Opinion: What Will Be This Generation’s Legacy?

How will history remember these consoles?

This week’s news about PS4 dev kits wasn’t really shocking to anyone. Whether you want a new generation or not, and I’m still on the fence on that issue, new consoles are bearing down on us. Hell, before the month’s out Nintendo will have sparked the next generation with the launch of the Wii U. With that deadline fast approaching maybe it’s time to take a look at this generation and the legacy it leaves.

[drop]It seems to me that the games industry deals in legacies more than any other medium right now, perhaps because it’s the youngest by quite some margin. Regardless of what they do id’s legacy will always be first-person shooters, it’s what they brought to the industry and what everyone knows them for. Even if they came out tomorrow and released the greatest RPG the world’s ever seen, there’s no way they can change it – their legacy was secured twenty years ago when Wolfenstein 3D arrived.

You can say similar things about Infinity Ward and modern military shooters, or about Polyphony and sim racers. These companies didn’t necessarily create these genres, but they codified them and set off the spark that sent them skyrocketing. Although it might seem a little like typecasting these developers, only a handful of companies get to have this sort of legacy and it’s something to be proud of.

It’s not just companies or games that get to have this sort of legacy, I feel that consoles and generations do as well. Look at the third generation of consoles and the way they established 2D platformers. Yes, they’d certainly existed before the Master System and the NES but it was those machines that somehow caused an explosion of the genre, that pushed it to the forefront.

The PlayStation and N64 get similar credit for the way they established 3D console games. This wasn’t necessarily the best thing for the industry as it seemed to almost entirely destroy 2D games, I’d argue that they’re only really coming back now, but it certainly established a legacy for those consoles and earned their place in history.

The question I want to ask is what is the legacy this generation of gaming will leave us with? Perhaps it’s too hard to see it right now, that we’re too close to it still, but I’m finding it hard to pick just one.

Will it be the establishment of consoles as truly multimedia machines? Oh sure, the PS2 certainly sold a lot of units due to its ability to play DVDs but I feel this generation is where the consoles really exploded. Not only did the the PS3 manage to emulate the PS2’s success with the inclusion of the Blu-ray drive but the time was right for an explosion of streaming media.

It’s worth remembering that when the Xbox 360 launched YouTube was less than a year old, and was only 21 months old when the PS3 and Wii arrived. That’s how far streaming has come over the course of this generation, with the world going from close to nothing to an almost ridiculous variety of services over the past seven years.

[drop2]We’re all aware of the way in which consoles have capitalised on these services, and how they’ve used them to try and fulfil the promise of being the only box you need underneath your TV. They’re certainly not there yet, but the way things have taken of this them around must make it a candidate for the legacy this generation leaves us with.

Alternatively perhaps motion gaming will be what these consoles are most remembered for. Whether the memory of such games is positive or negative is still to be seen, but it does seem like a factor that may stick with us. When the Wii launched it seemed like a bit of a joke but now every console sports its own flavour of motion support, even if they aren’t always the best things in the world.

Even with the negativity that often surrounds Kinect or Move titles it seems almost certain that we’ll be seeing the next iterations of these technologies when new consoles launch. The real question is whether newer technology will be enough of a push to keep them as part of gaming for a few generations, something I think seems fairly likely. As long as they remain an option rather than the standard I think they’ll be accepted, and may ultimately thrive.

For me though I think it has to be online services that will be the real legacy of this generation. I’m bundling together multiplayer and downloadable games here as Xbox Live and PSN cover both under the same umbrella. These services really do seem like the main thing that will be taken forwards and expanded on in the next generation, and are probably the defining feature of the generation that’s been there since the off.

We’ve had endless debate about whether PSN or Xbox Live provides the better service but in the end it doesn’t really matter, we need both of them. The two services force each other to innovate and push them to be better, and hopefully the Wii U will see Nintendo enter into that fight as well. Regardless of how the services continue to grow though, it was this generation that really got the ball rolling on online gaming, even if the last one did make some steps towards it.

Ultimately whatever this generation will be remembered for I think it will be seen as a crucial point in the history of games. So much has changed since Xbox 360 launched seven years ago, and the sheer volume of innovation we’ve seen has certainly earned the current crop of consoles a legacy of some kind, the only question is what?

63 Comments

  1. PS3 gave me my 1st access to the web, and with that, UNLIMITED PORN!!
    Thank you Sony;p

    • In fact, I’m going 4 a monkey-spank now ;)

  2. I will always remember this generation as the generation that people wanted to be the next generation before it even got started… Seems like its been at least 3 years that everyone has been banging on about nextbox and ps4.

  3. The high end PCs I’ve seen do have that much RAM for the CPU alone. Try looking these things up before replying next time.

    I’ll even go and find some links for you if you need proof.

    • The comment above is a direct response to Sympozium and The Lone Steven.

    • PC’s often come with a Microsoft Operating System so it makes sense to have a lot more memory. However, hopefully Sony will give the PS4 decent (amounts of) memory so we can avoid the problems it’s faced this generation.

      • and as a result they get hacked to death all the time.

      • I wasn’t commenting on the hacking just how much RAM a PS4 might require compared to a suitably specced PC. :-)

        The PS3’s managed to avoid heavy piracy for years. Only until fairly recently have things turned slightly sour and even then, figures are still very rosey for keep piracy down to a minimum.

  4. In addition to my previous comment, this generation’s overlong lifespan also saw me buy repeated updates of the same console.

    I know that updated, cheaper iterations have appeared in earlier generations but I think this was the first time people seemed to think they were more attractive than the virtually identical console they already had… Perhaps the extended length of the generation contributed to that as people wanted something new, even if it wasn’t particularly new in reality.

  5. The slow and painful death of local multiplayer. It might be that games are now more “socially acceptable” but clearly developers have tried their damn hardest to not let this be the case.

  6. The popularity of gaming surpassing every other entertainment medium (value wise)?

  7. PS + & cross buy best things from this gen imo.

  8. Nolan North!

    • it’s funny because it’s true. ^_^

  9. Nice article, for me this generation will be remembered for online gaming. COD4 welcomed me to it and I enjoy it more than the SP in most games.

    Patches/updates though is sadly what I will remember as bad times. And sloppy game design.

  10. It’s got to be the generation that delivered online multiplayer gaming to the masses hasn’t it?

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