Culture

Game-Changer: The Next Generation of Gaming

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I’m not quite ready to part ways with my Xbox 360. The box has been an integral part of my living room, towed through eight residences in as many years. In that time, it has grown, developed, and matured much as I have. Years of updates, upgrades, and expansions have turned it into an entirely different machine than the one I first purchased.

Comparing a launch title like Perfect Dark Zero to this year’s stunning Grand Theft Auto V makes it hard to believe that each belongs to the same generation of hardware. The leaps and bounds that developers have been able to take with the console over its eight year lifespan have kept the experience fresh.

Perhaps that is why so few people are seriously considering a next generation console purchase this holiday season. From IGN:

In a limited poll surveying 1,297 people, 64% of respondents stated they would not buy new video game hardware this holiday season, according to Reuters. This includes, of course, next-generation consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as Nintendo’s upcoming 2DS or Valve’s recently revealed Steam Machines.

The minor interest in next-gen gaming points to something else emphasized in the poll: The games respondents most desire are non-exclusive, third-party sequels that, in many cases, will release on current hardware. Call of Duty: Ghosts Assassin’s Creed 4, Madden NFL 25, Battlefield 4 topped the interest list, alongside GTA 5.

Games drive the market more than hardware. Indeed, thinking back on my early adoption of the Xbox 360, it provided very little value at first. When a new generation of hardware launches, the first wave of games typically fumble while developers explore what the new hardware can do. Dead Rising, an early zombie-slaying title for the Xbox 360, was little more than a tech demo for how many unique characters could be rendered on-screen. The gameplay, in retrospect, seems pretty terrible.

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That said, the upcoming generation promises some revolutionary advances in how games are experienced, controlled, developed, and run. Once developers cut their teeth on the new hardware, upgrading to a new console will make a lot more sense.

While the Playstation 4 currently has the lion’s share of public interest, the consoles to watch long-term are the Xbox One and new living room machines running Valve’s upcoming Steam OS. The literal game-changers on these platforms will emerge as unpredictable innovations, upgrades, and expansions.

The Xbox One will benefit from its evolving cloud service, which not only enables online storage but augmented processing power. The latter likely played a large role in Microsoft’s initial insistence that all Xbox Ones maintain an internet connection. Doing so would have enabled them to treat the platform as a cloud client device whose capabilities scaled up with increased cloud augmentation.  Alas, all that sounds like gobbledygook to the average consumer who perceives “always-on” as an arbitrary restriction rather than a beneficial feature. Nevertheless, games released later in the console’s lifecycle will likely require an internet connection because they will rely upon the cloud’s processing power.

Steam OS offers even greater possibilities. A convergence of the gaming console and the personal computer, Valve looks to deliver the best of both worlds, blending the accessibility of a gamepad in the living room with the customization and open development of a computer. Built from Linux, itself an open-source operating system, Steam OS threatens the business models of Microsoft and Sony by blowing open the content pipeline and offering open-source development unprecedented on consoles.

Thankfully, Microsoft intends to continue supporting the Xbox 360 for three years beyond the release of Xbox One. Sony no doubt has a similar timeline in mind for development overlap. That will enable developers and gamers alike to squeeze every last bit of use out of the current platforms while the new consoles get on their feet. Certainly, within those three years, the promise of cloud-powered gaming and open-source development will have begun to pay off enough to justify swinging to the next vine.