One of the nicest things about this console generation has been the lack of concern over the next generation. At the very least it demonstrates that the industry isn’t entirely insane. Microsoft might have put the original Xbox to bed too quickly, but at least its successor, the 360, has been in it for the long haul. Game consoles are damn expensive, and it is a nice feeling to be able to go several years worrying only about what games you want to buy next, rather than how you will be able to afford another “investment” of several hundred dollars.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before some writer decided it was time to declare this generation dead, and this small essay is one of the first pieces I have seen so far. To be fair, it is mostly harmless – the writer is clearly basing his sentiments on the notion that, since most console lifecycles are five years long, the Xbox 360 has to be shown the door. He also believes in the notion that better hardware will lead to better games.
The problem is that, as many writers have pointed out, this current generation is atypical in a lot of ways. The technology has allowed these consoles to be updated and expanded with relative ease, and support for hard drives means that certain issues, like the lack of space on DVDs, can be mitigated by the use of digital downloads. There’s also the simple fact that after so many years, a lot of the issues facing console design have been solved. There are no more funky controller designs to iron out, and no seriously creaky online infastructures.
But the most important difference in this generation is cost. In the typical “five year” cycle, the “old” console is incredibly inexpensive, and development costs are reduced. The Playstation 2 is a model example of this trend. Today, in 2010, none of the three major consoles are readibly available at under $200. Niche developers like Atlus a nd Nippon Ichi are only just beginning to venture into HD game development. For both the producers and consumers, the current generation is still too costly to abandon. When development studios are closing left and right because their game failed to be a multi-million seller, there is no way we can expect the industry at large to be able to shoulder the costs of making bigger, more detailed games.
This leads to my last gripe – technology isn’t a cure all. Faster hardware would help big, open world games run smoother, but that’s problably not would it would be used for. Instead, developers would be tempted to make bigger, more open worlds which would once again run at choppy framerates. Not to mention that if your game gets bigger, you’ll have that many more bugs to deal with, and you will have to generate that much more scripting, dialogue, and art assets. In other words, the future of gaming is not limited to hardware alone. Good, reliable algorithms, reusable code and APIs, and proven methods will be critical in the future. If only more of the people covering this hobby of ours would bother to familiarize themselves with such concepts.
When all is said and done, I am frustrated by this essay, because it is a fantastic example of how modern news outlets don’t merely exist to report on what goes on, but must also try and create news in order to keep the content flowing. New consoles would give rise to plenty of rumors to speculate on, in turn allowing these sites to continue reporting on the industry without actually having knowledge about it. What they wouldn’t do is help the gaming industry, which already feels like it is on the verge of financial collapse.