With PAX East over, it’s now the time to countdown to the biggest show in the gaming world: E3. This 2012’s E3 has the potential to be one of the biggest in gaming history. As both the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 have hit milestones in their lifecycles, could it be time for both Microsoft and Sony to reveal the latest entrants to the console market? Last year’s E3 revealed the Wii U to mixed feedback.
Nintendo appeared to be playing catch up to the power of both the 360 and PS3 by announcing power specs that are comparable to the current generation’s competitors with another gimmick controller. But what could this next generation of home consoles do to change the game and the way gaming is consumed? Truth be told, we don’t know and the rumor mill around the internet has only lead to widespread debate over possible problems caused by these new consoles as opposed to innovations brought on from them.
The next iteration of consoles will most likely not focus on simple graphic upgrades. Looking at games from the XBox 360’s and PlayStation 3’s launches and comparing them to the most recent releases has shown that these systems have not topped out yet in terms of their processing power and graphical capabilities. In the hands of the right developers, cutting edge visuals are still being developed for consoles and it is rare to see drastic differences between even the highest end PC games to their console counterparts. So while it is realistic that these new systems will have stronger processors with higher capabilities, the noticeable degree of improvement isn’t going to be as drastic as with previous generations.
A major topic of debate with the next XBox and the PlayStation Orbis is the method of distribution for games. Many contend that this may be the first generation to focus on digital distribution. While it is likely that there will be a larger push for digital distribution of games, it will very unlikely be the main focus of the system. Digital distribution has a horde of issues that must be dealt with in order to become the main method of game acquisition in the future. The first is infrastructure. While major metropolitan areas have full high speed access in the United States, there are still many areas around the country that do not have access to high speed internet. This means Microsoft or Sony would be releasing a product that already cannot be used by a sizeable percentage of the customer base.
On top of that, many areas with high speed internet have maximum download speeds and capacity caps that would conflict with multiple gigabyte game downloads. Because games are not streamed as they play, the typical download may take longer than the time it’d take to drive to a store and purchase the physical piece of software.
Another issue with the digital download focus would be actual console distribution. Big box stores like Best Buy or Walmart stock consoles in hopes of a high attach rate of games to be sold alongside the system. If gamers had easier access to games through downloadable method, larger retailers would have less incentive to bother carrying and giving prime floor space to the consoles themselves. Additionally, stores like Gamestop which make a majority of their profit off used games would greatly be hurt by this as digital games have no used market.
Sticking to used games sales, there has also been a rumor lately that consoles may need a constant internet connection which leads to tracking a physical piece of software so that it cannot be used on more than one console. In addition to the already discussed issue of the entire nation not being properly wired for a constant internet connection, if that were the case, businesses like GameFly would be crushed and GameStop would lose their main source of income. Though sometimes seen as ruthless, Sony and Microsoft are obviously aware of these issues and see the advantages to having the support of companies like GameStop and GameFly around. Losing GameStop especially as a means of distribution of new systems would be a huge hit to the console makers. To further hurt this market, there is also focus on games not being at all backwards compatible. This isn’t surprising as only top XBox games were forward compatible to the XBox 360 while the more recent console redesigns for the PlayStation 3 removed the chip that enables PS2 backwards compatibility.
The Nintendo Wii U is expected to launch around Christmas this year, with the exact release date most likely to be announced at E3. Rumors abound place both the XBox 720 (or whatever name the console takes on) and the next PlayStation at around Christmas of 2013, which interestingly means that the XBox 360 would have had a longer lifespan than the PlayStation 3 if that were to be true. Stay tuned to the Flickcast for more about all three future console launches and all the upcoming E3 news in the coming months.