, and an advisory went out that you shouldn't do that with Halo 3 because it was optimized to load off the DVD?

You couldn't have made Rocksmith on a PS2, and you wouldn't be able to make the next thing that will make us go "whoa" on a PS3. I'll be laughing at everyone who ever said they didn't see a reason for the console industry to progress past the PS3 era in ten years when I'm playing Halo 9 on my wireless 8k Oculus Rift.

In conclusion: have a little imagination, guys!

overloaded wrote:

In conclusion: have a little imagination, guys!

Not saying that you are not right about the improvement on all points, but I don't really care about any of it until at least a year into the new life cycles.

LarryC wrote:

Right now, I'm excited for my planned Wii U purchase. The new consoles - eh. I'll give 'em a year and then see what they've got.

Best decision I have made with gaming in a long time. More great titles to play now, and I expect an exciting 12 months ahead. Then it will be time to start eyeing which next-gen system to buy.

But, for all you early adopters, I do appreciate you all getting the ball rolling!

I recently got into PC gaming and I am also pretty sure that it has spoiled this excitement for me. I haven't had a lack of games to play now that this console generation was winding down, just because they are everywhere now, my computer, phone, tablet. Yesterday I got an email saying a game on steam was on sale that was on my wishlist and thought "but there are too many things I haven't finished or played yet to buy this.."

That being said, I am looking forward to one thing that I already do on my PC which is coming to consoles. Streaming and watching Twitch. I have a sincere hope that this will bring e-sports to all of these people who don't play PC games (which is a lot), in a meaningful way. Because those communities can be so inviting and eager to get you into games that you would have never tried before.

EDIT: I also have the ps4 preordered, its a media center device, and I get to see Sony's new hotness. I also have a vita and REALLY wanna play some ps4 titles in my bed.

I'm excited but I can certainly relate to the "home appliance" metaphor. My Xbox 360 is a go-to system in my home for media - both gaming and TV. If Microsoft can make that experience more seamless (queuing up Archer on Netflix while I wait for a Borderlands 3 game to start?), I'll be pretty happy.

But that's more equivalent to getting a better ice maker in my fridge or a steam cycle in my washing machine (a steam cycle is pretty awesome) than a whole new gaming experience.

I put in my XB1 pre order on the day of E3, and will still be getting it on November 22. I am not really excited, per se, but I have never owned a day one console, and since I can afford it, I would like to have it. I am actually one of those who is looking forward to a lot of the non-game features (as I am sure the gaming part will be just fine). I may even buy a second one, depending on my experiences at launch, for my kids (who live elsewhere).

I, too, have done the majority of my gaming this year on my PC, but occasionally I like to be able to sit on the couch with the kids and just play. Since they don't all have access to a gaming rig at their house, there is a market there for me.

I think consoles pushed the gaming part ahead, or used to. The pc one time lagged behind the market and the hype. These new consoles don't add anything new, except for more power. Nothing that an already existing system does.
Valve is releasing Steam OS, detailing how a Steam Box should look like and it can compete directly with these two consoles and already has more raw computing power and better graphics.
It would have been more exciting if there was a real jump ahead in graphics and gaming capabilities. Sure, the kinect is pretty cool, but privacy issues start scaring some people away and there is no huge pool of games supporting it (yet).
So maybe the generation after this one will be the real next gen, with new technology. Maybe more exciting.

Sparhawk wrote:

It would have been more exciting if there was a real jump ahead in graphics and gaming capabilities. Sure, the kinect is pretty cool, but privacy issues start scaring some people away and there is no huge pool of games supporting it (yet).
So maybe the generation after this one will be the real next gen, with new technology. Maybe more exciting.

After this upcoming "generation", the only thing I can foresee qualifying as a true "next gen" is consoles that are capable of 4K gaming.

That's also assuming there will even be a "next gen" after this one. For the general consumer market, 1080p may be the pinnacle.

I see "next gen" gaming as being mainly services-oriented. Right now, I can buy a game on my phone from Steam, and then play it at home on my PC. We're talking full releases at sharp discounts within the year of release. I can even log onto other PCs, install the game there, and take up where I left off. The only way to improve that is to allow me to play the same game on my Nexus 7 while supporting both local and online multiplayer.

I truly think that Sony's PSVita link up and Wii U's tablet add are going to be important aspects of the next generation, if devs manage to make convincing games and apps for them and market them effectively. We're already seeing a half-effort from MS in the glass concept. A bunch of context sensitive and configurable buttons right on the controller has amazing gameplay potential.

Can't we all just agree that the Wii U is the only real next gen system? Nintendo is the only company trying to give you experiences you can't get on a PC or anywhere else.

(:P)

Double.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

One could argue that Xbox 360 and PS3 have arrived against the backdrop of two significant events -- explosion of broadband, and the advent of affordable HDTVs. This time around, there are no such exciting new horizons for the new hardware to tap into.

When the Xbox 360 was released, I had no interest in getting it until we got our first HDTV, since it was clear that it was essentially required for the optimal experience. The day we got an HDTV, we also got an Xbox 360. Now every TV in the house is an HDTV and I don't see any need to upgrade or change them for the new consoles. More and more, this is looking like an evolutionary upgrade, rather than a revolutionary upgrade.

I've been playing Final Fantasy 14 on my PS3 for the last few months, and the more I play the more I'm interested in a PS4. I'm sure on that system the game will look a lot prettier and run a lot smoother, much like it does on a gaming PC (which I don't have). Since the upgrade comes out in February, that's when I'll evaluate a purchase. Again - playing the same game, but it looks nicer. Evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Way back when, I pre-ordered the 60GB PS3 for the backwards compatibility and BluRay as well as the slew of games I lusted after upon release. Since then I have less than 20 games for it. Now that I have the BluRay drive in my HTPC my PS3 is pretty much only turned on when I'm kid-sitting. I can't think of any one game that makes me go "OMG I have to play that!!!" to the point that I would buy a console that lacks any backwards compatibility.

The Evil Within, Thief, The Division, Watch Dogs, Wolfenstein, Titanfall... they're all coming out on PC. The only thing that would stop me from buying them is DRM. Who knows, with luck I'll see 1-2 of them in AMD's new "Never Settle" bundles come summer

Aristophan wrote:
Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

One could argue that Xbox 360 and PS3 have arrived against the backdrop of two significant events -- explosion of broadband, and the advent of affordable HDTVs. This time around, there are no such exciting new horizons for the new hardware to tap into.

When the Xbox 360 was released, I had no interest in getting it until we got our first HDTV, since it was clear that it was essentially required for the optimal experience. The day we got an HDTV, we also got an Xbox 360. Now every TV in the house is an HDTV and I don't see any need to upgrade or change them for the new consoles. More and more, this is looking like an evolutionary upgrade, rather than a revolutionary upgrade.

Yup, the HDTVs fueled the next gen consoles purchase decisions, and vice versa.

The other thing I didn't mention is that the 360 was released all the way back in 2005, at the crest of housing boom and during the era of 0% APR credit cards. Nowadays in 2013, I think people feel much more sober about dropping half a grand on an entertainment machine, which is can be interpreted as a lack of excitement I guess.

I AM quite excited by the XB1 being the technical marvel it is. It's just that come Nov 14, my wallet will remain shut.

Yeah, the money that I'm putting aside for "next-gen" is going into the PC I've got hooked up to my living room TV. With both consoles leaning towards an off the shelf architecture it's a pretty good bet that there will be ports of most AAA and indie games.

Plus, between my work schedule and my family obligations I'm just not that big on getting games day one. Waiting for the inevitable price cut isn't the big deal it used to be. If there's enough console exclusives that interest me, then I'll pick one up.

Sparhawk wrote:

I think consoles pushed the gaming part ahead, or used to. The pc one time lagged behind the market and the hype. These new consoles don't add anything new, except for more power. Nothing that an already existing system does.
Valve is releasing Steam OS, detailing how a Steam Box should look like and it can compete directly with these two consoles and already has more raw computing power and better graphics.
It would have been more exciting if there was a real jump ahead in graphics and gaming capabilities. Sure, the kinect is pretty cool, but privacy issues start scaring some people away and there is no huge pool of games supporting it (yet).
So maybe the generation after this one will be the real next gen, with new technology. Maybe more exciting.

You can always have more powerful consoles but at an increased cost. It's easy to say that this new gen doesn't bring anything we already have but that's not really a fair statement. Can you build a set top system for $500 that brings as much to the table as the PS4 or Xbox One? Not unless you heavily subsidize it. Sure the Steam Box has more power but that power comes at a cost. Highly doubt we'll see a Steam Box with a $600 GPU in it for $499.

I know that many console gamers already think of our site as being excessively PC-centric, so I'm going to proffer pre-apologies for this very PC-centric post. Please ignore as necessary.

It's interesting to me to think of Sands' point that the consoles are evolving to the point where they're becoming an appliance rather than a niche entertainment machine. It's absolutely on the money, but I think it also means that the consoles are becoming more PC-like, because if there's anything computer-related that's already an ensconced appliance in many modern households, it's the humble PC. These days, you can't get away from computing. You have to have one for a variety of reasons.

Even as Jobs and other industry leaders are talking of a post-PC world, I think we're just beginning to see the beginning of a world where the PC is not inconsequential, but rather is considered such a core household appliance that people just have one without thinking about it. Even my least connected and PC-savvy friends have a laptop just in case they need one for one function or another.

The rise of Steam and indie online efforts have led to the development of a movement for games that may have sophisticated designs and concepts, but are easy on the hardware. It's about damned time, if you ask me. I've been hoping and praying for this for well on a decade at this point. Glad to see it's finally getting off the ground. These offerings allow a PC-only household to enjoy digital entertainment, regardless of how weak their PCs are, while also allowing them to check email, do word processing, backup the family pictures and videos, post-process media, and consume them.

There are already wireless solutions that allow a PC and a NAS to play the part of pixel-pusher to a variety of displays and terminals around the house. In fact, Microsoft just released an app that allows you to use your PC from an Android or iOS tablet. As this technology matures, my expectation is for a central processing unit to become the de riguer method of offloading processing for more powerful applications within a local area. That could be a PC, but Nintendo and MS especially seem to be sensing this direction. They want to sell that hardware.