Editor’s note: Ernie looks into his crystal ball to tell us when the next generation of gaming starts and what advancements it will bring. It’s worth noting that he wrote this piece before last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. This added knowledge makes some of his predictions look like sure things while casting doubt on others. What do you think? –Greg
Whether you believe it or not, we are close to the final moments of this generation of video games. In less than two years, new consoles will descend down and dominate over their fathers (and ancient ancestors such as the NES) as the new standard for video games. The next generation will bring additions that will likely last for generations to come and change the way we play games forever. Let’s take a look and predict what to expect from video games in the coming years. First up, the hardware.
Consoles typically last for five years before companies release an upgraded version to compete in the next generation. With Nintendo releasing a new console every year that ends in "1" and "6" since the Super Nintendo, we should expect a new Nintendo console during the holiday season of 2011.
Following the pattern of the latest console releases, we should expect another console from either Microsoft or Sony to release in the same holiday season, with the other company's console coming out a year later. I’m guessing a new Xbox will come first considering the short amount of time between the first two Xbox systems, followed by the PlayStation 4 in 2012 since Sony has been aiming for longer console life spans than its competitors.
One way of determining the end of a generation is by looking at the release of new handheld systems. Both PSP and DS were released about a year or two before the current consoles; the same goes for GBA, which Nintendo released less than a year before GameCube. With Nintendo talking about the DS successor — code-named the 3DS and possibly coming by the end of this year — that leaves plenty of time to release a new handheld before new consoles come. Sony will probably release a new PSP in 2011, a year before PS4.
Now on to some next-gen features, expect 3D capabilities in Nintendo’s next handheld system. I'm not talking 3D like we saw with the introduction of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, but 3D like we’ve seen in movies where we’re forced to wear glasses to enjoy the full effect, such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland.
I’m curious to see how 3D will be incorporated into video games, but as a developing new technology, I predict we will see more 3D movies, 3D televisions, handheld devices, and eventually 3D in console gaming. We’ll just have to see how this plays out with the 3DS since this is the first known entry into 3D gaming I have heard of.
While Nintendo still dominates the handheld market as it has since the '90s, Sony has given them some competition during this generation. I don’t think Microsoft will be entering the handheld market anytime soon, but the next generation might bring a third handheld competitor.
With the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, third-party developers have been receiving many sales on downloadable games that can be played on Apple’s three portable platforms. Apple is even planning on releasing an online multiplayer service that can be used on iPhone OS devices called Game Center. Maybe Apple will be successful enough in this market that they’ll feel more confident in releasing games for another platform they seem to have abandoned: Mac.
Even with the lack of contributions from Apple, the computer-gaming market, while still successful, doesn’t do as well as the console gaming market. Microsoft, which has a huge share of sales, continues releasing games under the brand “Games for Windows.” Many of these games are also available on Xbox 360, such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Bioshock 2. This brand doesn’t show signs of slowing down, with future releases like Fallout: New Vegas and Fable 3 being planned.
Competing with Microsoft in the computer-gaming market is Steam, a digital-distribution service developed by Valve. Games such as Grand Theft Auto 4 and Mass Effect 2 have been released on the service. Steam has become a popular way for third-party developers to release their games. With Steam becoming available on Mac, Apple will now have more involvement in computer games even if it is through third-party games.
We’ve come a long way in terms of controls since the days of early video game controllers. We can now use triggers to shoot, two joysticks to move either the character or camera, and still push face buttons that’ll perform various commands. If controllers aren’t you’re style, a mouse and keyboard can be a substitute. Touching your DS or iPod screen has become another way of controlling the actions of our video games. When it comes to consoles, even though we have triggers and joysticks, developers have come up with another way for us to control: motion.
Nintendo brought us motion controls this generation with the Wii. Their success has even motivated Microsoft and Sony to work on their own forms of motion control. With Project Natal and PlayStation Move releasing later this year, it is likely that their attempt at motion controls will continue on to the next generation, since they want their product to last more than a year or two.
I predict the next generation consoles will use motion controls in more games and incorporate them into more genres. Fighting games, racing games, and even first-person shooters will be easier to incorporate motion controls in, but for RPGs it might be more difficult. Maybe commands will be issued through pointing at “Attack” or “Items” on the television.
Despite the many forms of controls we have, including traditional game controllers and the mouse and keyboard, the next generation standard for controls will be touch and motion. Another standard that will be carried over is high definition. Visual standards will soon include 3D. Digital distribution will continue to develop and offer an alternative to buying physical media at the store. This might even evolve to the point where new retail games will release simultaneously on disc and in digital form downloadable through services such as Steam, Xbox Live, PSN, and iTunes.
While the next generation will have many new additions, such as motion-control devices, advanced digital content delivery, and 3D, not much will change when it comes to the console manufacturers. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony will continue to dominate the console market, while Nintendo and Sony will have their share in handheld gaming.
Computer gaming will live on with the help of Microsoft and Steam. I don’t see any new companies entering the video game industry other than Apple with their iPhone OS devices and Steam on Mac. This only brings third-party sales, however, so Apple will probably not become a first-party developer.
Whatever else the next generation may bring that will change gaming forever, we will have to see. Let me know if I missed anything or if you have your own predictions.