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

While I may be a console gamer, LarryC, I think your post is quite accurate. Computers, be they desktops or laptops, are now an appliance. People have them and use them for one reason or another. To me, devices like consoles are merely putting off the inevitable: when everything in your house is run on a central server.

Of course, such a house won't be standard for a long time for the same sorts of reasons we still have physical paperback books, DVDs, and games media. Not everyone is ready to move forward. They're comfortable where they are.

Me? The PC occupies a certain space. It's a multi-tasking machine for anything BUT gaming. If I start a new game on my PC, I likely forget about it because my mind then leaps to my 3DS, PS3, WiiU or 360 and says "What should I play?"

But this is a personal thing, and one born out of the love of gaming on my couch. If I had the patience I'd set my TV up to have Steam in the living room, but I'd also need to have the patience to look up what graphics card I should upgrade to, and even then, maybe I need a better processor to run current and future games, and that's just so much hassle.

Easier to drop the change on a new Playstation devoted to gaming, where I'm already comfortable, even if it is the less practical solution (well, less practical were it not for Sony releasing several exclusive first-party games that convince me I'll want to play their next-gen titles as I am of wanting to play Nintendo's).

There is such a thing as DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance). Some Samsung HDTVs come with those in-the-box. DLNA protocols allow you to easily setup wireless communications between your PC, your NAS, and any display in the house with this protocol. I believe Samsung wants in on this action which is the thrust of their AllShare scheme; which they're trying to get off the ground.

I think that the first company that will allow you to send a mirrored image from your PC to any display in your house with a simple icon on both the TV screen and the PC screen will be positioned for dominance in the coming digital media era.

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.

With their large memory totals, I think that's true of the new consoles, that the limitations in what can be accomplished will be in money, time, and vision, rather than the consoles themselves.

But with the existing systems, memory is really tight, and I'm sure there are many titles that just never came to their full glory because of it. Console architecture, especially the PS3's, is deeply strange. Figuring out how to get games running on those recalcitrant, balky beasts took huge amounts of development time and effort, which can now be focused on doing genuinely new things instead.

So, the question becomes: with platforms that are so much easier to work on, and with so much more memory, will they do great things? Or will it just be more of the same old crap?

ccesarano wrote:

Me? The PC occupies a certain space. It's a multi-tasking machine for anything BUT gaming. If I start a new game on my PC, I likely forget about it because my mind then leaps to my 3DS, PS3, WiiU or 360 and says "What should I play?"

But this is a personal thing, and one born out of the love of gaming on my couch. If I had the patience I'd set my TV up to have Steam in the living room, but I'd also need to have the patience to look up what graphics card I should upgrade to, and even then, maybe I need a better processor to run current and future games, and that's just so much hassle.

Heh, I've got the complete opposite setup. PS3 is sitting on my desk next to my computer (both plugged into the same monitor) and it gets fired up on the rare occasions when I'm not in the mood for a PC game. Or, currently, when I have the mental fortitude to have another crack at Demon's Souls.

overloaded wrote:

In conclusion: have a little imagination, guys!

I'm definitely looking forward to what the next console generation will bring as it matures, I just can't see anything yet that would prompt me to get one.

Sonicator wrote:

Heh, I've got the complete opposite setup. PS3 is sitting on my desk next to my computer (both plugged into the same monitor) and it gets fired up on the rare occasions when I'm not in the mood for a PC game. Or, currently, when I have the mental fortitude to have another crack at Demon's Souls.

Truth told, my PS3 has been on my desk as well so I can use my game capture software on something more regularly. However, my Xbox 360 has joined it in preparation for Extra Life in a couple of weeks, and I'll likely be adding the Wii-U sometime in the next week as well. So for the time being, my computer station is my primary gaming spot.

And yet I STILL forget I have Limbo and Binding of Isaac and System Shock 2 and Terraria sitting there in my Steam list, saying "HEY! .....I'm supposed to be a good game you asshole! Play with me! PLAY WITH MEEEEEEE!!!!!"

TheGameguru wrote:

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?"

Coldstream wrote:

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 think these are good points: I think that we will see a true "story" (well, in this case "game") orientated design philosophy begin to really take hold over the course of the next generation. It already exists but mainly in the indie scene (and not always successfully)... similar to the budgetary use in TV (and to a lesser extent movies). You do what you can with the money you have. Successful titles will be able to make bigger and better sequels (or series, in this analogy, like Stargate et al did).

Similarly, increase in available content generation tools will also help to reduce the costs associated with making that content in the same way that CGI is now "cheap" to implement in a TV series compared to what it was even 10 years ago.

As a third prong I really feel (or at least hope) that studios and publishers learn to re-use the fantastic worlds they create. New York city is so often used as a backdrop (as are certain parts of California - and of course, huge swathes of Canada and New Zealand) that are used and re-used for a massive variety of TV series and yet we never complain. So things like worlds, that are very intensive and expensive to make and maintain, should be utilised in more than one game or release.
I really hope things like the GTA 4 stories and Undead Nightmare become more of the norm because, as it stands, there is a huge amount of wastage in the industry for no reason. One city-based game, compared to another, isn't necessarily that different... and the art styles can be matched if it's planned in advance.

Why couldn't a Noir-style murder mystery take place in a portion of GTA 5's city? Stick a filter on the graphics side of things, dirty the place up a bit and add in plenty of moody street lighting and steam and you're almost set.

Yes, some projects won't be able to do that, but it would enable certain other types of projects to be made much more cheaply than if starting from scratch - open world games are most ripe for this.

***

As the article stands, it feels like a PC-americo-centric view point (which, I guess it is by the author's nature? Not a criticism - just an observation).

  • Console only players will most likely be more excited about this because they didn't buy a monster PC or laptop 2 years ago that blasts the tech inside the new consoles out of the water. They are upgrading to "new experiences".
  • Content outside of the US, Canada, UK and a few other territories for current consoles is virtually non-existent. The point about a lot of people mainly using their consoles for things other than games seems like a very localised experience. I've never really met anyone who does so because the value isn't there - and this will continue into the new console generation as well. It seems to me that Apple TV is bigger in that respect than the current gen consoles - and that's with IP masking services so there is actually a decent amount of content available.

As for me, I'm excited about the new console gen and the improvements it'll bring to both my couch and PC gaming experiences. I feel as about as excited about this new leap as I do/did about buying a new PC in 2011 after my previous one was bought in 2004 (though with a GFX card update in the middle there somewhere). I feel as excited about getting whatever I do get next as I did about the PS2, Gamecube, DS, 360 and PS3 I've all owned.

I don't feel as excited about them as I did about the NES, SNES and Game Gear because I was very young then and that sort of unbridled excitement hasn't really occured for me since I was young, in the same way that the events surrounding the release of the Matrix will cause it to be one of my most favourite movie-going experiences ever in my life - the only movie I've walked out of and straight back in again - because it just doesn't happen very often in my experience.

I think the problem with these sorts of feelings you (Sean) are talking about in the article is that there's, somewhere, an underlying expectation that you should feel more excited than you do. I think of it like this: Comparing going on the same holiday as a parent or as the child. One has lots of experience in those endeavours: expectations, fears, stress, disappointments and cost. The other is thinking about the new and exciting experiences they will be having - the fun and the excesses of money spent on them. Though, I'm sure there are people that wouldn't fit in my broad strokes analogy.

Apologies for the rambling comment!

TheGameguru wrote:
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.

Of course! I wasn't comparing prices, but the experience. The question was about excitement for nexgen consoles.

I'm lukewarm on them as well, but that's been the case for every generation since the 90s when I became a PC gamer. I'm certainly not the market for AAA console games, and I already have multiple devices that can do the media streaming thing just fine.

And I'll worry about immersive gesture controls when I can get that on my Oculus Rift. I don't want to fund every babystep towards the Holodeck

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.

4k TV's might be it, but they aren't there yet (and I have no idea if the new Generation can push enough pixels for 4k). Kinect could have done something, but it hasn't gotten it right yet.

On the other hand, all it would take is the next WoW to change everything.

Filthy skimmer, but what I'm looking forward to--if anything--is the capacity--both in terms of value-at-scale and infrastructure--for gamers to have yet another means of bending games to their creative will. I haven't watched because I am avoiding spoilers, but when I heard that someone had posted a six-hour edit of the dramatic content of The Last of Us, I instantly thought that the next innovation will be the emergence of gamers as editors of down-stream content. Granted: game developers provide the content. But I see a confluence of this TLoU-style editing, machinima, and let's-play into a new kind of (sub)medium.

It may be that not only will Bethesda release the next Fallout title replete with modding tools, as usual, but the variably branching storyline combined with Twitch et al may make for a new flavor of consumption. I may not have time to play all the games (alas, I'm still kind of finishing New Vegas and not much else), but I might be interested in watching a well- (or perhaps not-so-well-) edited play-through. Maybe just a partial, with some machinima-style dramatic license.

I'm not sure how well that would work, but it's a curiosity that holds my interest more than anything else on the horizon.

Are today's kids as excited for the new console generation as we were for the (S)NES / PS1 / whatever?

I instantly thought that the next innovation will be the emergence of gamers as editors of down-stream content.

I think that's definitely the way things are headed, at least inasmuch as Let's Plays and other curated spectating go.

I'm pretty meh on new consoles as well. Possibly due to getting a Wii U earlier this year and my PC is still chugging along after 4-5 years, but so far nothing has "wowed" me enough to really warrant getting a new shiny.

It certainly doesn't help that many of the games most people are interested in (Watch_Dogs, Titanfall, Destiny, etc.) won't be out until next year. I know Demyx is having a hard time trying to figure out what to get at launch for her PS4, since she pre-ordered one primarily for the new Square-Enix games which probably won't be out until late 2014 at the earliest.

I just look at how awesome Dark Souls is in every regard, and how there are many spots in the game that practically bring the PS3/360 to their knees. And that's not even in 1080p.

There are definitely experiences that we can't quite nail on the current platforms, but the boost in power for the PS4/XB1 will be able to bring to fruition.

I remember having much the same feeling when the previous generation gap hit. Sure, the cross platform games looked pretty awesome on the new hardware, but it took a bit before we started getting games that really felt next-gen. What finally made me cave and buy a 360 were games like Oblivion, Dead Rising, Forza 2, and Chromehounds. All of these were just enough beyond the capabilities of the PS2/XBox that I finally caved in.

We'll see the same thing happen with the PS4/XB1. In about a year, possibly two (depending on budgets and development schedules) we'll start seeing some solid games that finally feel like enough of an advancement in graphics and/or gameplay to justify the new consoles.

dejanzie wrote:

Are today's kids as excited for the new console generation as we were for the (S)NES / PS1 / whatever?

My anecdotal experience says yes. My best guess is that the two factors at play here that are making people on this forum less excited about new console launches are that a.) we're older than we used to be; and b.) there are lots of PC gamers here, and at first glance the new consoles aren't going to add much that a new video card couldn't. The kids I've been around, and the console-only players of all ages, are looking forward to the new consoles.

Pyperkub 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.

4k TV's might be it, but they aren't there yet (and I have no idea if the new Generation can push enough pixels for 4k). Kinect could have done something, but it hasn't gotten it right yet.

On the other hand, all it would take is the next WoW to change everything.

Simple answer is no. 4K requires a $550 GPU to push ~30ish FPS with medium details.

Next gen in 5-7 years will be the 4K generation assuming that we have a good 1-2 years of 4K adoption.

TheGameguru wrote:
Pyperkub 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.

4k TV's might be it, but they aren't there yet (and I have no idea if the new Generation can push enough pixels for 4k). Kinect could have done something, but it hasn't gotten it right yet.

On the other hand, all it would take is the next WoW to change everything.

Simple answer is no. 4K requires a $550 GPU to push ~30ish FPS with medium details.

Next gen in 5-7 years will be the 4K generation assuming that we have a good 1-2 years of 4K adoption.

I wonder if the bottleneck with be bandwidth. I am going to assume that most people are going to be getting their content digitally by then and if we will have the infrastructure to be able to stream in high enough quality for 4k to matter.

When this generation started the DS was barely a year old. I was barely in my 30s. The iPhone (nevermind the iPad) hadn't even been invented yet. As the generation closes the 3DS is a few months away from its third year starting and almost everyone who would normally buy a console can also buy a smartphone and already has. The Kindle was invented after the start of this generation. Facebook and Twitter were infants at the start of this console generation.

Basically my point is that this generation has seen a lot of interesting change in other technologies. Entire ways of communicating have been invented along with devices to communicate with. Part of why I'm not excited about the next generation is because I've learned to be more interested in people inventing "new things", not just "better things". When the next generation arrives and it's more shooters, sports games, etc. I'm going to greet it with a yawn and then go back to whatever new, interesting thing I can already do on the technology invented since 2005.

Console wars are so much calmer when your main ggaming-platform is PC. I have never really paid attention to a console launch before the current one. PS3 was my first console, years after it was released, since Sega Mega Drive II (which to be fair, is something I regret. I'm thankful for the trend of HD-releases this generation).

My excitement from the new consoles is mostly that the consoles will somewhat catch up to the PC hardware, and maybe more important, that the new consoles will be more PC-like than before, making the likelihood of good PC ports higher.

Looking forward to getting a new PC next year that can play everything, now that PC requirements are going to jump up substantially for the first time in years.
And probably get a console too at some point, for those games that aren't being ported.

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.

I agree with these sentiments.

This coming console launch has lacked excitement, because it has lacked innovation, because it has lacked passion. It feels much more akin to a company looking to recoup millions in lost revenue by pushing new hardware, coupled with safe game genres that can be put out with minimal risk. It is all sorely lacking in creativity. Perhaps even in integrity.

There is still life in the current consoles. The recent batch of games have been technical marvels. The leap to the next gen is going to be the smallest yet. In a few years it will broaden, but that will be of little consolation to early adopters who paid considerably more than those who waited patiently to purchase when, and only when the hardware has saw some worthy game releases.

I have a large catalogue of games for the PS3 to get through. I am sure there are a few more that I have overlooked and could pick up for a cut price in the months to come. I have a great deal more games to get around to enjoying for the PC. There shall be more purchases when Steam rolls out their festive sales. All of that without a (ball park) £500 entry fee. Let's be honest. No one is going to purchase the console without at least one game, if not two. Very few are going to purchase without a years subscription to the now essential online service. It is no good touting the price of the console alone. It's going to be considerably more for anyone who wishes to play games on it.

I have always favored creativity and innovation over technical prowess. That desire is now stronger than ever with indie games seeing a resurgence, a revolution if you will. With the technical leap becoming smaller, and independent releases getting better coverage, the new consoles need to do more. If I can already play all of the indie games on my PC, purchased at a fraction of the cost, as well as a great majority of AAA releases at a lesser yet still reduced cost, there is very little to warrant a launch purchase at inflated prices that will fall the following year. That difference in cost alone could go a way towards a new graphics card for the PC.

I never owned a console, but I'm "excited" (kinda) because so many games are made within the limitations of the consoles. New generation of consoles means games may actually grow a bit again.