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Most gamers are aware that with each hardware iteration we stand to be less impressed with graphical fidelity than the generation before. It’s argued that the last real leap in visuals was the Playstation One to the Dreamcast (brief pause for the fanboys). What’s beyond contest is that biggest change occurred between the 16 bit era and the 32 bit era with 3D polygonal technology. I don’t see another leap similar to that occurring for a long time; and the big three understand that they are limited by budgets and technology when trying to fleece money from gamers every new generation.
Microsoft and Sony have done a good job understanding this and it has turned into a service arms race to see which one of them can clutter your system user interface the worst. Microsoft is winning by a landslide, with Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu already on the console and HBO Go coming soon. Microsoft is not only trying to compete with the Playstation 3 itself, but with television watching time in general. I do enjoy the extra layers of services and I’d even toy with the idea of making my Xbox 360 the set-top box it’s pretending to be now if they can offer actual live television in the future. Beyond that, I would like to get even better integration with my media files. As it stands now, it’s clunky, though power users are loving it. Making it easier for casual gamers to access their home movies, music, and pictures is simply adding value to the console and is a relatively easy tweak to do.
The gamification of every single thing under the sun is another innovation that’s come out of this generation; one that badly needs refining. While it’s fun to earn badges from Foursquare every time I walk into Subway and get treated like dirt, I’d like for one of the big three to take the reins and show everyone else how it’s done. Yes, notify me that I received the “Press Start to Play” achievement but they need to mean more than they do now. I’d like to convert my points to buy virtual goods. My dashboard needs dressing up, as does my avatar. I shouldn’t have to spend hard earned, poorly converted space points to do that when I have a boatload of useless points accumulating for collecting every single package in Grand Theft Auto 4. Also, it would be fun to be able to wager my points against someone else in say, a hand of poker, or a Call of Duty match. Point is, yes; it’s fun to accumulate points and rewards at every corner, but letting me do something with them, anything with them, will go a long way in making me care.
The biggest innovation in this generation is the digital marketplace. This is critical for the big three to understand; we have spent hundreds of space bucks in the digital game space and we intend to carry our DLC over into the next generation. The first company to block that path will likely forfeit a lot of potential shoppers; since there is no real precedent for digital game libraries, we are blindly trusting Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft right now. Of course they will tell you that you still own the games since you can still hook up the old console to play them, but realistically I’d say there is a very small percentage of gamers that keep their old consoles hooked up once it’s time to move on. I can’t stress how important this is for consumer trust and for the gaming economy in general.
Motion gaming also needs to go. It’s a lame duck innovation that created the facade of converting people into gamers when in reality, that is simply not the case. Anyone with arms and legs can play Wii Sports and according to sales everyone has, but they’re not buying new games; there isn’t any growth from that sector. Instead, people only bring out the Wii during family events and flail their arms until grandpa has a heart attack. Grandpa going into cardiac arrest does not make him a gamer. Sony with the Eye Toy for the Playstation 2 had the right idea. Create some casual games for casual fans and move on. Before the Wii drove every soccer Mom mad, Sony had no intention of making the center of the gaming world a motion activated one. Let’s press the reset button and pretend motion gaming did not happen; let’s get controls right before moving on to the next big bang.
In the end, the next generation will bring with it, a few surprises. After all, this is still a very young industry, one that is still trying to find it’s place in our culture. It’s important to continue to move forward as we always have; I only hope we take some time to stop and refine some of the great ideas that came out of this generation before we move on to the next one.