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?