Developers and gamers alike breathed a sigh of relief when the veil was lifted on the new consoles. Sure we all knew they would be coming soon but with the Xbox 360 release in 2005 and the PS3 release in 2006 generation fatigue was permeating all levels of gaming society at the time.
Now that the longest console cycle I can remember was on the wane it was time to look forward to new things. The reveal conferences for the PS4 and Xbox One showed that the future is going to be a bit different. Where the current generation straddled on what it meant to have a classic console experience and something akin to a PC experience, the next gen will provide systems that are much more connected, versatile, and multimedia-oriented. So far the graphics appear to be a decent step up but perhaps not a generational leap. So if the focus of new software is more service and gameplay oriented then doesn’t this new generation have the potential to last even longer?
New streaming technology promises a far-reaching gaming experience. Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai and move to require developers to provide Vita streaming of PS4 games has their new system positioned to be an entertainment hub for all things PlayStation for years to come. This could even include a kind of backwards compatibility of some kind when including information stored in the Cloud. So far this generation Sony has only used the cloud for PS Plus members’ saved games, but we can probably expect more than that out of them next time.
Microsoft has been more forthcoming about their plans for cloud computing. At their May 21st hardware panel they said that their system won’t be “static” and over time, as bandwidth increases, the Xbox One will be able to offload game computations to be done in the cloud, effectively making the system more powerful as time progresses.
One of the reasons the current generation lasted so long is because it was a very expensive step for console developers. Microsoft began with a catastrophic failure rate that cost them untold amounts of money to fix in investment and recompense. Sony had to shoulder the burden of Blu-ray and the specialized cell processor which made every PS3 sold a financial loss for a long time. Neither company had the good fortune that Nintendo did with the Wii, so they had to make it up over time. At this point I think we can all agree that Nintendo is on their own wavelength and in any case the Wii U will have to be around a long time while the game library builds since it isn’t selling well.
With the X1 and PS4 though, we have these two machines that are basically just a home for a wide-ranging array of services and growing off-site power. Anything that operates in this manner essentially is operating somewhat similarly to an MMO in that it is meant to get better and better over time with the final product being far and above the release beta. I think this holiday season we will see two systems in beta form. It will take some years before the bandwidth infrastructure is present (especially in America) to start using cloud computing efficiently. These things all point to a lengthy generation where big changes are made on the company end and the console is more of a weigh station between the product and the consumer.
Furthermore, once the install base is set up and Sony and Microsoft have most of their money invested in off-site technological concerns and services they will be less likely to want to return to a more traditional 5 year console cycle when the only real benefit would be a nominal increase in graphics.
As the more direct PC style architecture becomes cheaper there is always the possibility that Microsoft and Sony could release more powerful hardware at a faster clip but there seems to be less need for that as things even out on the graphics front. In the end, there’s more money to be made this way as other advancements continually fight generation fatigue.