Are You Ready for the 8th Generation?

A concept image for the PS4?

Buying a videogame console is an investment. what starts out as an expensive purchase, with a limited selection of launch software gradually turns in to a machine that hopefully boasts hundreds of quality titles.

With talk recently turning away from this  generation, and rumours being posted here, there and everywhere about the successors (and Nintendo gearing up for a 2012 launch), are we wrong to want a bit more time with our Xbox 360s and Playstation 3s? in some ways, yes.

The arrival of 2012 signals the sixth and seventh years for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively, and in terms of gaming “generations” (an arguable definition which tends to signal different eras between home systems),this one in particular has been a fairly long ride, and a new system wouldn’t be out of place at this stage based on past trends.

Whereas many forum-goers (myself included in part) are perfectly happy with dragging this generation out until 2014+, people from inside the industry are less patient.

Crytek, when speaking to CVG at the start of 2011, called on the next-gen consoles to arrive by 2013, saying that it is getting “old and tight” in reference to the hardware, also claiming that the PC was being held back by the current generation.

It sounds a bit outlandish when we see games like Crysis 2, Gears 3, Uncharted 3 and other visual stunners performing on the same hardware that powered those launch titles back in the day – but there is a point. It is evident that developers are having to use shortcuts to achieve this progression, and whilst for the most part it is unnoticeable, it takes away resources from other areas such as physics, AI or anti-aliasing – which would see a marked increase with stronger hardware.

Similarly, the leap between PC and consoles has now expanded to a significant distance. Highlighted in Battlefield 3 with a reduced player count of 24 (compared to the PC’s 64) and a great gap in visuals. upon outrage by fans,  DICE employee Alan Kertz took to twitter to explain:

“Of course, we didn’t say “oh console players don’t want 64 players.” Network performance and cpu/gpu power and memory.”

And although the game came out to great critical and fan reaction, it was clear that cuts were made to optimise the game for console hardware.

DICE’s Patrick Bach also made it explicitly clear how eager he was for new hardware, stating to CVG:

“I don’t know what the big corporations are thinking but definitely we are desperate to move on into the next generation. I think Battlefield 3 will look like a next-generation game and all the technology we’re building, the whole Frostbite 2 system – the animations, audio, everything – is trying to aim for a couple of years in the future, rather than looking at what we have today.”

That’s not to say that every company is struggling with current gen hardware, and perhaps the relative lack of information until almost 7 years in is testament to how well the hardware truly has scaled.

Even Microsoft have previously stated that they want the Xbox 360 to have a “10 year lifespan”. But then we could simply see an overlap between generations (akin to Sony’s continued support for the Playstation 2).

With the announcement of a new console, consumers instantly think about price. after all, having spent a lot on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 (the latter in a short period) I am reluctant to accept a £300 machine just like that. Graphics are still fine, and although the PC’s evolving hardware offers many pieces of eye candy simply impossible on 2005 tech, that doesn’t negate the visual quality of console titles.

Couple that in with the recent economic crisis, and are consumers actually ready to shell out for the next era?

We see great commercial success for the iPad 2 and new iPhone and other gadgets, but none of those typically equate to such an investment as a console, and with sales for the PS3 and 360 still going strong worldwide consumers still see value in these products.

One company who definitely thinks we are though, is Nintendo and their plans for 2012.

Will the Wii U succeed? Will it help propel other first parties in to bringing forth their next iterations?

Personally I feel that a late 2012/early 2013 release will be a likelihood. With all the emerging stories coming out, and specifically for MS  (their renewed focus on Kinect based games offers an opportunity for the afore-mentioned overlap between systems), an announcement is seeming plausible.

2014 feels too late in my view, not necessarily from my perspective but from looking at what the first parties are doing. Microsoft are focused on Kinect and sequels to their big IPs, and similarly Sony are also on their third iteration of IPs launched this generation.

We shall see what happens, but frankly – E3 2012 could be a hell of an event.

Are You Ready for the 8th Generation?

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