The Next Generation - Doug's Angle
Quoth the bard: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight/I've been waiting for this moment for all my life.” Well, okay, maybe not all my life, but this current console generation has certainly felt like a lifetime. And though the rollercoaster rise and fall of game series, motion control accessories, and online functionality has been fun, it’s time for something real: New consoles.
The fourth Sony PlayStation is imminent; the third Microsoft Xbox won’t be far behind. And the anticipation builds.
What do I want to see this generation?
I want to be excited. I care about gaming, and I've been a console gamer ever since I was young. I could just as easily play older games or focus purely on burning my iPhone’s battery, but that won’t do for me. I want to be rewarded for buying a purebred gaming machine. I think we will be rewarded this time, and I hope it’s with more groundbreaking gameplay and interesting online interaction instead of just better graphics and presentation.
I want to see the Japanese mainstream give a serious shit about hardcore console gaming. The console of choice in Japan could very quickly become the Nintendo 3DS, and for me, that won't suffice. In the past few years there have been enough Japanese-sourced titles to add flavor to the industry, but they haven’t stemmed the handheld tide in the homeland. I want Japanese games to become popular again in a mainstream way; as a lifelong fan, I know how good they can be. Even if the result is Japanese doppelgängers or equivalents of American standards (Call of Duty and Madden, brah), the games industry is better when Japan is viable. Plus, I plan to stay in Japan for the foreseeable future, so renewed viability of the games market here would be icing on the cake.
What else? I want to see the game purchasing model continue to evolve. We have a shot of that, both for purchasing the consoles and acquiring games. It’s something I’ll touch on soon, but think about where the industry was when the Xbox 360 was introduced versus now; the sales model has gone from straightforward physical retail, to multi-faceted. Downloadable, subscription, and streaming titles have all gained considerable ground - watch for that to grow in the coming generation.
Lastly, I want Sony to give me a reason to want to buy a Vita. The technology is fantastic, and if I’m going to be in Japan, I might as well get a handheld at some point, right? What if the Vita becomes a viable controller for PS4? What if transferring games between Vita and PS3/4 becomes the norm, and the save can ping back and forth like the last read pages on a book on Kindle? (Or like a Steam Cloud save? -Ed.) What if older PSN games were ported to the Vita, and some were available cheap or for free on PlayStation Plus? Make me want one.
What do I expect this generation?
I expect Sony to rebound, because they have to -- they've been quiet the last few years (leading me to believe they’re reorganizing and preparing a massive salvo for the new console) but this is the part of their business that they've pinned their flag to going forward (out: TVs, in: games and cameras). Conversely, I expect Microsoft to struggle a bit, because hubris begets failure. But I expect both of these consoles to be powerful, share many of the same games, and pack surprises.
I expect online integration to continue, and for Sony’s PlayStation Plus to be crucial going forward. I have no clue what they could offer in the first few years of the system that could match all the free games currently on offer, but really hope they try.
I would also expect Sony to be more progressive when it comes to regions and usernames. Sony has been pretty laissez-faire this generation, with regard to sharing content on multiple accounts and having accounts for multiple regions (never mind region-free game restrictions); I’d love for all those to continue as now. That said, I’d settle for what Tyler informs me is the Vita’s model, playing American content on an American account and Japanese content on a Japanese account. As long as I can still import games without penalty, that'd suit me just fine.
For Sony, there are tasty rumors of a touchpad replacing the start and select button area on the DualShock. The other rumor I’d love to help spread is a DualShock that can split into two parts which act like a Wii’s nunchuck and Wiimote -- if it works, what an elegant solution that would be! And I want to believe that Sony’s purchase of game streaming service Gaikai could lead to that technology's use as a way to integrate backwards compatibility on demand, instead of streaming current-gen titles. I would love that service to fall under the banner of PlayStation Plus, too.
As far as Microsoft is concerned, I think a telecom-style subsidized purchase model (which they tested with the Xbox 360) would work incredibly well, especially as a way to energize sales early in the console generation. $200 with a two-year Xbox Live commitment? That’s a way to get units into people’s homes, and drive sales of games and content at retail and online via Live. I suspect Microsoft’s more liable to try the model than Sony, if only because it's an idea suited to the American market -- the arena where Microsoft currently holds its biggest lead.
Lastly, after hypothesizing about it earlier in the winter, I would expect whatever Valve releases as a Steam Box to make few waves at launch but gain strength within a few years. After all, that’s what happened with the Steam service itself, right?