On February 20 at 6:00 pm EST, Sony will be holding a press event in a large venue – not unlike one you would see at E3 – and live streamed on the web. Despite the fact that it may just be to announce a new color for the Vita, several hints at “Sony’s future” all point to one thing: it will reveal the next console, currently codenamed Orbis (this will not be the console’s actual name). With that Sony will cast the next strike in the “next generation” arms race. With WiiU already out and despite the negativity surrounding the graphical integrity of the console, I think we’ll see that performance and interaction will reign supreme this time around. Furthermore, once the veil is lifted on Sony’s console, developers who have been working on games can finally talk about them – most of which will also be working on the dangerously similar Microsoft console, codenamed Durango (also won’t be its name). If Microsoft doesn’t do a presser that announces its console soon, then general consumers will start connecting Sony’s console with muliplatform titles. This is not good, so you can expect Microsoft – who is no doubt already creating its own press conference – to make its next-gen announcement sometime around GDC in late March.
Honestly I don’t see the point in talking potential hardware. While tech junkies may want to strangle me for that, I argue that we should discuss what a console actually has under the hood rather than speculate what it could have. We will know about these consoles at least six months, if not almost two years, before they come out and have plenty of time to discuss the performance then. Furthermore all of these rumors floating about always have one or two specs that don’t make sense – like Durango having a blu ray drive or Orbis having a forced touchpad. It’s not that these things won’t happen, they just seem out of place. I also suspect that these upcoming consoles will be dangerously close in spec, which personally makes me happy to think we’re closer to a single console future, to the point that hardware talk will be indistinguishable. I feel the gaming experience and software will define this generation. But like all of you I love to guess what will happen and check back later to see how wrong I was and I need to write another editorial so here we go: my predictions on the future of gaming and what the next consoles will bring.
It’s easiest to talk about Nintendo because its console is already out. Having said that, it’s hardly defined. Nintendo looked like it was going to appeal to third-party developers and had it designed the “next big thing” like it did with Wii, that plan may have actually worked. Unfortunately for all the touting that they have nothing but developers in mind, most third parties are evacuating like the Titanic is going down. With EA going from publicly stating that Nintendo will provide online gaming solutions and support for its third parties less than a year before launch to completely abandoning them before launch, I think it’s safe to say Nintendo dropped the ball. Ubisoft, a publisher that made bank on the Wii, has already begun making its games multiplatform after previously announcing them as WiiU exclusives and they are far from alone. No, it appears that for the 4th generation in a row it’s going to be up to Nintendo to save its own ass. Don’t write WiiU off though, despite not being innovative I think gamers are too quick to lose faith in the software development powerhouse behind Nintendo. In addition, Nintendo’s different (albeit probably weaker) specs and seemingly off designs may prove to differentiate them in the market. That and the new Zelda game, whenever it finally comes out.
Nintendo has to step it up, it relied too much on third parties getting WiiU through the growing pains of competing with today’s hardcore gaming market after the casual crowd left for iPads. This requires a tight online infrastructure, not the pathetic ghost town that is currently on the WiiU, and high performance, as opposed to the fifteen minutes it takes to exit out of a game currently. Everyone will be competing for being the entertainment hub, but Nintendo has been doing this the longest so I predict they may come out on top in this category. As for perfecting the online space and performance issues, it has a long way to go and will probably never get to Xbox Live quality, but perhaps it’ll be good enough to bring back a strong fan base. Software is going to be a grim 2013 as third parties continue to abandon the console or make games multiplatform, but the ace in the hole will be Nintendo’s own titles. Unfortunately it looks like the company didn’t plan on its own console – I feel the WiiU was rushed out completely unfinished and now Nintendo is backpedaling – so we won’t start seeing the games Iwata talked about until at least 2014 and Zelda will more likely be 2015. If Nintendo can break away from Microsoft and Sony in the market, solidify a well-performing console, and crank out its usual high quality titles then WiiU could be a force to be reckoned with. This is a giant task and it will be more than two years in the making so Nintendo, get cracking, and WiiU owners…patience is a virtue?
If nothing else Sony has learned two valuable lessons: don’t charge $600 for your console and don’t be overcomplicated. Playstation 3 premiered at a staggering $600 price tag. That nearly killed the console before launch, but then a second large problem hit: cell processors were balls hard to develop for. Ever played a 2006-2008 game on both PS3 and 360 for comparison? If you did, most likely the PS3 game had major technical issues while the 360 version was smooth as silk. It took more than two years to get developers to simply be able to port games from the 360 to the PS3 seamlessly and some developers still can’t figure it out. Given the later price drop and value of the PS3 now, I feel confident Sony won’t make that mistake again. Furthermore the rumors of a universal $400 price tag for both upcoming consoles suggests this. On top of that, Sony seems like the only company that understands how to migrate into the next generation. It is releasing all first party and many third-party titles boxed and digitally on release date, offering discounts (although minor) on digital versions, releasing games at prices lower than $60, holding digital sales, and lets not forget the huge value of PSN+. If Sony can figure out how to reconfigure its online to somewhat meet the standards of Xbox live – ie: voice chat and the ability to join a server without developers putting it in – and properly integrate Gaikai technology for streaming of gaming media, Sony could be a force to be reckoned with.
I don’t know what the hell the marketing team at Sony is doing, but it’s not promoting the first party titles. Sony tried to compete with Nintendo in terms of first party beloved properties and lost, now it’s too butt hurt to support them. Playstation All-Stars, Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank, even LittleBigPlanet titles are coming out across the country and yet I haven’t seen a single commercial about them. Sure Kratos gets a commercial for his next game but other than that all I see are PS3 commercials. The brand is established, hell it’s about to be obsolete, you don’t need to put a majority of your advertising into brand awareness anymore. Some have said the reason is issues with the advertising firm Sony fired while others claim it’s that Sony no longer knows how to market these games, either way figure it out and stand by your properties. After this upcoming generation it will be all that differentiates you. Sony needs to release the next console with a killer first party lineup, a strong online gaming presence (that it would be smart to keep free), PSN+ value, streaming game options with Gaikai (monthly subscription please), and continue to treat the Playstation platform similarly to Steam. With that at hand, Sony has the potential to reclaim the top spot in the “console wars,” but marketing teams really need to get their shit together and handle this slippery slope properly.
If anyone is equipped to go into the next generation proud, it’s Microsoft. As the preferred console for hardcore gamers of this generation, Microsoft has almost everything it needs to come out on top. Its online integration with Xbox Live hasn’t been greatly affected by PSN being free or PSN+ having free games and everyone still agrees that the online gaming is bar none. Futhermore Microsoft has established exclusive content with publishers, a way to lead people to its console without making the publisher gamble on console exclusivity, and impressive sales on both the first and third-party front. Unfortunately Microsoft also seems to be its own worst enemy when it comes to potential problems. First of all there’s Kinect, which isn’t a problem on its own but needs to be more of a back burner item to the hardcore gamer and move from E3 press conferences to Good Morning America. You can’t bank on Halo forever, eventually you’ll need to make other games that keep people with the system. Finally Microsoft is far too cocky about not discounting digital versions of games, holding regular sales, and ostrasizing silver members (ie: gold members only for most sales).
Okay, so you found a casual audience and you feel confident they won’t abandon you like they did Nintendo, fine, but no one at or watching E3 is going to be that audience so be a little more targeted in the future. Microsoft also needs to stop closing studios and start cranking out some more first party titles. I think Microsoft will lean on third parties heavily as it enters into the next generation, if only because it doesn’t have Halo 5 or Forza 5 ready to go (or does it?) and you can only do, presumably, one more HD re-release (Halo 2), right? If Microsoft were smart it would establish some new IP and not close a studio before a game even releases. Get Remedy ready with the follow-up to Alan Wake, pull Rare off of making sports shirts for avatars and get a team working on a Conker or Kameo title, and perhaps make a new game that isn’t a racer or a shooter. Microsoft also needs to get into the new pricing game and get its digital shit together. Why in the hell was Forza Horizon on sale at $15 for a boxed copy on microsoft.com when the digital (and higher profit margin) version was $60 on Xbox Live? Does Microsoft think the audience for this type of stuff is completely stupid? Why is the retail price of an older game $19.99 but it’s $40 online? Dropping the price does two things: it sells the physical copies in stores and gets you new sales digitally that you wouldn’t normally have. It’s win-win and on the digital front it didn’t even cost you anything. Microsoft has the strongest online component on the market, a key to winning the next gen, now all it needs to do is clean up the details and it’ll be an exciting time to be an Xbox owner.
I know what you’re thinking – What about the touchpad on the next Playstation? The rumor that consoles will constantly be online and not allow used games? Storage space and entertainment? – that’s what this section is for. And since you’ve been such good sports, I’ll keep it short.
- Kinect, touchpads, etc – Wow does the picture below sum up my feelings on this. Social gaming, crazy peripherals, and various other accessories are just that. No one is forcing you to own, operate, or even pay attention to Kinect titles, Move titles, or anything else. Just let it go, it doesn’t matter to you. Pretend it isn’t there, the big box retailers were even nice enough to move these games away from the games you do like.
- Always online consoles and anti-used gaming – This is the one that is going to get me some hate. In order to understand my perspective you don’t need to know anything about my personal financial state, you just need to understand two things: gaming is a hobby and a huge business. As a result it’s not going to be fair, it will cater to those in better financial situations, and your threats fall on deaf ears. Yeah, I do think there’s going to be DRM-like online authentication, I just don’t think it’s going to be consistent like the rumors suggest. I know that there are rural and suburban areas that don’t have good Internet, I live near them. Guess what? Most of the gamers just pirate the damn games. It’s so bad that people and stores alike advertise soft modding, j-tagging, hacking, and more. There’s even a guy around here that for $50 will turn any Wii, 360, or PS3 into a pirating masterpiece, complete with a library of the newest and oldest games – the limit is the size of the hard drive you give him. Pirates aside, if you can’t get online you’re not much use or money to these console manufacturers. Sorry gamers, it’s a harsh world and its best you hear it from someone who’s one of you: if you don’t buy games new, go online, and spend money on digital purchases then the big companies don’t care about you. C’mon, like you don’t know this. PR reps would never allow a statement like that to be made but a used gamer on PSN playing Call of Duty all day is just costing them money, there’s no reason to cater to him. This is also why used gaming will go, much to the fear of GameStop. We’ll know shortly, too, because if this is going to fly everyone’s going to do it (except maybe Nintendo, crazy bastards). For once Microsoft, Sony, and publishers will all agree on something, and if they do decide to do away with used gaming it’s going to go. No petition in the world will change it either because time and time again the gaming industry proves that the people in forums online are liars. I saw an article a while back about people who threatened to not buy a game if some stupid feature wasn’t in there – game came out, feature wasn’t in there, and more than 90 percent of the people on that message board purchased and were playing the game anyway. Your threats are no good anymore, no one cares what you threaten, they know it’s smoke and mirrors (or that you’ll eventually be back). I just hope that when they do it they think about an offline mode. Maybe it authenticates when you boot the game and like once ever random number of minutes, but with a special offline mode for campaigns. I also think Sony fully has a plan to register disc serial numbers with console serial numbers. They may even make it easy on us this generation by allowing licenses to be transferred for a fee or giving special versions to rental outlets, but don’t be shocked if this apparent rumor turns out to be true.
- No backwards compatibility – Unless Microsoft finds a streaming solution and Gaikai works better than I’m thinking, the hardware will not support backwards compatibility anymore. The architecture of the hardware won’t allow it and the Playstation 3 proves that about 3 months after you take it away, no one cares.
Well that’s the big parts of what I wanted to discuss going into the 2/20 press conference, guess only time will tell at this point. Feel free to leave comments, complaints, flame wars, and fanboy accusations below!
The views expressed in this article are that of the author only and not necessarily that of the B-Team Podcast or its affiliates.