Why new consoles would be a bad thing. Viva la PS3 and Xbox 360!
Australia, November 26, 2009 - Normally by this stage in a console generation's lifespan, we'd have at least one eye trained on the consoles around the corner. Not so this time. Nope, this time there are just too many compelling reasons why the PS3 and Xbox 360 (we're not including the Wii in this particular debate) should hang around for several more years at the least. We've jotted down the ten we think are most salient.
Remember the (not so) good old days when you bought a console and you pretty much knew what it could do from the outset? The PS2, for instance, could play music, DVD movies and games… and that was about it. Sure, later in its life you could get a network adapter to take it online, and it had all sorts of peripherals (guns, microphones, guitars) that helped evolve what it was capable of, but really, the system's functionality didn't change a great deal from picking it up on the store shelf to retiring it to the back of the cupboard.
Fast forward to the PS3 and Xbox 360 – systems that are permanently net-connected and that have decent storage capabilities (unless you own the Xbox 360 Arcade, in which case – go buy a 120GB HDD for it now) – and it's a completely different story. Think about how these systems have changed and are continuing to change. Since the PS3 launched, for instance, its multimedia functionality has become a whole lot more flexible – it now supports far more video formats than it originally did. Its online service has also improved drastically, with revamped friends lists, redesigned Store interfaces and other changes, while all sorts of other things have been added over time – the trophy system, the ability to play PSone games downloaded from the PlayStation Store, upscaling PSone games, PS2 games and DVD videos, XMB functionality, and so on. And then there are services that have been introduced, like VidZone – streaming music video clips on demand, and PlayTV, which turns your PS3 into a Personal Video Recorder.
As for the Xbox 360, well we've seen regular updates to the system's front end since its inception. 1080p video output was added, the Marketplace got its own blade, Windows Live Messenger functionality was integrated in, and then we had the 'New Xbox Experience' which was a major dashboard overhaul, introducing avatars and the ability to install games to HDD, as well as a new GUI. Plus, while the system may not play Blu-ray discs, it has been trying to keep up in terms of SD and HD video content. 1080p streaming has now launched in a number of territories including Australia, while the U.S. has had a decent video marketplace for ages. Throw in Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm integration and the system's functionality is almost unrecognisable.
It already costs a fair sack of cash to make a blockbuster title for PS3 or Xbox 360. The number of man hours that goes into the creation of something like GTA IV, Modern Warfare 2 or Uncharted 2 is insane, and total development costs can run from millions to tens of millions. And that's before you even start marketing and manufacturing it. Development costs have been steadily rising since the industry's inception, but with each new console generation it typically jumps, as all sorts of research is required to get up to speed on the new hardware, while with each new level of visual fidelity expected, asset creation takes longer and costs more. Generational jumps tend to represent significant changes, after all. A character that would have been comprised of a couple of thousand polygons on PS2 or Xbox for instance, jumps up to tens of thousands on PS3 or Xbox 360. It's important to note, however, that progress obviously doesn't stop within a generation - a car in Forza Motorsport 3 has ten times as many polygons as a car in Forza 2, for instance. The use of the hardware will always improve, but as soon as you jump to new hardware, the ground starts shaking beneath developers' feet and there's a heap if shoring up that needs to be done before things settle down, and that costs money.
The upshot is that while many developers and publishers are already reluctant to take risks with PS3 and 360 games (because blockbusters cost so much to make), a new generation of consoles would require an even more significant investment, and you can bet that we'll see a lot of licensed games and paint-by-numbers titles initially. Conversely, the longer a system is on the market, the more streamlined development becomes and the more viable fringe titles become. After all, the bigger the install base, the more mega niches are likely to form.
Just as development costs have been rising ever since videogames came into being, so too has the length of time it takes to develop a triple A title. The resources required are staggering, and as soon as you move to new hardware, the longer it's going to take to make an ambitious title. It already takes two to three years to make a great PS3 or Xbox 360… who wants to wait four to five years for GTA V?
3D is undoubtedly going to be one of the most significant changes to gaming over the next few years, and the good news is we don't need new gaming hardware to do it! The PS3 in particular seems poised to be a leading light in this area, as Sony will have the 3D TV range to really show off the capabilities of 3D gaming, and is being quite vocal in this area. Sony's Kaz Hirai recently stated that: "Next year, in tandem to the Sony 3D TV product launch, PS3 also plans to launch 3D game titles, not just first-party, but we're also actively supporting third-party 3D software development." The timeline for the system is for all PlayStation 3 consoles to be upgraded with firmware adding support for 3D by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011. That is HUGE news. Whether it will be backwards compatible or not, the PS3 will be set for all new titles moving forward to support it. 3D is going to change the gaming landscape and that sexy black box (or cheap-looking black box if you have a Slim) under your TV has the hardware partners and the data throughput to do it all at 1080p.
The future is not so certain for the Xbox 360. Sure, there are 3D titles being created for the system, such as Avatar (which is also coming to PC and PS3 in 3D), but how well the system will handle 240hz 1080p 3D and how consolidated Microsoft's approach to the technology will be, remains to be seen.
There are other big things on the horizon for the PS3 and Xbox 360 aside from 3D. Yes, we're talking about the PS3 Wand and Natal. How much they'll change the landscape is obviously debatable, but the point is that in the right hands they'll help reinvent how we interact with our consoles and our games. As mentioned earlier, this is a generation of machines that will never grow stagnant – it's a constant evolution of functionality; a constant process of redefining what gaming is.
While gamers still crave games with graphics that'll make their eyes bleed, the reality is that with each console generation the scope of gaming gets broader. Take a look at the PS3 and Xbox 360's catalogue and you'll find whole categories of games where hardware power/visuals are largely irrelevant. Do cutting edge graphics matter when you're playing Guitar Hero? How many fantastic games are there available for the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade where addictive gameplay takes precedence over visual sophistication?
And you know what? We've already got pretty amazing graphical capabilities for the current gen machines. We're really now at the point where it's artistry and art direction that makes games stand out, and we don't need another set of consoles to make the most of that kind of talent.
Technophiles have been blathering on about convergence for many many years now, but in some areas it's becoming a reality. Think about it. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 can pretty much act as the heart of your home entertainment set-up now. Both systems can link in to your home PC network, enabling you to stream all sorts of content through them, plus you can stream music video clips and free to air TV through your PS3, and TV/movies through your 360. It's also a breeze to show friends photos on PS3 and watch Blu-rays, while 360 can be quite a social experience, thanks to text and video chatting, and the party system. Both consoles now support some degree of social networking functionality too.
The question is – once you've got all this configured nicely; you're tuned into your home network, you've bought PlayTV and you've loaded up your consoles with music, photos etc., why would you want to upgrade to a new system? And that's not even factoring in all those PSN/XBLA games, purchased movies and achievement points/trophies you're going to be kissing goodbye.
With gaming more of a mainstream entertainment form than ever before, it's important to have a period of system stability. Why make things more complicated than they need to be? Why splinter the market? We're bringing all these new people into the fold, so let's give them some time to get comfortable.
But this isn't just an important point for gaming noobs – it makes sense for core gamers too. As we've already discussed, gaming and console functionality is still changing at a good pace, only now we don't have to invest in an all new box to take advantage of it. The PS3 and Xbox 360 have both really hit their stride, with truly compelling reasons to own them and a steady stream of great games being released. Let's ride this wave for a bit longer.
Look, games are expensive enough as it is; the idea of building a war chest for a couple more consoles makes us cry a little inside. We're happy with our present systems and the games coming to them. We're happy with where gaming is headed and what our consoles can do now and will be able to do soon. Don't make me spend AU $1500-2000 to get a new machine from Sony and a new machine from Microsoft. Granted, upgrading to a 3D-capable Sony Bravia is going to cost a whole lot more than a new console (or two), but let's keep the costs to a minimum, shall we?
And besides, the bottom line is that if you want to chase the graphical dragon and be on the bleeding edge of gaming hardware, you can still do that on PC.
Here's the market reality: the Wii is the success story of this generation, and it did this despite - or perhaps because - it bucked the pervasive wisdom of the industry that each new generation's hardware must be inordinately more powerful than the last. Instead, Nintendo released a standard def system based on last generation technology. Sure, the Wii has proven to be a support system at best for core gamers – given its paucity of triple A titles – but it's still in the lead, and Sony and Microsoft are desperately trying to play catch-up. Given that system power hasn't been a defining factor in this generation, it stands to reason that Sony and Microsoft are better off saving some of the huge amount of money that needs to be poured into R&D, marketing and manufacturing to develop and launch a new system – not to mention the losses incurred on hardware for the first few years, and instead look for other ways to grow their systems and their brands.
Wireless messaging lets you receive special text messages about Movie Miguel directly on your cell phone! We will let you know about The Movie Miguel Show, Dj Movie Miguel, TV appearances, events, special announcements, and other information that you just can't live without. You can unsubscribe at any time. To sign up, just enter your cellphone number and hit submit! Standard text message rates apply.