There is a lot of speculation about the next generation of consoles. Will they have hard drives and DVD drives? Will they require a persistent Internet connection? Looking closely at each of The Big 3, many questions come to mind about their ability to stay relevant. With forward thinking organizations like OnLive knocking on the door of the market, it won’t surprise to see each manufacturer differentiate themselves by trying something dramatically tangent from their past. OnLive is not the solution for the near future, however. Their dependence on broadband signals, proprietary encoding/image compression, and back-end gaming hardware makes it a challenge to formulate an understandable product for buyers. Also, how do you steal market share from the titans that are all providing a entry into gaming that is much easier to understand? Below I explain my expectations for the next console from each titan.
In 2011 we got our first glimpse into Nintendo’s future: the Wii U. The 2012 release will catch up to the PS3 and XBOX 360 in terms of graphics, but offer something different for input. Nintendo is betting on their tablet controller to change how gamers interact with their console. Like the transition from DS to 3DS, Nintendo is hoping to ease their fans into their next console by keeping it 90% similar, and adding a new variable for developers to be creative. My concern is Nintendo as always been outstanding at adapting their software to their intuitive hardware designs. I expect Nintendo to struggle out of the gate. They may a healthy number of units in the first 1-2 months on the shelf, but long-term I do believe Nintendo’s marketshare will decline. The Wii was a stark difference from the Gamecube, and also much different from the competition. The Wii was a new and exciting platform - waggle controls was a brand new concept and excitement was viral. Better graphics and a tablet (one per console) won’t have the same effect.
Where do I begin? As much as I love the PS3, it wasn’t the hit Sony expected. They’ve taken hit after hit but still have a large share of the market and a very loyal fanbase. Unlike it’s competitors, Sony’s strength is not it’s audience. Rather, Sony has the best exclusive titles in the industry. They’ve put a lot of effort into rebranding from “high-end” to “for the fans.” We can expect Sony to focus on it’s core audience, and not the outliers for the PS4. Take a look at the Vita. It’s essentially the PSP 2, with a new name, new input options, and an outstanding emphasis on connectivity. Don’t be shocked to see the next home console take a similar path. I believe Sony will take an approach of simplification. For gamers: an easy to use, intuitive design with cloud storage for everyone; an “always on” PSN to quickly purchase in-game content; and a new name: The Playstation. This will a refresh of the console and set the stage for a future of PSN-centric devices (Vita, cell phone, TVs, console, etc). For developers, Sony will return to the x86 structure and court independent studios to design exclusives for the PSN family. Growth will certainly be in Sony’s future.
If you own a 360 you’re likely extremely happy. It’s functional, well designed, with outstanding support. Every developer will support whatever the next console is from Microsoft. We can expect more of the 360: the best network in gaming, a very good looking graphical capability, and a strong launch lineup of games. In the short-term (1-2 years), the next 360 will undoubtedly sell more units than it’s competitors if Microsoft stays away from anything risky. The PS2 was the pinnacle of gaming for most gamers, and then Sony went on a massive tangent and tried to redefine gaming. If Microsoft avoids the same mistake, they’ll gobble up marketshare.
In the end, I’m expecting the best from both Sony and Microsoft and a decline for Nintendo. The years from 2013-2015 will go down as the best years for gaming. Developers will have more options than ever, and gamers will have more access than ever. A lot to digest…do you agree or disagree?!