The rumors are spreading on the internet faster than the latest viral youtube video. Spend too long eyeballing quotes from one “insider source” and you’re likely to have it debunked by an update a minute later. Going on seven years, this is the longest gap between generations of game consoles in the history of the interactive entertainment industry.
To put this into perspective consider that the Xbox 360 was behind computer technology when it hit store shelves in November 2005. Translation: console gamers are fumbling around in Gremlins while their pc buddies are cruising by in BMWs.
Over the past seven years we have seen an explosion of digital content. Add to this the majority of yearly best sellers in the gaming world contain some element of multiplayer, and it’s safe to say that online functionality is now a staple of gaming.
Coinciding with the advancements of technology this past generation has brought is the cost of production. Stars Wars The Old Republic and Red Dead Redemption had budgets exceeding $100 million. Big budgets mean that the price for failing to meet sales margins may lead to layoffs and bankruptcy.
We already know that the Nintendo Wii-U will be launching this fall and will incorporate the use of an innovative tablet controller. What direction will Sony and Mircosoft take? Let’s put aside Sony’s present financial woes for the moment to offer up some conjecture:
The sale of used games has hurt the industry for years. Rumor has it that a chip will be inserted into the new Xbox that will disable the play of used games. True or not is beside the point. This is a major issue that will be addressed in some form.
Expect an expansion of Xbox Live and the PSN Network. You know the new Xbox will have an updated Kinect attached and Skype will be squeezed in. Both systems will allow every release to be purchased digitally. And fully anticipate the new Xbox to have a Blu-ray player.
I would love to see new consoles crammed with enough new technology to make even the purring engine of a Ferrari jealous. The reality is that Mircosoft and Sony will probably go the cheap route and offer up a cpu and graphics card powerful enough to play next gen games. That would entail offering up older but working technology that would bring the price of consoles on par with where they are now. It still stands that the Xbox controller needs better D-pad functionality.
Backwards compatibility is a must. Not to mention a killer line-up of launch titles. The Xbox 360 has been lacking 1st party titles and exclusives. They risk losing core-gamers in their pursuit of a causal audience. The PS3 has been hurt by inferior online play and developers unable to take advantage of the hardware. This is why most multiplatform releases are generally better on the Xbox.
Uneasy economic times make for a puzzling transition. I think we will see the new Xbox hitting store shelves late 2013, followed by the PS4 unveiling in 2014. The next generation of gaming must pave the way for new trails to be blazed and worlds to be explored. With interactive storytelling in its infancy, next gen gaming could prove to be a defining moment.
by D.L. Timmerman