Thursday, 9 May 2013

Next Gen Console Blues

Game consoles and their sizes

This year is poised to be the year of the next generation game consoles. We’ve already seen the Wii U released at the end of last year; the PlayStation 4 was sort of announced a couple of months ago; and the next generation Xbox (the Zbox?) will be announced shortly on the trail of many a leak. The question is, which would be the one to get?
Upon the release of the previous generation of consoles I said here the Wii was the most interesting one, and I think I was right. Its controller was the main bit of news from that (this) generation, and follow-ups in the shape of the Kinect clearly point the finger as well as the rest of the body towards the shape of things to come. Alas, the Wii U is a disappointment: loaded with painful DRM that deters me from moving ahead from my Wii, lacking in games I can’t already get on my PS3, and now seeming to lack the grunt required for future games like Mass Effect 4.
The PlayStation 4 is off my list, too. By now I have accumulated too many reasons for hating Sony, and with the PS4 lacking backwards compatibility I see no reason to remain loyal.
Which leaves the Xbox. While I cannot be said to adore Microsoft, I don’t mind them at all when they have a good product on their hands; in the case of this new Xbox, that seems to be the case. The Zbox is rumored to come armed with the next version of the Kinect, as well as the strongest hardware around (that is, better hardware than the PS4; that's the opposite of the current state of affairs between the PS3 and the Xbox 360). There was controversy regarding the requirement for an always on Internet connection, but this week a Microsoft leak (undoubtedly deliberate) stated the Zbox will not require an always on Internet connection for the sake of performing tasks that should not need the Internet. Amongst such tasks they listed the likes of single player gaming or Blu-ray viewing (with the latter being a new feature to the Xbox world).
It therefore appears as if the Xbox is the winner.

Or is it? It could just be that there is simply no winner amongst this upcoming generation of consoles.
For a start, unlike previous console generations, the gap between the upcoming one and the current one is not going to be that big. For example, the PS3 is already capable of 1080P gaming; the PS4, therefore, will only offer marginal improvement. That is the reason the current generation has been around longer than its predecessors, and that is also the reason why I am going to wait with my purchasing decision until the next game I cannot do without is released only on the new generation of consoles. That game will probably be called Mass Effect 4.
More importantly, the console makers are trying to use this new console generation to achieve certain goals I consider unethical. It is already known Microsoft patented the upcoming Kinect to be able to count the number of people watching stuff in the room so as to charge more if it deems too many are around. It’s not only ludicrous theft from our pockets in the name of the holy copyright, it is a gross invasion of our privacy. And how long would it take before the same camera is hacked to allow anyone who wants a view of our living rooms?
The next piece of evil dealing is the attempt to use the new consoles in order to eradicate the existence of a second hand games market. Already too many games (did I say Mass Effect?) rely on single use codes to certain features in order to reduce the attraction of used games. However, now we are talking about taking things further, which – together with piracy - is the whole point of the “always on” Internet debate. Sadly, the lack of a market for used games would severely damage my gaming: I often buy games because I know I can easily sell them when I’m tired of them or if I don’t like them. Then there is the whole aspect of second hand games driving prices down to the benefit of all consumers. Most importantly, I consider it a basic right to be able to do with my stuff as I see fit, and I refuse to let some company dictate what I can and cannot do with stuff that’s mine. IKEA would never dream of telling me what to do with one of its chairs once I buy it, so why should Sony and Microsoft regard themselves eligible to the task?

Perhaps the alternative lies in abandoning the console market altogether and going back “home” to the PC. In PC land I can build whatever machine I fancy (albeit at probably double the cost of a new console, if not more); I can also enjoy cheaper games. By now I can easily connect any PC to my TV, too.
I see myself having two issues with the PC option. First, I do not like Windows and all the messing around that is required around maintaining a Windows PC (and Windows 8 is particularly awful). Second, PC games are still, and for understandable reasons, keyboard/mouse oriented. Me, when I do my gaming, I like to sprawl on the sofa, not sit on my office chair huddled on top of a keyboard. The experience is simply not the same (note I do not claim it to be inferior, just different).
On the other hand, all my problems could be solved instantly if Mass Effect 4 – and for that matter, all future games – would be released on the existing generation of consoles as well as the future one. But what are the chances of that happening?

26/5/2013 update: Now that the Xbox One has been officially declared, we seem to know it is actually inferior in hardware to the PS4 (see here). We also know it would be mutilated in Australia because non of its live TV features are going to work here. Then again, who watches live TV anymore? The Xbox would be mutilated everywhere. Concerns regarding always on Internet and the demolishing of the used games market still very much exist despite some weak denials.

Image by hsuyo, Creative Commons license

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