Maybe I’m just too old, but for me the next generation of consoles will be the worst one yet. I don’t want it – and in the next 1200 words or so, I’ll tell you why.
This year’s E3 showed an industry on the brink; teetering delicately on an edge crafted by its own circular self-destruction, poised and seemingly desperate for new hardware. It was there of course, both in the shape of top-of-the-range PCs (see: Watch Dogs’ much-celebrated showcase) and almost certainly behind locked doors upstairs, out of the public’s (and the media’s) longing eyes.
Investors will have wanted to see what Sony and Microsoft were coming up with, and we know for a fact that the likes of Epic and Crytek have seen (and returned) spec sheets to the platform holders with a big red stamp across them that said ‘failed’ because – well, they’ve largely said so themselves. And developers? They’ll certainly know what they’re aiming at. Next-gen might not be in a piano-black box yet, but on paper and where it counts, it’s very much real.
But the public at large? Still no idea, and no amount of trivial ‘leaks‘ will make the slightest iota of difference because the PS4 and the successor to the Xbox 360 aren’t meant to be seen yet. Sony and Microsoft believe there’s life in the current dogs yet, and to them at least there was no real reason to showcase new hardware.[drop2]And me, personally? I’m more than grateful. I don’t want new hardware, not yet, and probably not for some time to come. It’s not that I fear change, or have concerns about the cost of the machines – I don’t, but I do feel that the industry is rapidly going in a direction that I simply don’t feel comfortable with.
The consoles themselves aren’t going to cost upwards of £400 again. That was a ridiculous move by Sony that only just managed to scrape past being a complete and utter disaster. The economy’s nothing like that now, and nobody’s got that kind of money to throw down on silicon.
My last big expenditure on gaming hardware was the Vita (which ended up costing me about £600 all in after a horrible importing experience) and I won’t be doing anything like that ever again.
But they aren’t likely to be a budget-friendly £250 either.
No, I think Microsoft’s $99 experiment with the subsidised, subscriber model will be the only way to buy. I think gamers will pick up a PS4 or Xbox 720 (for want of a better term) for around that same kind of level, but be forced into a two or three year payment plan that’ll nicely offset the initial cost but – ultimately – end up being a lot more once the deal is done.
Sony would be mad to skip the concept, even if the thought of being tied into a console doesn’t appeal to me one bit. They might not be charging for PSN now but it’s not hard to imagine that the currently evergreen PlayStation Plus won’t be central next gen – and that includes online play – and it’s not a particularly large stretch to see them shoehorning that into a long term monthly subscription that also sees the price of the hardware bundled in.
And as the price of games moves steadily upwards, normally bolstered by the annual Call of Duty look at me spectacular, so too does the apparently necessary evil of DLC and online passes. EA’s “project $10” worked so well that almost every publisher (including Sony) have jumped on board, and it’s now a struggle to buy a top tier game that doesn’t have a code in the box to activate some of its key features. And we all know what happens when the codes expire.
Next generation, this’ll start to include more and more single player aspects – of that I’m fairly sure – meaning that a good chunk of the second hand market will be affected. If you buy a game pre-owned be prepared to fork out more cash online to get the game up and running – we’ve seen this already with the likes of Codemasters, who bundle away better cars (and not just multiplayer) behind the now trendy pass system.[drop]But it’s not just the online passes and now seemingly mandatory day-one DLC, the latter of which makes me feel more and more uncomfortable every time it appears as publishers decide to throw in more and more perks, bonuses and extras alongside the game that we’ve already spent £50 on.
No, it’s the games themselves. This generation has seen pretty much every single first person shooter gloop together into one unrecognisable lump, each one practically indistinguishable from the other. I’m bored of chasing down the same corridors set in different countries fighting identical enemies that act like little more than cannon fodder.
It’s always the same, they’re always the same. And they’ll be the same next gen too.
I long for a return to more open shooters, but we’ll rarely see a game like Doom again and even when we get somewhere near, like the lovely BioShock, they’re few and far between. Publishers, and by extension the developers that are so closely tied, don’t want the risk of something bombing at retail just because it’s different. Next generation will bring CPUs capable of advanced physics and wonderful AI, but we’ll still be firing AK47s at dumb, spawning identikit enemies.
And I know – there’s online play, but that’s becoming more and more tied into subscription based deals to get the most out of the games. Call of Duty Elite’s the first, but others will follow, and before long (and almost certainly this next gen) the price you pay for a game will end up being about 50% of what you’ll pay in total.
And we’re all doing it now: Elite’s hugely popular, so we’ve only got ourselves to blame as the publishers continue down this route.
And then there’s the requirements for single player games to have a need to be signed in to some publisher’s arbitrary online portal that can’t cope with the initial demand and is subject to hacking attempts – both of which push the solitary player into nothing but error messages – Diablo III’s an obvious example, but it’s not alone.
Next-gen spec sheets will be nothing but resolutions and clock speeds.
They’re largely irrelevant to me – I don’t really care how many channels of sound I get beyond six, or how many pixels the system can offer when most publishers won’t get anywhere near because it’s more cost effective to re-use half a decade old engines and just repackage the visuals to suit whatever global crisis is currently unfolding.
Basically, we’re locked into another generation of the same old games packaged in ever more increasingly expensive boxes with ever more ways to make us spend money on stuff that should really be in the game. It didn’t used to be like this – £5 would buy you the full game back when I when I was a kid and – later – £30 would buy you a complete N64 or Dreamcast game.
But those days are over, as, it seems, is true risk taking from the publishers as game development gets perpetually more expensive. Watch Dogs might be a new IP but it’s one that’s in a familar genre and even so hardly represents the norm, which is now annual rehashes, reskins and remixes.
The number of games I’ve been truly excited for over the last few years is in single figures, and unless next gen really offers new ways to play (rather than new ways to pay) I’m not looking forward to this at all. But maybe I’m just too old.