The Xbox One and the Playstation 4 Could Be Bad for Gaming
Before you read any further, I’d like you to know that I think that both the PS4 and Xbox One are going to be good consoles- they’ll both be region free, and neither will require a 24/7 connection to the Internet. They’ll have stronger hardware than the current generation of consoles- and, to be honest, not much else.
What’s coming with the new generation of consoles? More processing power, that’s certain- more RAM, improved graphics, and, inevitably, neat new games that take advantage of this technology. That’s the problem. I think it would be a slap in the face of the hard working developers to say that there’s no innovation involved in the next-gen consoles- much thought and design went into making them and their components, but in themselves I don’t think that the consoles themselves are particularly innovative. They’re pretty much improved versions of the consoles from the last generation- what makes them so special?Sure, they’ve given developers some extra room to work with, and they’ll inevitably take advantage of the hardware to pull off spectacular things- but most of those things will wind up being things that could’ve been accomplished on the last generation’s hardware on a smaller scale. Evolutionary hardware growth encourages evolutionary software development. That, in turn, causes a sort of stagnation- innovation winds up getting slowed down.
This isn’t to say that evolutionary growth is going to tear apart gaming as we know it- this sort of advancement moves the industry forward, albeit glacially. It doesn’t really foster new experiences- that’s why revolutionary changes are just as important to gaming as the evolutionary. The revolutionary changes I speak of are those that create entirely new experiences- it could be argued that the Oculus Rift is as much a revolutionary piece of hardware as it is an incredible evolution of virtual reality. I suppose you could think of it as the Gyarados to the Magikarps of VR out there (we’re looking at you, Virtual Boy). But back to the topic, look at the tremendous reaction the public has had to the Oculus Rift- VR was at one point considered to be a revolutionary technology, but hit an evolutionary dead-end until the Oculus came around.
What sort of revolutionary changes could a next-gen console bring about? I couldn’t tell you- I haven’t been busy designing a next-gen console. The revolutionary changes that keep developers- and the industry as a whole- on it’s collective toes are those that provide new challenges and new canvases to work with. It seems that the less a developer has to work with, the more creative the end results. There are a pair of good examples of this- the first is from the beginning of the gaming industry when arcades were a booming business. Look at all the different styles of games that came into existence during that time- platformers, fighting games, shmups- what sort of games were developers making? Back then, new genres were being born. Nowadays, it seems that a new genre is born, sometimes, through revolutionary-evolutionary means, such as the MOBA genre. Check out the wonderful DotA 2 timeline below from PC Gamer- it started as a large change to Starcraft and eventually changed, got refined, and became it’s own game, spawning a genre.
The other way that revolutionary change comes about today is when developers feel free to experiment- look at the Ludum Dares. Developers are given a small amount of time to make a game that fits a certain theme- the results have proven impressive. Interestingly enough, most of the games created in Ludum Dares will run on ordinary hardware- my terrible laptop has a great time running most of the entries- so while fancy, expanded, polished HD versions of these LD games would be awesome, and could take advantage of evolutionary hardware, the games themselves would simply be improved versions of their original concepts, which in themselves were revolutionary.
At the end of the day, the Xbox One and PS4 aren’t at all bad hardware – imagine the creative things that can be done with their evolved hardware, the expansion and refining of software born of revolution- it can be grand. The issue is the attitude around the X1 and PS4. Look at the tech demo below:
Was that tech demo a bad thing? By no means. It’ll be awesome to have more photorealistic characters in video games, but what did you notice about that demo? It focused on technicalities, which, while important, mostly push evolutionary growth- improving existing experiences instead of creating new ones. That’s the attitude that seems to surround the new generation of consoles. It’s important for developers to think seriously about how they can improve the experiences they bring to the table- that’s how a medium grows- but it’s just as important to bring something new to the table.
There’s a second attitude that’s bad for the industry, and it’s the idea that these incremental, evolutionary changes that happened to consoles are revolutionary and game-changing, when these new consoles are just better versions of their predecessors. This second attitude continues to feed the first- thus developers who think it’s best to rely solely on refined versions of old formulas will continue to do so for as long as consumers think that these incremental improvements are revolutionary.
At the end of the day, I’m going to wind up with next-gen consoles in my living room. I think it would be stupid to tell people not to buy them- they’re good pieces of machinery, and they’ll needed if you want to keep playing new games on a console. That being said, the best thing that the public can do is to change its attitude- it’s best to look at a piece of hardware or a game and consider what it really brings to the table- is it something new and innovative? Will it improve the overall experience, and does it set itself apart as special? A while back, I purchased a Kinect, and don’t regret that purchase at all. The Kinect improved my experience with my Xbox 360- there’s nothing quite as fun as barking commands at my Xbox in order to make it do something. The idea behind Kinect isn’t exactly new- the PS2 had the Eyetoy, and I’m pretty sure that Sega might’ve tried something similar a long time ago. The point is, the change with Kinect was revolutionary. It’s unfortunate that such good hardware got used for so many terrible gimmicks and shovelware- hopefully Kinect on the new Xbox will be put to better use by developers. That, however, is again dependent on the attitudes of the consumer. It may be necessary to show that there is demand for innovative games. Consumers vote with their wallets- those votes got Microsoft to take their terrible DRM scheme that they had in mind away from the Xbox One.
Hopefully, consumers will vote for innovation and revolution when the time comes, regardless of the platform it appears on.