It's has been hard to avoid the news if you frequent game sites, and also you'd have heard both the displeasure and hope of the coming generation. Between the Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, PS4, and Xbox One, we have a glimpse into what we can expect on the console front in the coming years. There are a number of Android related platforms, iOS and Mac, and of course, PC, but this is about the consoles right now.
Focusing on the home consoles, there are 3 distinct strategies: Family and Party, Social Sharing and Connectivity, and Intuitive Entertainment.
Nintendo wants you to play with your family and friends, parked on the sofa, and enjoying a traditional experience. There tout asynchronous play which can open up a new experience for Couch Social gaming. Being able to take play off the TV is one thing, but this is really a feature that is secondary to the social experience they want you to have when using the Wii U controller.
There's the off screen play, and second screen functionality. But neither of these are really that new and are additional features rather than selling points. That's not to say that people won't buy the console for these features, but the true difference presented by Nintendo is a new way to play multiplayer.
Sony are going a traditional route, but they are asking you to share. They want the user to create content, and they want this content accessible at all times. Whether that be streaming, social, or gaming, Sony want you to be a part of the connected PlayStation world.
There's a touch pad in the controller, there's also the Move. These are nice additions to some consumers, but they are pushing the console as a social environment and one that they want you to stay connected to.
Microsoft are asking to be your living room hub. The Xbox One will play games, it will stream movies and TV. You can use Bing, Skype and a host of other features. But what Microsoft want, is to be your one stop entertainment shop. The Xbox One is to control what you want and when you want it, and it's all of your entertainment positioned to be as accessible as always.
The Xbox One will have a host of online features, and it's expected to have a the strong Xbox Live service, but the console is more a more personal experience, although it offers social. It's a console that wants to provide your optimized service.
These are the big ideas, the ones that the console makers will be pitching to all of the gamers, and all of the consumers who are in the market for a new piece of equipment. But what do they really mean? What do they mean outside of all of the fluff?
The Wii U is a console that has 3rd Party support openly dropping away from it. It has been constantly called a console of inferior hardware. As a gamer, you would be hard pushed to find anything promising to be said about the console unless you talk to Nintendo early adopters.
This doesn't necessarily mean that it is bad, but it certainly doesn't inspire any confidence in the long term. Why would you put money into a console that is only going to seem very dated in the near future, or a console with little support outside of first party development?
A console, which although is connected, is still catching up to what we are used too, and that connectivity at some levels, clashes with some of the console's main selling points.
Would you invest knowing that you'll likely be buying mostly Nintendo developed titles? Outside of the very hardcore, Nintendo's titles can be a little off putting. You know what kind of experience to expect, and some gamers would have had their fill over the last 25 years or so.
The PlayStation 4 is a console that has no identity. A console that pushes a single button in the controller as the way to open up a new world. Sharing content is hot, but is it a progressive element, or is it simply doing what is working now? We won't stop sharing, it's natural, but should this almost standard feature be a selling point for your new hardware?
Outside of sharing, there is the streaming. At this point, little is known but what we do know is that streaming is not reliable. And it's not a case of simply getting a better internet connection. You will lose connection, have your connection drop to snail like pace, all of this happens now and will continue to happen. Sure, you can download stuff faster, but that isn't going to matter when you are looking to stream a gaming session where that drop of rate may seriously affect your experience.
So Sony are pitching features that are the norm, a long with features that are still unreliable for the general consumer.
The Xbox One is a console that has fragmenting services off the bat. The Kinect 2.0 features, ability to switch TV, movies and sports doesn't matter if you are outside the US. Even when these services do become more robust in the main markets like Europe, it still doesn't matter to South East Asians, South Americans or gamers in the Middle East.
Is this forward thinking? Is ignoring massively potential emerging markets the way to develop a console for the future of play?
There are a lot of unknowns with the console, like how it really will use used games and borrowed games, and how it will really connect to the internet once a day, and how these services will finally impact the user. But these are only ever going to be problems for a fraction of the world, because the Xbox One is an experience tailored made for you, as long as you're living in a big market.
What we can see, is that the console market is massively out of touch with what is happening in the world right now, and that is the speed of progress. Things are changing faster than ever before, with people becoming more technologically connected, as well as adopting earlier. We move fast, and don't dawdle. And we have little patience for old news.
These announcements coupled with the industry as it is right now, especially the AAA industry points to consoles just being unsuited for the world we live in today. They're too static, and will always be playing catch up. They're never going to be state of the art, because they always have R&D periods spanning years. The phone, tablet and PC market know this, and take it on by releasing progressive hardware for users who are ready for the next level. That doesn't mean that execution is perfect, but there are people expecting something new.
If not the model of the console, then perhaps its the heads that are pushing them, but the two combined are revealing that this form of play which has been enjoyed for such a long time, is a dinosaur, a relic of a world that existed 15 or so years ago.
I have been a console gamer for a long time, and it saddens me to say this. But it's right there. Regardless of the buzz that will come after launch, these consoles will be age faster than ever before. Your connected, social, all in one experience will be hobbling behind what is happening elsewhere.
There's always the argument regarding content, but unless licenses, game development costs, audience and sales can be guaranteed, then developers can go elsewhere. They already are.
I wanted to be excited, but it's hard to when you've seen it all before.