Some thoughts on why it might be best to wait.
It’s easy enough to forgive all the excitement and drama we feel when we think about owning a new generation of console hardware. After all, the last time this happened was several years ago and it’s fair to say that online gaming for consoles, along with the independent developer gold rush, well and truly blossomed just afterwards.
An engineer who came round earlier this week to sort out a few internet problems for me, noticing my extensive collection of console paraphernalia, confessed to being an avid gamer himself who loved his PlayStation 3.
“For me, that was the ultimate games machine when I bought it,” he told me, “This new lot, though… Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m just not as into games as I was before, but they don’t seem to be doing anything new.”
Oh but they are, I declared, proceeding to describe the selling points of the PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Xbox One hardware: the various motion control and touch features embedded into Sony’s DualShock pads, and Xbox One’s improved Kinect sensor and SmartGlass functionality. I also talked about Sony’s use of Gaikai streaming tech to pull games straight from the PS4 to the PlayStation Vita, cloud gaming in general, and Microsoft’s proposal and subsequent rescinding of DRM enforcement.
“Yeah, but… What do they actually DO to the games? Because from what I’ve seen there’s not a lot of difference.”
Huh. Our intrepid gamer engineer had landed a blow on next-gen hardware… Quite a substantial blow, in a very sensitive area. It actually made me take another look at the PS4 and Xbox One games and, even though they constitute perhaps the biggest launch line-ups for new consoles in gaming history, I have to concede that apart from the graphical improvements (which developers feel they have to point out to us for us to notice) nothing much seems to be going on that makes me want to head over to Amazon – or wherever – and hit that ‘pre-order’ button.
In my last blog I talked about how Microsoft failed to capitalise on the amount of tech at their disposal, which had somehow remained segregated from the gaming experience at E3, but looking at things a week or two later it’s hard to see how Sony have fared much better in this regard. One could argue that the PS4′s success was born less directly from Sony’s strengths and more out of Microsoft’s shortcomings, particularly when we look at the Xbox One’s initially incomprehensible business models and policies on used games.
So I have to wonder now if it’s really worth bothering to scrape some pennies together for either machine come November, given that most of the next-gen games I’ll want to play will be on PC regardless… and I already have one of those.
Microsoft spent a lot of time at E3 talking up their continued support for the Xbox360, with increased benefits for Gold Members, more AAA releases on the horizon, and an entirely new model for the console to boot. So why should I bother buying an Xbox One? It sure as hell won’t be to try out the new Kinect system; there’s no game announced that makes it an essential tool for play.
The PS4 has its own kind of appeal going for it as far as games go and I’d like to think that Sony have learned a thing or two about consoles after their ham-fisted release of the PS3. I like independent games, to be sure, but again I turn my head in the direction of my trusty PC and see that many of the games I’m interested in are going to be on that, too.
And this ‘social gaming’ nonsense? I couldn’t give a damn what my friends are playing; if I want to storm a fortress in a leather skirt with a sword in hand, I don’t need to know how long it took my friends to do it or how far ahead of me they are. The only thing I like to share with my friends are the bullets, fists, feet, blades, and other weapons of choice, that can be sent in their direction at the press of a single button or trigger.
That’s about as social as I get on games. The very act of playing games is something I’ve always considered to be one of the finest things one can do when one is feeling particularly unsocial. Share clips of my gaming victories with my friends… Why? Do my friends have nothing better to do than to watch me play videogames, through their consoles no less, when they could be playing videogames themselves (which is, presumably, the reason they switched on their consoles in the first place)?
The point I’m trying to make here is, apart from the whole social functionality built around the new consoles’ online features, there’s nothing new I can point to and say, “YES, I want to experience THAT before anyone else and I’ll pay through the nose for it”.
If we cast our minds back to the time when the Xbox 360 first took over from its obese older brother, and later on when the PS3 staggered drunkenly on stage fumbling its first lines during the close of a stellar performance from the PS2, we see the same pattern of progress. The hardware was new; we weren’t entirely sure what it could do when pushed, but there was an appreciable bump in visual quality and so this was all well and good.
Take away these non-gaming related functions of the PS4 and Xbox One, regardless of how clever or quirky they are…What do we have left? A series of games that don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what might be possible; certainly nothing worth paying out a few hundred pounds sterling for.
Besides, if history has taught us anything about games consoles it’s that the tech always requires time to settle down, so that developers can figure out how to make full use of it with new engines. This next-gen console war has only just started up and there are some very interesting weapons in the PS4 and Xbox One arsenals, but for the time being it might be sensible to play the role of, say, Switzerland, and sit this one out.