It used to be so simple to answer the question of which system was the next generation system. The NES replaced the Atari 2600; the Genesis and Super Nintendo replaced the NES; Xbox 360 replaced the PS2. The technical specifications of each new generation of system made it so clear as to what became the new now, and what became obsolete.
After the latest E3 showings, I’ve realized that the line of “Next Generation” has become a bit blurred, and not because I’m trying to see 3D without glasses. The Nintendo Wii shocked many with its success in gathering social gamers in droves to its system, without being the HD powerhouse that the PS3 and Xbox 360 were, so now Sony and Microsoft are following suit with their respective motion system additions.
So is Motion what will define the next generation system?
I don’t think anyone can answer this question yet, but I think part of the success of the Wii was its approachability by nearly anyone. Nintendo always had a way of making games and their controls intuitive, and the Wii allowed for grandmas to play with gamers by removing the barrier of the controller. But do gamers really want to be the controller the whole time? I wasn’t shy in my writeup about getting rid of my Wii in part because I didn’t want a system that required me to actively game. I like the OPTION, but I don’t like being required. There are times when I’m in a motion mood, and miss my Wii, but most of the time I just want to kick back and drink a beer without the game thinking I’m making an action in the game. Kinect and Move are both additions to systems that will still support the “base” of gaming with a controller, while making specialized games that support motion controllers. I think this is what will ultimately make them more successful, perhaps not in units sold, but in acceptance. I see the power of motion control, but I fear the novelty might wear off before the truly amazing applications are realized. As such, its difficult to say that Motion is the definition of “next generation.” This is more true when the best application of motion might be when its an option, or enhancement, rather than a requirement.
So is 3D the definition of Next Generation?
Sony currently supports 3D gaming with their PS3, and Nintendo will be releasing the 3DS, so two of the 3 biggest players are already invested in 3D, and I can tell you now, 3D isn’t going away. However, only one of these will be truly successful: the 3DS. People aren’t ready to wear glasses to play or watch in 3D all the time – this generation may never be – so the 3DS hits the nail on the head with a glasses-free application of 3D.
But can you qualify a hand-held system as “next generation?” I’m sure many iPhone users will yell that the size of a system doesn’t dictate whether it’s technically superior, but in gaming, there’s a separation of console gaming vs. portable gaming. The 3DS will be a huge success, and may be the best selling system of all time when its all said and done, but it will always be a portable gaming system. Console gaming has traditionally defined what is next generation, so either a fundamental shift in the thinking of next generation must occur, or we will be waiting for what is around the corner.
As for my definition of what the next generation system is? I think the secret ingredient is connectivity. Whatever the next gen system is, it must be an interactive and social experience. I think graphically 3D is the way of the future, but it must be done without glasses, and for a console system to do that, it must create a TV that can pull that off. Sony is best positioned for this, since they have existing infrastructure to create TVs, so if they can pull it off, and get their online service right the first time, don’t be surprised if the PS4 defines the next generation.
That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our current gen systems. There are amazing games being dished out right now, so its a good time to be a gamer, regardless of your system of choice.
What do you think? Do we already have a next generation system in our midst? What do you think is the definition of next generation? Can we achieve next generation status with what technology currently exists? Can a portable game system define next generation?