It has been just shy of eight years since the Xbox 360 made its debut. Microsoft’s second endeavour into console gaming heralded in the new generation of home gaming. It was not until the following year that it was joined by its peers, the Playstation 3 and the Wii. The way in which this console cycle transpired was impossible to imagine. Ten years ago the idea of Nintendo introducing an entirely untapped market to games, Microsoft managing to swoop in and topple the Playstation’s brand supremacy and of course Sony being undermined by their own hubris, would have made any analyst question your sanity. However that is exactly how it has played out.
This generation is now however in its twilight. With the Wii U already out, and widespread speculation that this year will usher in both Sony’s and Microsoft’s new systems, it is time to discuss what the next generation of video games have in store for us.
From the rumours rampantly finding their way around the internet, the most noteworthy aspect of these new consoles is the way in which the hardware is designed. While in previous generations all the systems used custom chipsets and hardware components, it has widely been reported that the next Playstation, codenamed Orbis, and the next Xbox, codenamed Durango, will be running off specifications which are not only orders of magnitude greater than the current consoles, but also made up of consumer PC parts.
‘What is the significance of that?’ I hear your ask. To provide an abridged version. Due to the fact that these systems are using already mass produced PC parts as opposed to pouring time and money into developing and researching entirely new hardware, it will most likely allow consoles to be much cheaper at launch. It should also serve to create a certain level of homogeneity between all platforms, resulting in far better cross-platform ports and more feature parity between all systems.
The Wii U, on the other hand, does not run on this type of PC architecture. However, despite it being significantly less powerful than these new systems are likely to be, it is attempting to emulate the Wii’s ‘blue ocean’ demographic and therefore would not necessarily benefit from a uniformity of content. In reality, there is virtually no chance of the Wii U becoming as successful as its predecessor as a result of a fumbled launch and market confusion over whether the Wii U is an entirely new console or just an upgrade. Nevertheless, Nintendo has a hardcore fan base which will keep them in business through this next generation at least.
To return to the new consoles, there is also a certain amount of speculation regarding the implementation of stringent digital rights management on both the Microsoft’s and Sony’s new systems. These rumours range from your online account being solely tied to a single system, to games being tethered to systems once played on them, thus removing the second hand market, a feature which Sony have actually patented recently. While these are merely rumours and are also widely dismissed, it is interesting at the very least to note that the idea of DRM in video games has become such an issue that it has manifested itself as part of the next gen speculation.
Finally, the digital future of video games is expected by most to be strongly pushed by all three companies. While broadband is still not to the level in all countries whereby you could quickly download a 10GB game, it will be strongly represented as an option to the consumer in both an attempt to combat the drain of the used sales market and to tie consumers into an ecosystem, much in the same way that Apple so successfully does with iTunes.
With Sony planned to make a large announcement on the 20th of February regarding the ‘future’ of the Playstation, and a number internet sources leaking marketing material for the next Xbox, it seems likely that we should have a fairly transparent understanding of these new consoles in the coming months. I for one cannot wait to see what the next generation has to offer.