Gaming Thoughts... Do we need the next generation of consoles yet?

This is something I have been thinking about for awhile now - but I find myself wondering:

Do we need the next generation of video game consoles yet?  For me, the question is an odd one.  I have been playing video games since I got a TI 99/4a and I was around five years old.  I haven't gotten every single console along the way.  Quite often I did not get something like the SNES until years later in fact.  The only system I have stayed current on consistently was the PlayStation.  I had the first PlayStation on release day, and got the PlayStation 2 and 3 within a year or so of their releases.

This last generation of consoles however, I have been very fortunate.  I got a grown-up job, making grown-up money that allows me to make grown-up decisions on how to spend it (generally on decided un-grown-up things like game systems).  The Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and PSP and Nintendo DS and 3DS all came into my house as a result (not to mention the PC I have).  I got spoiled.

But that means I am also really, very heavily invested in this generation of consoles.  As I look around online, a lot of others feel the same way it seems.  Are the technological leaps and bounds significant enough to warrant the expense of new hardware?  It only seems within the last year or two that the systems became more reliable.  There were horror stories about the PlayStation 3 and 360 upon release, with their various lights and rings of 'death'.  Even the Wii was not safe from this, though it was less prominently talked about.

There are some obvious advantages:

- New technology means bigger, faster, more visually and audibly pleasing games
- Lessons learned from this generation can be applied (shipping with larger HDs, true online play)

But do they outweigh the possible concerns?

- What will these systems cost?
- Will there be additional costs, like Xbox Live?
- Will the new hardware be reliable, or suffer the kinds of breakdowns that plagued this generation
- Will all of the technology be welcome? (for example, rumors of limiting used game sales)
- Will there be a push to even more digital content (and if so, will ISPs be able to support it, or is there an additional embedded cost here)
- Will the price of games continue to climb with this generation?

There are some obvious concerns for the system manufacturers and the developers as well.  New systems usually mean less experience with the development tools.  It can be harder to create new games rapidly, and you usually have a lower market penetration earlier in the life cycle of a system than the middle or end, so you have fewer potential customers to buy your games.  With all this new technology, will development costs go up?

I suspect those questions are what spearhead the notion that the Microsoft Durango or Sony Orbis as they are being called, may be using technology to prevent used game sales.  They want a return on their potentially large investments, but I am worried too.  During these early days, I think studios are going to be susceptible to large losses.  Will they be less likely to try out new IP's than to go ahead and roll out things like the next CoD or Assassin's Creed?  Those titles are what you hear about most for the Wii-U at this point - established franchises.

It's all speculation at this point, but my son and I were chatting the other day, and he is turning into quite the little video gamer himself.  Reminds me a bit of me *sniffles at the nostalgia*.  Anyway *clearing throat* - moving on... he commented on how expensive games and systems were.  Even now for his DS and 3DS he can't buy a title new.  He buys them used.  The amount of discretionary income he gets a year is almost nothing outside of birthday, Christmas or the occassional odd job to make a few bucks here and there.  He's been reading all the rumors about next generation and pointed out that he is glad he has a 3DS, because he can still buy used games.  Otherwise he might be priced out of getting games at all if he always had to buy new, or it would be one or two a year.  He commented that he's lucky because his dad buys games and he can play those, but that a lot of his friends can't get games but maybe a few times a year.

I feel I'm getting a bit wordy here, so hang on tight with me (if you're not already glazed over and drooling on your keyboard.  I'm pretty sure I have the knack for inducing that in others).

I found that interesting - that a 13 year old kid is making me realize that the game industry in many ways is pricing itself out of the 'kid' market by and large.  It is almost as if video games, if the prices continue to go up (systems, games) and external costs go up (online subscriptions, online passes) - we are making video games a more adult form of entertainment.  It's almost like the video games are following our generation around, since most of the prior generation never got into them, and now the younger is struggling more and more to keep up.  Are used games the answer?  Probably not.  But they serve a purpose too.  Quick, when was the last time you bought a brand-new NES game?  I still pick up classic games for my old systems.  Do the developers get anything from it?  No.  Is it good to see gaming history played and preserved?  I believe so, without a doubt.

Right - you eventually need that 2nd hand market or the system dies off.  Maybe they want that - obviously publishers are making money off of re-releases of classic titles and compilations.  Eventually it will be a hobby that is probably entirely digital.  But it feels like we are still a long ways off from that, at least to me.  I know my ISP can't keep up with me watching Netflix, and friends of mine struggle to download movies or who download a bunch of Steam games get themselves in trouble.

I think the next generation of consoles is threatening to arrive 2-3 years too soon.  Some of the rumored innovations could be awesome, others could severely hamper the market though as well - potentially doing more long-term harm than good.  It's early, we have lots of time for all of this to sort itself out.  But in this day and age of internet and opinions scattered across it, I suspect publishers, developers and 'the big three' read comments and concerns.  They can't think of everything, so hopefully articles like this, even if I'm in a one-person minority, maybe gets read by the right person in the right place and it gives them a slightly different perspective.

The video game industry is at a crossroads where we have become more mainstream and popular than ever.  A few wrong choices however could set us back considerably, just like the right ones can propel us forward and break the few remaining barriers to more complete acceptance.  I'm excited about the next wave of consoles and their possibilities, but I'm also afraid that a few missteps will undo a generation of growth as well.  What are your thoughts?  What are you most excited about or nervous about?  What one or two things are you most hoping to see come out of this next generation of consoles coming out in the future, and do you agree that it is a bit too soon, or that these console releases cannot get here soon enough?
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