The Xbox 360 is turning seven this year, and the PlayStation 3 and Wii are going to be six. Going by history, we should have had new consoles by now, yet the big three are still going strong with these old boxes. That's not to say there haven’t been rumors because, my God, you can't go on NeoGAF now without drowning in threads about the Wii U, the Xbox 720, and the PlayStation 4.
An announcement has to be coming soon, and it's a lock that we are going to hear about at least one new box (the Wii U) at this year's E3. In turn, by December 2012, we will have at least one new console. But my question is whether or not we really need new hardware. Is shelling out cash for new tech really worth it?
Console manufacturers have generally based generational shifts around major advances in technology. The PlayStation/Nintendo 64 era brought us halfway decent polygonal graphics, and the Xbox and PlayStation 2 refined three-dimensional visuals into something worth looking at. This generation saw HD become the standard.
But what about this upcoming round of tech? What big advances are looming? Digital distribution? The possibility of a fully digital console continues to stall; high-speed broadband penetration just isn’t there for a lot of the market, and of course, pissing off the retailers who sell your product is a dumb idea. 4K televisions aren’t even available to the public yet, and probably won’t be in large numbers for a few years. And let's face it: No one really cares about 3D anymore.
The next generation will offer better graphics, but that’s kind of it. We don't have a major technological reason to move forward, and historically, new consoles set back (or reset) the quality of new games. Think about the launch games for the 360: Weren't Gun, Kameo, and Perfect Dark Zero so awesome!? It takes time for developers to learn how to effectively design on new hardware, and until they do, many titles are mediocre at best.
That looks really good! More than fine, in fact.
This is bad. Right now is a pretty awesome time to be a gamer: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Portal 2, and Saints Row: The Third all came out this year, for Christ's sake. With current-gen development just hitting its stride, why hamstring new projects?
Proponents of new consoles often point out that the arrival of cutting-edge hardware generally coincides with the arrival of original intellectual properties, and this has historically been true. But the fiscal risk of making a game is higher than ever — a problem that will only get worse next generation. What company in its right mind would produce an new, unproven series that doesn’t have a built-in audience as a safety net?
And there is always the chance that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will fuck up their new consoles. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are pretty awesome, but do you have a lot of faith in Sony's recent track record? Their smartphones are worthless, and their TVs and computers are overpriced. The company in general seems to have hit a rough patch, both creatively and financially. Let's not even get started on the 3DS. And for Microsoft, how likely is an increased focus on the Kinect, a product which wasn't ready for market in the first place?
Change is a good thing, but I really don’t have much faith that these companies won't continue to make incredibly dumb choices.
So why can't we just stick with consoles we have? Make the games play better; use the already established platforms to make new and interesting IPs. Wait a few years for 4K to become prominent, or maybe even wait until smartphone chipsets like ARM's become powerful enough to drive a console. It’s certainly a better idea than creating a new generation of hardware no one really needs.