Gaming: Are we ready for the next generation of consoles?

Computer gaming is often referred to in ‘generations’, with the current ‘big three’ – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii – marking the seventh iteration of home platform gaming. But with the world poised perilously close to economic meltdown, and with the ball rolling ever closer to the next generation with the Wii U, are we really ready for it?

Everyone likes shiny new things, of course, (as you can see from the concept images people have created of what the PS4 and Xbox 720 might look like above) but there’s a limit to how much money people have lying about for what is, effectively, a toy. The Wii U, the direct successor to the Wii, was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) earlier this year, and boasts a DS-like touch screen on its controller, as well as backwards compatibility with Wii accessories such as the infinitely popular balance board.

The game-changer which the Wii began with motion control has been jumped upon by the other two companies with Kinect and PlayStation Move. While each have made an impact on their consoles, the former a family-friendly technological leap forward offering finger tracking, voice recognition and full-body control, while the latter is a clone off the Wiimote in the shape of a rollerball deoderant, its unclear whether or not their release will increase the overall lifespan of the consoles as the companies would like. Both Sony and Microsoft have said they want the technologies to extend the lifespan for another five years, marking a half way point.

The release of the slimline version of both consoles also suggests that the companies are investing time in the platform, plus there have been enhancements to their online networks, expanding what is offered and improving security in the case of Sony, who hit the headlines earlier in the year after a hacking scandal.

The expansion of Xbox LIVE in particular suggests Microsoft increasingly want the Xbox to be a multimedia hub, with streaming TV from BBC iPlayer, 1080p films and music from the notoriously-tricky-to-set-up Windows Media Centre.

Digital media and downloads are having a big impact on gaming as a whole, with publishers trying to make as much money as they can from Downloadable Content (DLC) and trying to cash in on the pre-owned games market with Online Passes for games, which mean that part of the game isn’t playable without a code either provided with a new purchase or bought through LIVE or the PlayStation Network (PSN).

On top of that there’s the question of whether on-disc games will become redundant as the UK finally catches up with the rest of the world in terms of connection speeds and people begin downloading games more readily. Will the next consoles support games on USB? SD? Micro SD? or just downloads? How would you trade-in a download game?

The possibilities are baffling, but with retail currently struggling across the board, games shops are trying to do their best to push the pre-owned market, which has better profit margins, and selling more bundle deals for consoles with games, to avoid a price war on the high street.

Even the Wii U’s announcement reflects a lack of consumer confidence, with it bringing a lot over from the Wii (including its name) and acknowledging the amount people have invested in peripherals. Nintendo is in a different place to the other two companies though, since it has so much more gaming experience it has an awful lot of brand loyalty to trade on, and can effortlessly bring its customers on-board on the strength of their ‘Nintendo-ness’.

PS3 and Xbox still have a way to go to reach Nintendo’s pedigree, but there is no denying they are household names, and have offered top quality games for their case.

The rumour mill is currently grinding out that the next Xbox will be announced at E3 next year and released by next Christmas. The likelihood of this actually happening seems low, not least because of the recent releases of the 360 S and Kinect, but also that there is just not enough time to get excited about a new console. Still, there is plenty of speculation about what games might be slipping onto a new platform.

Whatever shape the un-announced eighth generation consoles take, it’s likely it will be a very different format than the one we are used to, in the meantime we will have to try to make the most of the countless offered across the currently available consoles.

The thing to remember is that you might not be able to take those trophies, achievements, or downloaded Rock Band songs with you to a new console, so make the most of them now.

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