Do We Need New Video Game Consoles?
There has been a ton of speculation about what each new video game console will bring to the table when released. Speculation can be fun and it seems to dominate the internet, especially when it comes to technology. Instead of the useless endeavor of trying to figure out what the tech specs of the new consoles will be, why don’t we take a step back and think about the actual reasons why we do and don’t need new consoles? There more reasons on both sides of the argument than I’m capable of coming up with, but there are a few that stand out and need to be examined further.
There is no need for new consoles
1. Graphics are no longer the focus
Within each new generation of consoles the graphic upgrades get the most immediate attention. Focusing on Nintendo’s upgrades from the NES to the SNES, the amount of colors the latter could produce was highly touted. From the SNES to the N64, graphics went from sprite based to polygonal. Even though the SNES could produce some polygonal games with its Super FX chip, when the N64 came out it was leaps and bounds above its predecessor. The industry is now getting to the point where upgrading to a new console doesn’t mean a huge leap in graphical capabilities. There are ways that developers can make great looking games within the parameters of each given console.
If better graphics are what people want out of their game consoles, I suggest looking at the PC to scratch that itch.
2. It’s all in the gameplay
Though having a good story is important, without great gameplay a game falls flat. The gameplay innovations put in place in this generation have made games more realistic without taking away the fun factor. The one innovation that has been implemented in more games than any other this generation it seems is the cover system. Before we would have to hide our characters behind cover by walking up to it or crouching down. Now with a press of a button, the character goes into cover mode protecting himself from enemy fire. Taking cover behind blockades added a level of strategy and realism that was missing.
This system isn’t perfect in every game and probably could be made better, but cover systems and newer innovations during the current console lifespan makes this generation still viable without moving forward to the next. The innovations show no signs of slowing down either.
3. The dreaded launch lineups
New consoles always take a while to get going. No console in the last few generations has had what would be considered a great launch lineup. Even though there have been some decent to great games at launch, every console has a learning curve. We are deeper than we ever have been in this generation and we are getting great games because of it. The argument can be made that we have been getting too many sequels because developers are holding back original IP ideas for the next generation. When given the choice would you rather play through shitty new IPs over great sequels? And who is to say that new IP’s wouldn’t find success on the current hardware that developers are incredibly familiar with at this point?
There is a need for new consoles
1. Better implementation of services
I love what this generation of consoles have given us outside of gaming. They really have become media center hubs even though the consoles weren’t originally developed for that purpose. I never imagined being able to watch HBO on my Xbox 360 when the system first came out, and not many people did. The consoles weren’t built from the ground up focusing on this aspect and the new ones will be. The 360 is bogged down by a horrible UI that makes it hard to find anything. It’s time to start from scratch.
Microsoft and Sony keep aiming toward the casual crowd and yet both systems don’t have casual menu systems. I don’t know how many times my wife couldn’t find what she was looking for until she discovered the Quickplay option on the 360. But even that can get bogged down by me playing a ton of games and thus hiding Netflix further down the list.
A better system is needed for it to truly become the center of the entertainment universe in the home.
2. Embrace the digital download
What I really want is basically Steam on the consoles. I want to be able to go to the PlayStation Store or Xbox Marketplace and buy a new game on the day of its release. Every game you would buy would be kept in the cloud when your hard drive fills up and you can re-download it whenever you’d like. Broadband has never been more capable to handle the task. I know that a majority of the consoles sold still aren’t hooked up to the internet but with a new console release that number will go up, and having a more robust virtual store is a more viable option. Microsoft and Sony already sell full games in its store but they are usually months or years old. Implement same day and date sales as brick and mortars and keeping people locked in to your ecosystem means more money in your Scrooge McDuck vault, and happier gamers.
3. A new hardware race
As consumers we don’t need new consoles. I am currently happy with the options I’m afforded by both the 360 and PS3. But Sony and Microsoft need the new console to drive their business. While both companies don’t necessarily make money on the consoles when first released, the licensing deals both companies reach with the different game developers keeps the coffers from going empty. If the companies have learned from past mistakes, the profit margins on new consoles might be higher. Especially when it seems like the new consoles aren’t going to be a huge leap in technology this time around.
Being first out of the gate with a new console doesn’t always mean success (see Dreamcast), but it could mean a larger install base if Microsoft or Sony plays it right. I know the Wii U will be out first but Nintendo is bringing out a console that will be more competitive to the 360 and PS3 than Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen console. So I’m not talking about the Wii U. It could go the way of the Dreamcast.
We all saw how successful a company can be if they have a huge profit margin on the console they manufacture (the Wii). Sony and Microsoft might look to that model and copy it while still trying to remain relevant in the tech race. Remember, these companies put out these products to make money and sell software to make more money. Not to make us happy.
This generation has arguably been the greatest generation in gaming, and it has definitely been the longest. So it may sound a bit crazy to say that after looking at both sides of the argument for new consoles, I don’t see the necessity for new consoles anytime soon. I understand that the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony are inevitable and still at least a year off, and maybe I’ll change my mind by then. However, right now I’m happy with what I have and look forward to more great games on the consoles I have.
Giant Bomb (images)