Editorial: Future Generations

Though I wish my collection was nearly this awesome.
I expect collections like this one to come to an end eventually.

I am back after my two weeks away from L.com and no doubt I have been missed. No? Hardly noticed I was gone? Fine, then!

This week, as I look forward to the few notable releases of this current generation, my mind easily turns to the coming generation of consoles. And with that I begin to feel ever more acutely a lack of excitement in myself that used to fill me with bristling energy in generations past. No one console launching this year, and certainly not the Wii U from last year, has set me alight in any particular way. Perhaps this has to do with my own gaming habits at present and perhaps the industry has changed a great deal since the previous generation. Today the gaming landscape is rife with choices, from the mainstay consoles and handhelds to the smattering of Android streaming devices and of course the continuing rise of PC gaming. With all of these choices, many of them available for the first time in their current forms, it might make sense that the launch of any one particular device has been lessened for me.

In the past, home console releases were major events that marked a turning point in gaming. In my earliest days of dedicated gaming, a new Nintendo console meant a whole new realm of possibilities. The Super Nintendo introduced me to a new level of games, both technically superior as well as more in depth. As the industry moved on these generation cycles, which were previously looked at with some degree of question and apprehension, became an expected cycle of about four to five years. The competition and struggle for dominance throughout these cycles would become the “console wars”, a sort of game within the games industry about console superiority, customer loyalty, exclusivity, hardware comparisons and outright trash talking. In particular the feud between Nintendo and Sega would form the template upon which much of today’s competitive nature is still modeled after. In those days, gamers has but a few choices. The main frontrunners, like the offerings by Nintendo and Sega, and a few other console alternatives that most people need to be reminded about, like the Jaguar or TurboGrafx-16, as well as the PC gaming scene. Beyond that, and the dwindling popularity of the arcades, consumers had a fairly focused market if they were looking to play games at home. As much of this came down to choice as it did to the general tech savvy of consumers in the ’80s and ’90s where devices were expected to do a singular thing and people’s leisure activities were likewise more segregated. Today, everything communicates with everything and activities like gaming regularly bleed into other sectors of entertainment as well as the previously nonexistent entity of social media.

Not because of its business model, but because of its delivery system.
Though it’s probably destined to be nothing more than a footnote in this industry, the Ouya is an example of the future of consoles.

With the coming generation the industry will see the launch of two major competitors, once again, vying for the top spot as the generational cycle wipes the board clear. Though predictions run rampant, and I have no shortage of my own, this generation seems to be starting like any other. Nintendo aside, Sony and Microsoft have two home consoles with similar tech specs and roughly similar price tags. But aside from their offerings, sprung up along side the more traditional console options in the intervening seven years since the previous generation are mobile games, streaming platforms, and the continuing accessibility of PC gaming. To speak nothing of the casual markets of Facebook games and the like, the industry has grown tremendously throughout this cycle to include more ways of gaming and more kinds of gamers. It has made the landscape of gaming as diffuse as it is diverse, taking the focus of the industry off of a particular few devices and onto the shoulders of many platforms. Perhaps this is just the indifference of an increasingly PC oriented gamer who feels removed from the console scene the more it merges with the PC scene, but I often wonder if I would not feel the same had I stayed a console gamer. This generational leap looks poised to be the most incremental one yet, with systems offering improvements to games more subtle than fundamental. The biggest aspects of the devices, if the manufacturers themselves are to be believed, are things like integrated social media, multimedia streaming capabilities, and an increased focus on digital distribution of games. Where, in any of this, a substantive improvement upon the games themselves is supposed to be seen is unclear to me. And the games already announced for these console platforms have largely failed to hold my attention, though lackluster launch lineups are fairly commonplace. And yet that hardly kept me from anticipation in the past. The significance of a new console generation looks to be waning and with it, for good or bad, goes the excitement of that used to bring.

The future of the industry will have less to do with segmented generational leaps and more to do with incremental upgrades streamed to consumers through services piped into a versatile box or perhaps even a preexisting multipurpose device. This will mean fewer new boxes entering the home, few if any opportunities for a physical medium for games, and the rise of subscription based services for access to games akin to services like Netflix. Games may still be bought wholly, but there may also be opportunities for games to be accessed in rotation as part of the subscription and varying by the subscription level. This is indicative of the general unification of entertainment, as essentially every entertainment device becomes a multipurpose PC and where there will be little difference in capability between the various screens I look at. From what I see of it, the push toward ease of access will move the industry away from the undulating effects of a new generation. If true, I can only imagine how this will come to effect competition in the industry.

Will we see a day like I have described or am I way off the mark? What do you think the future holds for the generational cycle of this industry? Will it be for the better? Make a typey type in the commenty box.

3 comments

  1. Would it make technical sense if at some point down the line all of the processing for a game was done elsewhere, and you essentially “watched” the game with the same remote controlled inputs? I mean, as console gaming goes by the wayside and television’s capabilities evolve somewhat. The cable box should become an anachronism as well.

    I thought the PS3 was a pretty good leap in this generation compared to the PS2, especially in terms of online and the operating system, and that we’ll see more capabilities arise in several years for the PS4. The WiiU is essentially meaningless and the Xbone will embody the worst possibilities, so whatever. I’m sitting this one out. Bring back arcades! Nintendo should go for broke and make a Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D arcade cabinet!

    Everything else I have to say about this I’ve said three times before. I did notice your absence and was thinking it’s about time for Mel to post again!

  2. @MattD: I think that is what some companies have tried. Valve is doing it with one of their Steam Boxes, I think–and there was a company that offered a subscription service for that sort of thing a few years ago, but without much success.

  3. It takes time for technology to catch up to ideas, of course. But I suppose the idea is for the television (or smart TV) alone to have the capability, making a box of anysort redundant. That would perhaps necessitate a Sony TV, Valve TV, MSTV, and all manners of silliness, so I think some manner of console is here to stay, but with a decreasing quantity of “owned” materiel. Soon we’ll see what would be considered a traditional major console release become “free to purchase” and subscription-based, single or multiplayer, and refinements and redefinitions of microtransactions as part of that subscription model. Physical media will cease to exist. Come to think of it, an integrated television (with console, cable, computer, and other video/media services) could be viable considering the possibility of industry collapse and/or restructuring, like if Sony and Samsung merged and then Comcast bought them out or something. I think we’ll see a lot of major redefinitional changes in the oncoming generation, to this effect or otherwise.

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