Makers of the next-generation consoles should remember one thing moving forward: Focus on building machines that play great games.
Games — those that would be unachievable on lesser platforms — are what keep consoles alive and well in this connected age, where the act of gaming has become so abstract that it encompasses almost everything with very few ground rules to delineate one experience from another.
Sony is expected to introduce its new PlayStation on Feb. 20, and part of me fears that we’re going to be introduced to a concept so inundated with connectivity, social networking, and entertainment options that the actual games themselves will be lost in the mix. No doubt, many of us will be watching the announcement hoping to see what the future of the medium will look and feel like. Yet, I sometimes wonder if Sony and Microsoft, with its Xbox, aren’t beginning to overlook the core gaming crowd in their aspirations of roping in a larger audience for their products.
The PlayStation 3′s and Xbox 360′s transformations from pure gaming consoles to connected entertainment systems was remarkable this generation, but I remain unconvinced that trying to be all things to all people is the best strategy from here on out. Computers and gaming consoles used to be among a fairly exclusive range of devices that connected to the Internet. These days, we see a lot of overlap, and consoles have ended up running parallel to smart TVs, streaming boxes, smartphones, and tablets. I can run Netflix on a number of gadgets in my house, yet I choose to do it on only a couple. The console attached to my television remains the only place where I can get the type of deep gaming experience I want.
And maybe I’m old and set in my ways (I’m certainly in the twilight years of the 18 to 34 demographic that game marketers target), but the innovation on gaming controls this generation has been a little ham-handed. To my knowledge, no one ever declared the controller a broken or archaic method of playing games. Looking back, I’m more of the opinion that all three console makers — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — were grabbing for more people’s money to kickstart a new generation with the introduction of movement-based controls.
When someone sits down to write the history of this console generation, I think they’ll surmise that a lot of experimentation happened — perhaps unnecessarily so — in the industry. While it’s healthy to try new things every so often, I hope that this new generation ushers in a return to form for console gaming — one where developers get to focus more on making amazing, engaging games that help our expectations evolve but not change so drastically that gamers no longer recognize the medium they love.