There is a hush amongst the crowds right now. A quiet before the storm. Something is coming next week, but we don’t know what it is. This is the nail-biting feeling that I have and I’m sure many others in the community have. E3 is now just around the corner and as is the case with every year, there will be many big reveals, many surprises and a lot of big marketing money thrown around.
But this year is a little different. Its clear that the industry is at an impasse and the reveals at this year’s E3 will probably be very telling about where things go in gaming for the rest of this decade. Even worse, it could be another year to parlay the important decisions and leave things to chance. So what’s going on behind the scenes? Why is this year’s E3 so important?
The big reason I see why is a lot to do with the next generation of consoles. Many have been predicting this next one may be the last generation of consoles. Some have even said that the current generation may even be the last. With Nintendo unveiling their next console, the Wii-U, last year it feels a lot like Sony and Microsoft will have their hands forced, that they’ll have no choice but to show what they have in the pipeline to stay competitive.
But that may not be the case. Both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 are hitting record sales, as in, they are doing far better than they should be for this time in a console’s lifespan. What’s very evident is that the Nintendo Wii is no longer a hot-ticket item, which is good reason to cue the likes of a successor. But if the 360 and PS3 are just now hitting their stride, does that mean a new box needs to be announced? From an industry stand-point, probably not.
And this is what worries me. Stagnating the current console generation means that there will be a lot of stagnation in gaming tech. Not so much in the PC world, but PC gamers should be reminded that a lot of their games are simultaneously released on consoles, why should a developer try to make a top-notch graphical game if consoles can’t support it? Ok, maybe that’s not so likely, but what about this: why release your hotly anticipated and brilliantly vibrant game when only PCs can handle it? Why not just wait for the next generation of consoles? And that’s where it really hits home. If the next generation of consoles is delayed longer, we could be missing out on a lot of amazing titles and go into a pretty stagnant period.
It already feels that way to me. For all of the updates that Microsoft likes to put out, my Xbox is becoming much more seldom used. Even with exclusive titles like Gears of War 3 I found myself moving back to PC gaming as soon as I was done with single-player. PCs offer a cadre of features I find myself hard to do without: easy to setup voice communication, easy multi-tasking (looking up wiki pages while I play a game is a godsend), and a central library of titles that I can easily expand and update without even thinking about it. The Xbox’s sluggish (and now slightly jarring) interface was tolerable before I discovered Skype, but now it feels archaic. Playing with friends can often be a game of “who still doesn’t have open NAT?” This sort of thing has really driven me away and caused me to realize that the Xbox doesn’t need just another facelift, it needs a completely new philosophy. Much like why 1-app-only interfaces on phones and tablets are driving me crazy, the Xbox and PS3 are now facing the same challenges.
Downloading media will also be a huge setback for some established industries (ahem, GameStop), so there is definitely a lot of push-back on making the switch. The PSPgo’s failure certainly felt like Sony was just moving a little too quickly, but I’m also a little worried that we won’t be able to make a slow and steady transition to downloadable games, as we did on the PC. On consoles, used games are a huge industry still, so the push for some type of physical media will be big. New games being released for download on a console the day they release at GameStop would likely be a huge punch in the gut, so there will definitely be a lot of back-room conversations about how to keep this from happening.
Right now its a lot of he-said-she-said going on. We have no idea what will be revealed, but we do know that developers are quickly ramping up what they can do. Oh and I don’t really think this needs to be said, but the Wii-U will basically be “Nintendo presents Xbox 360″, so don’t put a lot of faith in it.
God save these companies if the main reason we don’t get a Half-Life 3 reveal is because the consoles aren’t ready to handle it, seriously.