The Depressing End of a Console Cycle
The Dull Days Before Next Gen
by Nicholas Laborde
©2012 Nicholas Laborde
The Steam sales are coming to an unfortunate end.
There’s aren’t any new huge AAA titles on the horizon until September.
E3 was a fizzling disappointment.
The launch date of the next generation of consoles is still unknown.
The economic crisis is causing innovation to be too risky and every week we hear of more studios cutting back staff or closing.
For lack of a better description, we’re at the ass end of the longest console generation in the history of the industry, and it’s utterly depressing.
Long cold winter (even in summer)
This is effectively the seventh full year of the cycle, and as far as we know, the next wave of consoles aren’t going to show up until at least 2013 or 2014.
Sure, the WiiU is releasing this year, but it’s effectively a current-gen console with an even weirder controller. Nobody is going to buy a WiiU to play Assassin’s Creed 3 when they already have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 that can play it just fine.
If the lack of announcements and overall uninspired gaming tone haven’t done it for you, then E3 2012 was the nail in the coffin for this generation.
Being my first show, I more than enjoyed myself. As the editor-on-site, I had to coordinate the OXCGN team and ensure that content was being churned out, that off-site Halo 4 VIP parties would net content for the site and not just a nasty hangover, and ensuring that our Editor in Chief, David Hilton, didn’t have a heart attack at how much of a buzz kill the show was.
When taking the shuttle buses back to my hotel, the general conversation piece was how dull this year’s show was.
Even the people near me in each of the press conferences we attended were saying the same general thing: “This E3 is so disappointing.”
All about games…and that’s a bad thing
There were no surprises. Nearly every big game announcement was announced before the show, save Watch Dogs.
The Big Three didn’t announce anything new, except pointless tablet technologies that the core audience won’t buy in to.
Even Nintendo didn’t know what they were doing. We know as much about the WiiU now as we did when it was first unveiled.
The industry is teetering over the edge of failure if we don’t make the next jump, but something is holding us back.
Why hasn’t the next generation arrived yet?
If you haven’t noticed, the monumental success of giants like Call of Duty can be directly attributed to the length of this generation.
The install base is massive – easily the biggest up to this point in gaming history – and with so many systems out there, a franchise such as this can dominate with cheap iterations and minimal development time.
How many sequels did you hear about at E3?
The sole new IP in my purchase list this northern Fall is Dishonored, which I’m very eagerly anticipating. Save Dishonored, though, and what we’re presented with is an overall extremely depressing state of the gaming industry.
Why do we need a “Next Big Thing”?
Epic can’t be too happy with this drawn out generation, either. I heard whispers at E3 that they’re extremely pissed off at Microsoft and Sony, because Unreal Engine 4 is ready to replace UE3 but simply can’t at this point in time due to hardware limitations.
In my honest opinion, the thing holding the industry back is the next “big thing” that will justify a new set of consoles.
Think about it: as I previously mentioned, the install base for this generation is unfathomable. Why would the average 360 owner want to buy a 720 if he got a 360 two years ago?
The next generation is going to appeal to exponentially broader audiences than this generation could ever have imagined, and for that to be able to occur, a new innovation has to come forth.
Leaked documents for the next Xbox console point to special glasses (not unlike that of the Google concept) as the next technological push for the console, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the standard.
Imagine playing Halo 4, for example, and you have no HUD elements on your screen. Instead, they’re interlaced on your glasses as if it’s your “helmet”. That’s only a subtle, superficial method of incorporating the technology. If Microsoft, say, partnered with Google, the technology in general could be mass marketed.
What better way to incorporate a new technology than with the latest and greatest video game systems? Use your glasses to seamlessly blend reality and gaming for your entertainment, but when you’re done, you can continue using them in the outside world as in Google’s concept video (minus uncultured hipsters who can’t pronounce the French term ‘monsieur’).
In short, if the Big Three don’t come up with any sort of major selling point, beyond tablet use, the next generation could easily flop.
The ‘Next Gen’ difference
In the next generation, I foresee a lot of differentiation between the console manufacturers.
Look back to the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube. Fundamentally, absolutely nothing differentiated the systems other than their controllers, and Xbox Live.
This gen, we had the maturing of online services, downloadable content, and social media, all of which were seamlessly incorporated into all three systems (for the most part). The PS3 and 360 primarily differentiated, barring exclusives, with their controllers and online services.
For generation 8 (the next cycle), each company is going to have to fight to diversify themselves.
Nintendo already has their foot in the door with the WiiU, but as I said earlier, they appear to be confused and not as confident as they used to be.
Microsoft is pushing their own SmartGlass technology to integrate common household devices into the gaming experience.
Sony, as usual, is lagging behind, unsure of motion gaming after the failure of the Move, and seemingly trying to jump on the tablet train in the wake of Microsoft.
Only time will tell. The biggest problem that we will encounter is that the next gen won’t be as big of a leap as we think it will, and if we don’t have innovation in order to push us forward and to justify adoption, we could see another industry crash.
Even Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillemot, had this to say about the state of the industry, and I’ll leave it to you.
“What we missed was a new console every five years,” he said. “We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market. I understand the manufacturers don’t want them too often because it’s expensive, but it’s important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity.
“It’s a lot less risky for us to create new IPs and new products when we’re in the beginning of a new generation,our customers are very open to new things. Our customers are reopening their minds — and they are really going after what’s best.
“At the end of a console generation, they want new stuff, but they don’t buy new stuff as much. They know their friends will play Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed so they go for that. So the end of a cycle is very difficult.”
©2012 Nicholas Laborde
Filed under: Console gaming, Editorial, Game Industry News, Hardware News, Oxcgn Special feature, Xbox 360 Tagged: | AAA, Assassin's creed, Microsoft, new microsoft console, new sony console, next microsoft console, next playstation, next ps, next sony console, Next Xbox, Nextbox, nintendo, Playstation 3, PlayStation4, PS4, Sony, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox 720