What do Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have in store for us with the next generation of consoles? Nintendo says its next console, Wii U, will be available in 2012. But when will we see the Xbox 720 and the PlayStation 4, and what will they bring to the table to entice consumers?
There is a lot of buzz on the internet about what may or may not be in the next generation of consoles. As usual, the rumors of the hardware specs paint the potential systems as the next coming of Skynet, capable of generating graphics so lifelike that our heads will explode. Another hot topic getting a lot of attention is support for 3-D displays.
How much do these types of features really matter? Is this what consumers are looking for?
The success of the Wii (underpowered in comparison to other consoles) and the emergence of Apple’s iOS as a gaming platform have clearly impacted the industry. For example, the next generation of consoles will undoubtedly continue the move towards gesture-based input (Kinect, Move), but what else can and should they do? I for one don’t think the ability of the hardware to process data faster and push more and more polygons is the answer, but there are a few things that would be appealing to me. So here’s my wish list from both a hardware and software point of view:
1. Fully embrace a streaming system.
Enough with the CDs/DVDs/BDs. Consumers have shown a clear preference for streaming services, so it’s a natural expectation on game consoles. For a number of reasons, the likelihood of this happening is relatively low, but this would be a true game changer. With no physical goods, the financial risk on publishers is greatly reduced, which in turn allows for more experimentation and risks on the game design side.
2. Don’t bother with backward compatibility.
There is little to be gained by making the new hardware and software jump through hoops to support games for the previous generation of the console.
3. Provide for smart connections between the digital game content and the physical world.
One example that comes to mind is situational play based on real-world events. For example, if I were watching a football game on Sunday, I would love a chance to try different scenarios on my console from a critical point in the game forward. What if I opted to go for a 4th down rather than the coach’s real-world decision to punt? It’s Monday morning quarterbacking on Sunday afternoon.
4. Provide seamless software adaptability for players of different skill levels in the form of a common handicapping system that is used across all games.
Most games institute their own difficulty levels, but adhering to a system-wide standard across all games will greatly benefit players, especially those in the same household with different skill sets. The system can take the associated handicap setting from each player, and then adjust the gameplay for that player accordingly. I know this type of approach will help me when I (handicap 10) play Call of Duty against my son (handicap 1). The overall goal here is to enhance the social aspect of the experience by leveling the playing field.
5. Don’t force the use of add-on technology.
There is enormous pressure on game developers by manufacturers to support every piece of add-on tech for a console, which is usually done at the expense of the game at hand. For example, not every game benefits from gesture-based input or 3-D TV support, and forcing it just takes resources away from the enhancement of the core game experience.
The message should be simple and focused: Tell consumers about the overall experience, as opposed to a long list of hardware specs, which most people wouldn’t connect with a superior gaming experience anyway.
Homepage photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
Henrik Markarian is the Director of Technology for AvatarLabs (on Twitter). A 20-plus-year veteran of the videogame industry, Henrik has held director-level positions at Mindscape and NovaLogic and was the co-founder and CEO of Starsphere Interactive. He’s worked on more than 30 published titles across numerous platforms, with a number of high-profile and award-winning titles including Black Hawk Down, Wing Commander, Mario Is Missing, You Don’t Know Jack and Star Trek.