The State of the Console Union

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Since I’ll now be writing on a variety of topics outside of comic books, such as video games, I figured I’d serve up a bit of a primer; part personal history, part industry assessment and part prediction on the fast approaching next generation of home consoles.

Sony is holding a (not at all) super secretive press conference tomorrow (Feb. 20th), that all signs point to being the reveal of the “PS4”, so I thought now would be a good time to start saying good bye to this current (and longest) console generation.

- Personal history –

I joined this generation a bit late. True, I stood in line on launch day to buy a Wii, but I didn’t really join the HD generation until I picked up a second hand 360 a few years into its launch. All I used that 360 for was to play Symphony of the Night, a game I’ve played through at least 15 times in my life… so there wasn’t really much excitement for me attached to the “HD” experience. The first true HD game I really played through on that console was Bioshock, which Blew. My. Fucking. Mind.

bio

Holyshit,Ihavehadthisnightmarebefore!

I was suddenly sold on the HD generation…. Only to have my 360 RROD on me.

This kind of killed the passion.

Eventually I picked up another one, dabbled with a few games here and there, but mainly kept going back to the Wii anytime I wanted to play anything. I tend to gravitate towards 2-d games, rpg’s and of course, first party Nintendo titles, so outside of a few things on the 360 striking my fancy (Dead Rising, Lost Odyssey, Arkham Asylum/City, SSFIV) I still wasn’t really playing much.

Why? Well, as I said I enjoy the single player experience, and while I cut my teeth on Doom way back when it was released on floppy disc, I never really got into shooters outside of stuff like Goldeneye and Bioshock (hell, I’ve never even played a Halo game) – and this generation LOVES shooters. That’s pretty much the standard genre on the HD consoles. I am nothing short of absolutely contemptuous for anything that glorifies the military industrial complex so I never gave two wet farts about any Call of Duty game et. al, but even ignoring those it just seems as though every where you turn there is a new shooter hogging up the spotlight.

Generic_FPS

Shooty-shoot Brown Warfare Black Modern Jingoist War Ops 4
Nazi Zombie Warfare WAR

Sigh.

Eventually I decided to buy a PS3 as a bluray player, because watching films is something I do much more often than playing games. I decided on the PS3 just because as the added bonus it was also a Playstation, not because I really cared about any game in particular. However, thanks to Blurays and Netflix the PS3 soon became the main component to my home theater; I was using it every damn day basically and I started growing more and more fond of its simple elegance.

PS3_xmb360 dash

For instance, I could turn it on and I wouldn’t see a huge advertisement for Lady Gaga (or whatever the flavor of the month was) like I did on the Xbox. The theme to the main OS interface is simple and calming. The XMB is easy to navigate and concise – it just felt like more of a high-end AV component than a game console. Since it was being used every day, I eventually started buying games for it. I haven’t turned on my 360 since.

The PS3 is now my go-to console of choice. I’ll be purchasing any multi-platform games for it just due to the fact that it’s the console I enjoy using more. I’m not trying to reveal my fanboy-ism here (if anything, I’m a bit of a Nintendo fanboy) – because I do not irrationally hate the 360 – I think it is a badass console in all technical regard and I’ll still buy games for it in the future, I’m sure… we just had a falling out is all. I feel like a jilted lover.

Being an old-school, pretty hard-core Nintendo fan (I’ve owned every Nintendo console and still consider some of their first party games to be the pinnacles of the medium) I’m still not convicted enough to buy a WiiU. I get it and I think it has some potential, but honestly, I’ll wait for the first price drop and a sizable stable of games to build up before I jump in. I feel bad for Ninty, I really do, because I see the industry and third part publishers giving them the shaft yet again – it is quite sad to see the best game company in the world slowly grow into irrelevance.

I hope they get some really great killer Apps on WiiU and start to turn it around, but at this point I just don’t see it being anything but a third place horse in the upcoming race. I wish it weren’t true, but it probably will be.

maudlin iwata

Don’t look so down, sunshine!

- Industry Assessment –

So here we are in 2013 and we have amazingly sophisticated technology at our disposal to create fantastic worlds and tell unique stories in unique ways that you cannot achieve through other mediums -but what do we actually reap from all this endless resource? A poverty of ideas… rehashed sequels of brown and grey and red – plenty of red. We obviously love guns, violence and post-apocalyptic, war-torn landscapes. That seems to be a fairly damning comment upon our collective psyche, but if really considered, not a surprising comment in the least.

The industry is in a precarious place currently, where a studio can go out of business producing one game, even if the game sells well. The astronomical production costs have moved the games industry more in line with the film industry, where gargantuan budgets for production and marketing make it nearly impossible for studios to earn a profit back from their output unless it becomes a huge, blockbuster hit.

What’s worse is that a film generally takes a few weeks to create, whereas a game can take years. This puts a lot of developers and creators in very dire straits, banking years of work and bills onto a single release that, if not hugely successful could bankrupt the studio and put everyone out of work. If a smaller studio gets a wonderfully large publisher to push their game out it can make matters worse; their endless marketing dollars can suddenly double the return needed to make the project profitable. Add to that the IP suddenly isn’t entirely owned by the original studio any longer and it is a nightmarish situation for most to be in – loose your studio and the rights to your creation; almost ensuring you receive no further recompense for all perpetuity.

In other words – dark times my friends and only growing darker still, it seems. More power means bigger teams and bigger budgets –so the “AAA” titles are a precarious play indeed.

However – what was the big paradigm shift that occurred this generation which levels it all back out? Digital downloads of course! XBLA, PSN and the Wii shop gave developers the opportunity to not only resell their back catalog games and get them into the hands of new players, but also, allowed them to create small, odd games that could be created by small teams for small budgets. Some of the best games I’ve played (or replayed) this gen have been downloadable titles. With internet speeds growing faster and HDD space becoming cheaper things should only improve on this front. Which is a nice segue into the final chapter of this boring nonsense I’ve been typing.

- My predictions for the upcoming generation -

A heavier reliance on streaming content services for video and now – games, is a must in my opinion. In fact, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that with the PS4 announcement comes Sony revealing that what they finally plan to use Gaikai for is streaming their back catalog, essentially giving the PS4 full backwards-compatibility with the troublesome to reproduce PS3 cell processor based games.

In addition to that I think Sony will get away from difficult and proprietary-like processors and equip the PS4 with a more standard set up, in fact I think it has been common knowledge for a while that the leaked specs are pretty accurate.

I think Microsoft will put a lot of effort into their new version of Kinect (Kinect is another big reason I stopped using my 360 – that goddamned last E3 was just painful) and the windows 8 type interface they’re almost certain to have on the next X-Box. Which in my mind, is a misstep and will drive some people away, just as I was driven away by their constant need to shove shitty advertisements and Facebook and Kinect bullshit down my throat this generation. If they focus on a big, interactive Windows 8 type interface on their upcoming console, you can almost bet it will be littered with advertisements and paywalls out the yazoo.

Advertisements and social media is a big deal breaker for me when it comes to my console experience – I want to be left alone while I’m using my big expensive piece of AV equipment and have an experience tailored to my personal tastes.

buyer beware

Which brings us to the general online experience of this coming generation – as I said, I’m not really into shooters and henceforth, I’m not really into online gaming. Every now and then I’ll dabble, but really, I’m just after the single player experiences. So, if X-box continues to charge people to play online and watch Netflix, get demos, etc. then I’ll avoid their console right out of hand. Microsoft needs to take a page from Sony and IF they do require a subscription to do those sorts of things, then they need to also offer what Playstation offers in regards to its PS plus membership. Free games make all that other shit worth it – even, if like on the PS3, they’re not really free and you’re only renting them.

It still makes the service worth it. I’m going to go home and download Vanquish tonight – for free on my PS3. I mean shit, come on!

Add that into tons of discounts and other random freebies and you have a service I’m willing to pay a yearly fee for without feeling like some cuckold. If Microsoft doesn’t step up their game with their next version of Live then it could really hurt them in the long run.

In the end the following few points will really tell us who is offering the most compelling next-gen experience:

- Exclusive games / first party content

- The overall online experience

- Ease of development

- 3rd party apps and game support

Raw power won’t matter, neither will brand identity – I really think it is anyone’s game, but I’m honestly ready to call it a win for Sony this next gen, because if we take those above points on one by one it seems Sony may either trump, or at the very least, match, Microsoft in all categories.

Or in the case of first party software they just destroy Microsoft.

If Sony launches first and at a not-totally-bat-shit-insane launch price then they may regain their market supremacy very soon.

Either way it will be an interesting ride and I’ll be too busy playing Bioshock Infinite for the 100th time, so what do I care.

If you’re into that sort of thing, be sure to check out Sony’s press conference tomorrow and we’ll see if the next generation is indeed underway.

Edit: I’m going to speculate a bit more and say that the base price of the PS4 will be $399.99 – hopefully the next Xbox starts there as well.

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One response »

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Multi-Platform Games of the 7th Console Generation | Comics Astonish

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