With buzz building around "inevitable" new console announcements, I started thinking about it and came to a realization:
For the first time in over thirty years of playing games, I'm honestly not excited about or even looking forward to the next generation of hardware.
Just thinking that gave me pause for a moment... As a gamer to the core, it's a bizarre, jarring way to feel. How can this be? After all, looking back it seems as though no matter what system I had, I was constantly eager for the next thing.
The Atari 2600 kept me busy for ages, but I knew that couldn't be all there was. The NES was fantastic, but I could conceive of better. The SNES and Genesis? Fantastic stuff, but the seams were showing. The PS1 was striking out in an all-new direction and things got interesting, but they also got a hell of a lot uglier. And now that we've had the 360 and PS3… well, what's next?
Real talk: I'm fairly satisfied with the consoles we have now.
Tech-heads may disagree, but in general, the graphics we're seeing these days are more than good enough. We've got decent online connectivity (for those of us who are actually online) and I've got an over-stuffed backlog of titles for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. If I stopped buying games this instant, I wouldn't run out of things to play for at least another two or three years.
So, for the sake of argument, let's say that both Microsoft and Sony announce new consoles this year. What would their big hooks be?
There will eventually be solid games to play (especially as support dries up for the older machines) but when comparing graphics between the current generation and the next, the improvement might be visible, but I doubt it will be stunning enough to drive consumers to the stores.
Going further, I don't think many developers are getting the most out of what they've already got. Rather than trying to get shinier skin or real-time eyelashes on in-game characters, I'd rather see people focusing on better designs, more innovative thinking, and newer types of content that are entirely possible on the current machines.
For example, look at Fire Emblem: Awakening. I've happily poured twenty hours into it and will likely put in another twenty. The graphics are simple and there's nothing cutting-edge about it—it's just a smartly-designed piece of software. The same goes for Serious Sam: Double D—XXL on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). It looks like it could run on a graphing calculator, but there are a lot of clever ideas and the gameplay delivers. The list just goes on and on. Monster Hunter, Deadly Premonition, Trials HD. Hell, I've never, ever heard of anyone describing it as the "system-straining Journey," yet that thing walked away with nearly every award out there in 2012.
It's from this perspective that I question what the next generation is going to bring.
HD graphics? Already there. 3D? It's a gimmick, and with the current state of technology, seems likely to remain that way for quite some time. Motion control? Kinect and Move failed to make their cases, and while most players seem open to a little waggle in their game diet, I don't see anyone focusing on that as the next big thing.
Always-online requirements? Used game lockouts? Publishers and developers might be keen on these things, but I'm guessing that very few gamers are looking forward to these "advancements."
Another factor in my new-box apathy is that while my 360 has seen heavy use since purchase, my PS3 and Wii have remained largely untouched except for the occasional exclusive.
Although I'm in a special position as a game reviewer and needed to have these units in-house, the smart move would have been to wait for the hardware to drop in price and then scooping up all of the worthwhile titles at deep discount. Looking at the library on my shelf, there weren't many exclusives that I would have missed out on if I had done so.
Given that multi-platform development is now the norm, buying a new set of boxes makes less sense than ever. In fact, despite being a console diehard since the beginning, it's starting to look like the smartest move is to buy a gaming-class PC, hook it up to my TV, and investing in a couple of high-quality controllers. It's not something I thought I would ever say, but the cost savings of PC games on sale is undeniable and the idea of having both big-budget blockbusters and edgy indies on the same box is incredibly appealing.
With all of this in my head, I'm finding it difficult to get excited about the possibility of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on "inevitable" new consoles. Unless the current economics of video games goes through a radical shift or there's some revolutionary new trend or mindblowing design concept that I'm not yet aware of, I'm feeling very inclined to get off the early-adopter bus and keep myself busy with what I've already got.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying I won't get on board if Microsoft or Sony present me with a tempting set of reasons to make the jump, but I'm not champing at the bit to empty my bank account like a sucker and hope that something compelling will come from it.