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What “Next Generation” Means to Me

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We’re a couple of days away from this year’s E3, when the Captains of the Video Game Industry will issue forth with the usual ridiculous spectacle as the suits take the stage to tell us what we can expect in the coming year. Of course, the 2013 edition of E3 is different than the last eight because we’re going to be told more completely (?) what the “next generation” of console gaming is going to look like. Speaking as someone who has literally played video games for my entire life, for over 30 years- I could not give two flying, flipping f#$ks and a deep-bowel s&%t about what Don Mattrick or any of the other used car salesmen they’ll trot out on stage have to say.

Here’s why. I can already see based on the limited, willfully evasive and incomplete information from Sony and Microsoft what “next generation” is going to mean, and it alternately alienates and disgusts me. Sony has put a “games and gamers” first message out there, but already it appears that social connectivity and more-of-the-same are what they’re bringing to the table. Microsoft has apparently seen the writing on the wall that video games are no longer profitable and are instead casting their lot to claim some of the big advertising dollars that things like NFL content and cable TV partnerships will bring. Oh, and they’re also offering more-of-the-same- more Call of Duty, more Forza, more braindead and heartless AAA action-blockbusters like whatever that Irwin Allen by way of Michael Bay disaster game was supposed to be.

Beyond what appears to be a very slight uptick in graphics quality and all of this pie-in-the-sky talk about cloud computing rendering better lighting or whatever (more evidence that money is being spent in the wrong directions), it appears that the “next generation” is more about restricting how we play video games than it is about opening up new ways or new concepts to do so. With Microsoft’s reveal in particular, it seems that there is a “no” attached to almost everything. No backwards compatibility, no used games without undisclosed parameters, no ability to play completely offline, no old headsets or peripherals, no using the console without the always on and always vigilant Kinect waiting to reward you for bringing a Mountain Dew can or a Pizza Hut pizza into the room.

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Everything new that you CAN do has nothing to do with games. There is all of this silly integration- with your phone, your TV, your ISP, your toaster oven. It’s almost like the Xbox One is a device designed to alleviate white whine and first-world problems- “I don’t want to have to use a remote control”, “I don’t want more than one cable coming out of my TV”. “I want a game console that also lets me have Skype calls so I don’t have to get my $500 iPhone out of my pocket”. I miss the days of buying a Nintendo Gamecube or a Sega Genesis and it did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than play games. It, and other consoles from previous generations, were purpose-built unitaskers that were not searching desperately for alternative revenue sources. Because they had a self-limited, contained, and realistic sense of SCOPE. They weren’t trying to “take over the living room”. Fuck you if you want to “take over my living room”. Just sell me a god damned video game machine, alright?

But the next generation isn’t about bettering video games or the video games medium. It’s about money. Since the last round of console releases, games suddenly became gigantic business- but they’ve also topped out, plateaued, and are in a precipice state where the entire industry could collapse under the weight of exaggerated expectations and unrealistic promises. That means that the coming generation is very much going to be more about finding new revenue sources to keep these juggernaut AAA franchises and astronomical console development budgets afloat- and to keep suits in jobs while appeasing the stakeholders and shareholders. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that we’ll see anything as quantum as Mario 64 or the first round of Playstation games that brought fully 3D polygon rendering to consoles. It’s going to be more of the same, but better monetized and offered to you as a service so that you can keep paying for it over time.

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The groundwork for this is already laid. You put a brick down when you bought the horse armor or gave money to Valve for hats. You mortared it when you bought games on Steam that you will never actually own and can never resell, that gave the corporations reasonable understanding of your complicity to take away your right to sell that copy of Assassin’s Creed 4. When you bought map packs, skin packs, and preordered bonus DLC garbage- you told them this was all OK with you. And in the next generation, it’s going to get a whole lot worse as these hucksters scramble to make money in a business where single-purchase $60 games are not sustainable but development budgets continue to rise- all to meet some bullshit expectation that games should be more like movies.

I don’t want any of it. I don’t want umpteen refinements to the Xbox controller so that I can better control Call of Duty dog or adjust the wind blowing in Captain Price’s armhairs. Nor do I want a button to “share” videos. And for fuck’s sake, I don’t want to talk to the game console or wave ANYTHING in front of it. Any all TV functions can rot in hell, I don’t really watch TV. You’ve heard all of this before from countless others if you’ve read any video game forum or Web site in the past couple of weeks. It’s not a chorus, it’s the roar of a crowd that may actually be willing to stand up and say “no” to these sleazy hucksters that will grin and tell you that they’re selling you a “service” that they’ve created out of things that used to be free.

All is not without hope. The indie movement is in full flower, and Sony at least has made overtures to that world. I can’t stand Jonathan Blow, but that was quite a significant message that was sent by having him at the PS4 reveal. Nintendo has rolled out the welcome mat to indie developers, and aside from that they actually have wound up in an advantageous position to their competitors. They’re the only one of the big three that have come forward with a device that is clearly a video game TOY first and foremost and it offers some innovative and possibly groundbreaking features- if the damn thing would sell enough to make a case for itself to developers that could make the most out of it.

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I think I’m in the same position as a lot of you reading this- I suddenly feel outside of video games, that I’m not the audience that these companies are courting anymore. But the irony is that I’m more interested in video games as a medium than ever before. Last night I took a look at The Swapper and Gunpoint, and both games seem tremendously promising, compelling, and fresh. Not to mention time spent with Monaco and Reus. None of these are AAA blockbusters, none of these are games that are designed to appeal to the broadest number of players. None of these depend on sales of nonsensical add-ons to be successful. These games feel rebellious and marginal, and I think that’s where I am with this next generation of video game consoles.

So I think that’s what I feel like “next generation” is going to be for me- a period of rebellion and gaming outside the bounds proscribed by the corporations that control this business and seek to change your behavior, your mentality, and your way of gaming to suit their financial needs. I may wind up buying a PS4, if the smaller, more independently-minded software is there as promised. No way in hell am I buying an Xbox One, I want neither a nattering nanny telling me “no” constantly nor a glorified cable box that’s trying to dominate my living room. I’m keeping the Wii U I bought on launch day even though it’s languishing- I believe there is real promise there, and we all know that Nintendo will release some top quality first party video games since that’s their priority over NFL programming and Skype. When we see what happens at E3, I have a feeling that more of you are going to have your battle lines drawn for this imminent next generation.

 

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

18 thoughts to “What “Next Generation” Means to Me”

  1. I think I’m going to sit this generation out. I own Xbox 360 games I never even played, and plenty more I played but never completed. The big three can all go to hell, all the games I ever wanted to play have already been released, many from console generations past. I don’t need the ‘new’ anymore, I’m fine with the ‘old’. It’s familiar and satisfying.

    1. I kind of realized this too last year when I found that I enjoyed playing the old Devil May Cry games more than than the new titles. But I guess I’ve always liked old fashioned games anyway, which is why I always gravitate to stuff like the Treasure stuff.

  2. Just invest now in a decent gaming PC and connect it to your TV. Problem solved! It’s not as expensive as you think, not if you don’t need to build a hyper-PC from space. These consoles are going to be like $500 anyway, especially with the Xbone forcing Kinect on everybody. Get yourself any gamepad, hell even an Xbox controller for your PC. I’m actually interested in picking up one of the Xbone controllers for just that.

    It’s ironic. The Wii is the console I probably played the least out of this generation, and now the only next-gen console I can see myself actually getting eventually is the Wii U for exactly the reasons you stated. Other than that, I’m sticking firmly to PC gaming in the future. The indie renaissance is going strong over there, and a lot of big releases get PC ports anyway. And in defence of Steam, I don’t care that I can’t trade games in when I get them on ridiculous sales regularly. It’s cheap and ridiculously convenient. I’ll take that deal.

    1. Yeah, I’m thinking about going in this direction too…I’m already using my laptop hooked up to the TV with an HDMI cable to game, I may just invest a little in a PC this year.

      It is a trade-off with Steam…but Steam also represents a cultural shift in the way people think about “owning” games…and that’s a shift that the corporations see as an in to kill the used games market. If you don’t mind that you can’t resell your Steam games, why would you mind that you can’t sell your Xbone ones?

      Granted, you can buy 10 Steam games for the price of one Xbone game…that’s something that they missed…

      1. That buying 10 Steam games for the price of one console game isn’t just something, it is THE thing.

        I was long a holdout from digital distribution. Hell I still buy all my CD’s and books as physical media. Steam represented both the changing landscape (no used, no physical disk), and an offer of new functionality (don’t need disks to install, auto patching, sales). For me the decision now became an offer. It now was offer of a product with arguably lessened functionality, i.e. no resale possibility, no feelies. In exchange I can buy games at a lower initial price, can reliably get any game I want for under $15 if I’m willing to wait 6 months to a year, and can buy without spreading my credit card details hither and yon on each individual storefront.

        That’s the thing, I’m willing to accept the downsides, up to and including loss of library if Steam goes under, because I go in fully aware. I know that there is less of a sense of ownership, but that’s ok because the equation had changed. Those are acceptable downsides when coupled with the convenience and cost savings. Is this always the case, no, but here it was an informed decision. With Xbone it is all the downside (obscured through weasel wording) with none of the upsides. For that they can get bent.

        1. That’s really the question, isn’t it? Will MS and publishers recognize why Steam is so successful and adjust their price points and sales accordingly? Or will games on the Xbone still cost $60 for the same restrictions as Steam because they control the distribution channel? I hope it’s the former, but I expect the latter.

          Steam’s sales aren’t just good business. They’re the result of a competitive ecosystem on the PC. If you really don’t like Steam, there are other digital download services out there like Good Old Games, Impulse, Gamers Gate, Desura, the list goes on. Yes, none of these are as big as Steam, but Steam remains popular because they compete. This won’t exist on consoles. MS and Sony will control everything, so why would they charge less if they don’t have to?

  3. Steam at least counters its permanent rental status with fair deals. A lot of whiners would be happy if the price of games didn’t suck so hard, myself included.

    It’s funny you mentioned Monaco, Reus, Swapper, and Gunpoint. They are all amongst my last game purchases and more creative and involving than many big titles out this year. Gunpoint is one of the most ridiculously engaging games I have played in a long time.

    I don’t want a console to do anything buy play a game. I may get a PS4 at some point, but I am more than happy with my current systems and huge backlog there. Hell, almost a guarantee the next Persona and Tales are on old systems so there’s my JRPG fix.

    Now Nintendo needs to justify my WiiU purchase, but I have faith.

    1. Gunpoint is SO neat. What a cool concept. I may write it up last week.

      You’re right about the pricing, I mentioned that in a response up above this one. The marketplace is saying over and over again “$60 is too much”, the corporations are not listening.

      I’ve been on the brink of trading in the Wii U more than a few times…but then I think about how much I loved Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime Trilogy, Super Smash Bros Melee, Punch-Out!!!, and so on…all I need is five or six really great first party titles and I’m going to want that box in my house.

  4. Barnes! Suggestion for follow-up article in which I’d take a great interest: coverage of the OUYA console (http://www.ouya.tv/), its prospects for success, and what it means for the console industry. The driving philosophy of that console seems aligned with your own, so I’d like to know what you have to say about it.

    1. I’m not getting one so it’s hard to really write it up…I do like the spirit of what they’re doing quite a lot and I think they have the right idea in terms of releasing a potentially very disruptive “alternative” console. However, the software is problematic. As many have noted, ports of IOS and Android games do not cut it, and offer no compelling reason why anyone should buy this product. It doesn’t matter if there’s 500 games for it if 450 are as bad as what’s on the XBL Indie marketplace and the other 50 are games I can play on my phone or iPad.

      If anything, I think Ouya isn’t going far enough in terms of really taking on the big guns. They aren’t nearly aggressive enough, and I get a sense that the leadership there isn’t very confident in the product. I think releasing something that’s relatively underpowered is a mistake, and mentioning that they’ll upgrade the unit every year wasn’t exactly a great piece of marketing. It also doesn’t help that the early Kickstarter and review units were apparently not quite the final retail product.

      So I dunno, I don’t know that I see a future with Ouya…I’m not seeing much traction and I have yet to see anything that makes me feel like it’s worth a hundred bucks. For most mainstream consumers, $100 will buy you a Wii or you can chip in another $50 and get a used 360 or PS3, so what’s the point?

  5. Excellent article. I do believe (and hope) that there is a silent majority sitting and watching mostly in disgust. I dont know anyone excited or wanting the next generation.

    Hah.. next generation. I cant think of one update that matters to me.

    The one thing I’ll say for Steam is they bloody earned that trust. I tentatively tried Steam out some time ago, had maybe one or two free games, never bought a silly hat. My pc died so the rebuilding began. I had zero problems reinstalling and reacquiring all my content. Its bloody easy and when I didn’t have the internet… strangely could still play my games. Now this isn’t to say its not without problems (and potential problems).

    I still think the day will come when an evil conglomerate will buy them out or brainwash Gabe.

  6. Excellent article. I do believe (and hope) that there is a silent majority sitting and watching mostly in disgust. I don’t know anyone excited or even crying for the next generation.

    Hah.. next generation. I cant think of one update that matters to me.

    The one thing I’ll say for Steam is they bloody earned that trust. I tentatively tried Steam out some time ago, had maybe one or two free games, never bought a silly hat. My pc died so the rebuilding began. I had zero problems reinstalling and reacquiring all my content. Its bloody easy. The few times the internet goes down… strangely could still play my games. Now this isn’t to say its not without problems (and potential problems).

    I still think the day will come when an evil conglomerate will buy them out or brainwash Gabe.

    1. Well, the alternative to that is Gabe and co. parlay their successes and emerge as an enterprise able to compete with those evil conglomerates. With the right product, I think they could.

      Yeah, really…what part of “next generation” sounds interesting to me? None of it. I think this long console cycle has really illustrated the degree of stagnation in the industry- and most troublingly, at a design level in the halls of the AAA publishers and developers.

  7. I agree with you almost entirely. But.

    But what I don’t see is how any of this is substantively different from what has gone before. In all the console generations that have gone past, how many have included innovative, genre-shattering hardware updates? One (the Wii, and look where that went). How many have had creative, genre-shattering software at launch? Arguably, none.

    The one thing that is slightly different this time round is the rise and rise of indie gaming. You’re right to point that out, but however much Sony blows Mr. Blow, consoles aren’t where indie gaming is at and they never will be. The entry barrier will always be too high for all except the twinkling, precious starlets of that world like Jon Blow.

    What’s changed, I think, is simply that the vocal vanguard of the video games movement, the writers, readers and thinkers, people like you and me, have got older. Older, wiser, able to see through what’s transparently nothing more than hype and marketing bullshit and tired of hearing the same cliches repeated endlessly.

    Make no mistake – that’s a big watershed. It’s about bloody time the video game industry had some more grown-up commentators who are willing to cry foul to big studio rubbish like film and book critics have done for decades. But the devil is in the detail, and the detail here is that it’s not gaming that’s changed, but the gamers.

    1. EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT! Sony Blows Mr. Blow! In other news Hairy Harry Harries Harrison Estate!

      Sorry about that, I’m still pissed that I couldn’t be a newsboy growing up.

    2. I think that’s very correct Matt, and it’s also one of the reasons that video game marketing has changed. If you look back in old comic books or whatever, it’s so quaint how they used to pitch video games. Mostly to kids. Even getting up through the 1990s, there was definitely a “you’ll dance to anything” mentality about how games were sold. The rise of criticism shouldn’t be underestimated as an important factor in how all of this has changed.

      But this is going to be the first generation where that whole “set top box” concept is really coming to fruition, and the idea of the unitasking game console becomes obsolete- at the expense of purpose-built, focused hardware. It’s the first generation where we’re looking at games with BILLIONS of dollars in sales. It’s weird to think, but when the 360 and PS3 launched, there weren’t news reports about how Call of Duty had bigger opening day sales than the entire theatrical runs of some Hollywood blockbusters.

      There is a lot different, culturally…DLC, multiplayer, social media…I think you’re undercutting exactly how different this world is than it was in 2005-2006.

  8. I fully expect this generation to mark the end of the home video game console. Their position is completely untenable. In a world full of screens the television is no longer a special unique screen that you need your entertainment plugged into. With phones and tablets squeezing the low end and the PC squeezing the high end there is no longer any room for consoles in the middle.

    Microsoft, fully aware of this, attempted to find a new niche for a fancy expensive TV-attached computer to occupy, without success. Still they are releasing a product because that’s what they do; their attempt to find a purpose has made it more obvious to everyone that their device doesn’t have one. I think they still believe the media hype about how revolutionary Kinect was supposed to be, too.

    Sony’s the winner this time around, for what it’s worth (the less said about Nintendo, the less sad we will all be). Serious gamers shouldn’t, like, BUY the PS4 or anything, but there’s some reason for optimism that it exists. For years the business need for cross-platform launches (PS3, Xbox, PC) has caused most major-publisher games to be hobbled by the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad RAM situation on the PS3/Xbox (but especially the PS3). The room for multiple gigabytes of game state has more potential than any of the graphics stuff. The sense that nothing you do in a big game actually exists once it’s off the screen is very real in current games.

    But man, I really don’t know about all this business model stuff. There’s been this 20-year period where a normal way to sell a video game was to mate it to a physical object that the purchaser owned, but I’m not hung up on that as the true way or the best way to pay for them necessarily. I especially don’t think the players deserve harsh criticism for paying for games in a way that they find natural, even if it seems superficial to spend money on a hat or whatever. The physical-object model is rapidly waning for books (where it held sway for hundreds of years) and has almost completely disappeared for movies, but critics in those mediums don’t usually spend a lot of time raking people over the coals for it. Just saying we could have a better conversation about what types of pricing/terms work best for what types of games without all the bile.

  9. If you gentlemen and women will allow me to chime in a few days late, here…

    I agree with you, Barnes. 100%. I have zero desire to buy into this generation of consoles. The thing is, I recently built a new super-computer and purchased an XBox controller for it and I couldn’t be happier. I feel like PC gaming is poised to re-enter the glory days. I’m in agreement with many who have already stated their support for Steam. I think the functionality is absolutely phenomenal. It’s the ultimate in backwards compatibility, multiplayer connectivity, and I believe the sales alone are keeping this small independent publishers alive. I can’t even begin to tell you how many IPs I bought simply because they were on sale. Games that I never had any intention of looking into… bought, loved, and subscribed. I’m really looking forward to fully utilizing my new rig. I spent more than most, but I would say for anywhere from $500 to $700, anyone can build a rig that will take them through this generation, next generation, and then some. As a card carrying member of RSI’s Star Citizen. I’m thrilled.

    Now, let me tell you about my favorite console right now. My Nintendo 3DS…

    I am thoroughly loving my 3DS XL and have yelled at friends and family to pick one up, and more than a few have. This is the core gaming experience at its finest, in my opinion. I love Nintendo so much because of their handhelds alone. I honestly believe the will be abandoning the console race in the near future just to focus on handheld gaming. It makes sense. Right now the 3DS is delivering some amazing stuff. I’ve been playing Mario Kart (I know I know… same old same old… but you know what, that’s not a bad thing), Mario 3D land, Luigi’s Mansion, Ocarina of Time (I never thought I’d love playing it again for the umpteenth time, but I’m hooked all over again), and Fire Emblem. The 3DS is showing some serious promise down the line as well with Link To The Past 2, Shin Megami Tensei, and not to mention the amazing virtual console. Trust me friends… gaming is alive and well. Nintendo is fighting the fight for all of us. What’s more… having a 3DS has made me seriously think about jumping on board with a WiiU. I never thought I’d say that.

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