Thoughts on the current & next gaming generations
We are at the dawn of the next generation. Gamers have been scouring the internet for any report, interview, news story or leak (credible or not) covering the next generation consoles. Having been a gamer for over 25 years, you can imagine my excitement to find out what the next generation of consoles has in store.
The PlayStation 4 was my console of choice this generation, followed by the Nintendo Switch. I am not a fan boy of any particular console, developer or publisher; I simply love good video games. My console of choice per generation has been:
4th Generation – Sega Genesis
5th Generation – PlayStation 1
6th Generation – Sega Dreamcast & Sony PlayStation 2
7th Generation – Microsoft Xbox 360 & Nintendo Switch
8th Generation – Sony PlayStation 4 & Nintendo Switch
9th Generation – TBC
Growing up, I have been fortunate enough to have a parent who could afford to purchase multiple consoles. My brother was (and still is to this day) a massive Nintendo fan, so I luckily also got to experience all the incredible games that were exclusive to Nintendo’s consoles. I have never favoured any console over another and have always gone for the console which seems to appeal to me the most. Sony has my favour for the 9thGeneration for two simple reasons; the first being the fact that I have purchased a lot of PlayStation 4 games digitally that I intend to play on the PlayStation 5 (if the leaks about the console being backwards compatible turn out to be true) and the second being that Sony are focussing on their first-party offerings (including timed-exclusives and content).
Going into the 9th Generation, I am sceptical as to the direction mainstream gaming is heading in. There are a number of things that I disliked about this generation and a few that I liked. The current generation introduced (or expanded on) a number of things that I disliked, such as:
Loot boxes: Now don’t get me wrong, loot boxes are not all that bad, if done correctly. The problem this generation has been that developers and/or publishers have tried to adopt predatory practices in order to make loot boxes almost mandatory. IT seems that publishers and/or developers have looked at the money-making power of mobile gaming and have tried to implement similar practices into their games. The main disconnect and reason why this does not work is that mobile games tend to be free and console games tend to come with a (sometimes hefty) price tag. In my opinion, loot boxes should only be present in mainstream games for cosmetic reasons; similar to how they are implemented in Overwatch.
Games as a service: Conceptually, games as a service (GaaS) sounds like every gamers dream. Gaas should be the natural evolution of games, it allows developers to continually add new content to their released games to keep existing players engaged. Existing players will feel like they are experiencing something new each time they play said game. Instead; it has become a justifiable way to sell unfinished or ‘hollow’ content lacking games to gaming. Not all GaaS games are bad but on a whole, developers and/or publishers have found ways to abuse it, squeezing every bit of revenue from their fanbase and offering them little to nothing.
Money: I know this point won’t make much sense at face value but bear with me. The fact that gaming has become the most profitable form of entertainment to me is a double-edged sword. Yes, it means that games today look incredible and in the last 10 – 15 years we have seen a growth into the amount of games that are being developed and released (considering Steam greenlight and other early access schemes). Yes, it means that gaming has leaked into other forms of entertainment. However, many developers/ publishers are simply in the gaming industry for the money. Growing up, I remember playing games that oozed passion, games that the developers poured their hearts into, not for monetary gain but for recognition. It warms my heart to see developers who, to this day, go above and beyond to deliver passionate experiences. I believe big business is the death of passion, why bother spending 5 years to make a polished and bug-free experience when you can release it in 2-3 years and fix it after it has been released? Which brings me nicely to my next point…
Style not substance: Games today look incredible but most of them lack original game-play or systems. Developers have become so afraid to try new things, sticking instead to what has been done historically. I understand trying something new in today's gaming climate can be extremely expensive and can even result in the end of a development studio and even publisher, but I believe the companies who have the financial power should try new things, if it doesn’t affect their livelihood. Games today often combine a number of existing systems in order to give us a “new” experience, but rarely use the power which is afforded to them by the latest consoles in order to create original and different ideas.
No mass cross-play: Not going to spend too much time on this one as it is relatively self-explanatory. There are several games that support cross-play but often it is not clear which games are cross-play and with which devices. Sony seem to be against opening the flood gates and allowing cross-play with the PlayStation 4 and this needs to be changed. I can understand Sony will probably sell more PlayStation’s due to this overall, but at this point, it feels severely overdue. I have, however, found myself conflicted at the direction mainstream gaming seems to be going. Cross-play is an inevitability and it’s a shame it is not already the norm.
The amount of predatory practices that gamers have been subject to this generation has been unprecedented. I hope the 9th generation fixes (or outright stops) these things. With the ninth generation on the horizon, I hope these aspects are included or (where relevant) are expanded upon:
Indie developers: I know independent developers have been around for a few generations now, but I feel like this generation proved they were here to stay. Some of the best games developed this generation have been by indie dev’s (sometimes only 1 person!) and going forwards, I hope more systems, programs and apps are created to help indie dev’s create more amazing experiences.
Graphics: I am not a “graphic’s whore” but I must give praise where praise is due, games today look amazing! Seeing Kingdom Hearts 3’s Toy Story world, next to the original Toy Story is a testament to how far graphics have come. Yes, one of my previous disliked points outlines the fact that graphics seem to be more important than gameplay, but it would be unfair to not acknowledge how incredible some of today’s games look.
Mass cross-play: Not going to spend too much time on this one as it is relatively self-explanatory. There are several games that support cross-play but often it is not clear which games are cross-play and with which devices. Sony seem to be against opening the flood gates and allowing cross-play with the PlayStation 4 and this needs to be changed. I can understand Sony will probably sell more PlayStation’s due to this overall, but at this point, it feels severely overdue. I have, however, found myself conflicted at the direction mainstream gaming seems to be going. Cross-play is an inevitability and it’s a shame it is not already the norm.
Fully fledged VR experiences: VR, to me, is the next step in video gaming. I do not think it has found its footing, so to speak, in the main gaming landscape (mainly due to the cost) but I do feel that it is the next step for gaming. Half-Life: Alyx is on the way and Valve have coined it as the must-have VR game. It looks incredible and Valve have promised that it will be a full Half-Life experience. I know that current VR controllers have yet to accommodate free movement seamlessly in games but once a solution viable consumer solution is created, can you imagine playing Grand Theft Auto 6 or Elder Scrolls VI in full VR! A man can dream… right?
Innovative and Original gaming experiences: I for one am getting tired of the same regurgitated experiences year on year. The creativity from AAA developers seems to have stagnated of late and they have instead opted to stick to the more ‘tried and true’ formulas. I get it, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but I would prefer to see new ideas that may not particularly do brilliantly commercially, then the same type of experience with a new setting and/or skin. The power afforded by the 9th generation consoles should allow us to experience things impossible on the current generation of hardware. By this, I do not simply mean the ability to travel faster as assets can load in more efficiently, or more enemies on screen at once. I’d love to see real living and breathing worlds and characters, where the AI does different things in different locations at different times. Where NPC’s have ‘lives’ regardless of whether or not the character interacts or is even present when an event happens. Or a fully destructible planet allowing players to destroy each and every person, object, building, town, city, continent and even planet. Or, in-game natural disasters, which change the way the landscape is and even the way the game is played. These are just a few ways off the top of my head where more powerful hardware can be used to deliver something never seen in gaming.
Loading times: This is not a major issue for me currently, but it is nice to hear that the ninth generation will have much faster load times.
Predicting Next gen strategies
Nintendo’s strategy is vastly different to their competitors. The Nintendo Switch was arguably Nintendo’s equivalent to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but instead of giving gamers the same console but stronger, they instead changed the form factor completely. When the Nintendo Switch was announced, the consensus was that the console was going to be another failure. I remember feeling excitement watching the reveal trailer (mainly at the concept of playing a mainline Zelda title on the go), thinking will this be the console to finally allow AAA gaming on the go? I purchased a PSP for this exact reason but felt that the PlayStation Portable fell short. The Switch has filled the void for now, but I fear that going forward, the Switch will start to lose a lot of new 3rd party support and will become relegated to a 3rdparty haven for older titles and Nintendo’s first-party exclusives. I would love to see a Switch Pro variant that can potentially play games which are similar in quality to PS5 or XSX games, but I know at this stage that is simply impossible. What Nintendo can do now however, is utilise the advances in cloud gaming in order to stream games of a similar quality to their console. I think allowing some type of streaming technology/ application on the Switch is a no-brainer. If Nintendo released a Switch variant with mobile capabilities, meaning you could stream graphically intensive games on the Switch on the go is a dream come true, and 5G makes this prospect even more viable. If Microsoft are planning to compete with Stadia, why not do a deal to have Stadia on Switch consoles?
Nintendo's eighth generation highest rated console exclusives
Sony have showed that they know what gamers want and focussed strongly on their first-party line-up. There are several well received first-party games exclusive to the PlayStation 4 and Sony seem to have found their stride. With the PlayStation 3, Sony’s arrogance was what hindered them, and Sony then went back to the drawing board to focus on what made the PlayStation brand great: Games. The PS4 had some of the best exclusive games this generation, a number of which currently have sequels in development. They have been tight-lipped regarding anymore news about the PlayStation 5, but I feel they are biding their time and waiting for Microsoft to make the first major move. Microsoft have made two major moves (the first being the unveil of the console itself and the second being a release of some of the consoles specs) but Sony seem to be waiting for them to reveal the most important aspect, the price. Price has historically played a huge part in the initial success of a consoles launch and Sony seem to be playing their cards close to their chest, until Microsoft spill the beans. All-in-all Sony have been the most consistent this generation and if they continue this consistency for the 9th Generation, they are sure to once again retain their crown.
Sony's highest rated console exclusives
Microsoft have recently made a statement that there will be no Xbox Series X exclusive games for the first couple of years. This was lauded by some as a consumer-friendly approach but to me it raises questions. A console is defined by its exclusives. I believe the Xbox One did not do as good as the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 mainly because of its lack of exclusives. The vanilla PS4 was cheaper and more powerful than the vanilla Xbox and had a more versatile line-up of exclusive upcoming titles. This meant that gamers could play the same 3rd party games on a console that was cheaper and more powerful with better upcoming games that were only available on said console. Microsoft’s statement to me indicates that they do not intend to create different and unique gaming experiences that are only possible with next-gen hardware and instead they feel next-gen hardware, simply translates to better graphics and quicker load times. Of course, I hope I am wrong, the Fable franchise is one of my favourite franchises of all time and I am starving for them to confirm it is being developed. Microsoft have stated that they do not see Sony or Nintendo as competitors but are instead aiming to compete with services like Google Stadia. I feel that whatever the case Microsoft need to focus on developing brilliant and varied first-party titles.
Microsoft's highest rated console exclusives
Taking everything into consideration, one thing is clear: this is a fantastic time to be a gamer!