Aging slowly, the current generation of consoles is finding itself wandering crippled through the hallways of its home. A Life Alert pager dangles from its neck and is clenched within its trembling hand; soon the poor thing will need to be shipped off to a retirement home where we will forget to call it and only visit at Christmas. While it drifts off to sleep in its rocker, the rumors of the next generation begin to bustle among the community. The current generation still has some life to it but the temptation of a younger, sexier system is too much to ignore.
However, just like any generation, the new can learn a thing or two from the passing one. The game industry might be one of the most profitable entertainment industries of our time but many of us have admitted that the satisfaction from it has decreased over time. Many of us have grown frustrated with the bullshit we are forced to endure regarding hardware purchases like facing the Red Rings of Death; or have grown bitter at game developers incompetent decisions like cancelling Megaman Legends or refusing to localize beloved franchises. Interest is deteriorating. Doubts are filling us.
So even as we throw our money at companies, most of us do not feel very fulfilled at the end of the day with repercussions of our mistreatment starting to show. Earlier in the year Sony reported a net loss of $1.09 billion last quarter from their PlayStation department due to a decline in handheld sales, thus effecting the whole division. (IGN). Microsoft saw a loss of $229 million entering 2012 after XBox360 sales decreased by nearly 50% (Edge). Wii and 3DS price cuts on top of a slow-selling holiday left Nintendo with a $461.2 million profit loss (Joystiq). With such a decrease in sales, it is reasonable to assume that the first wave of the next-generation will be crucial to all three companies' foundation for the future. Though rumors like blocking the ability to not play used games are beginning to make consumers turn their backs.
What can be done to save the next generation? How can hardware developers regain our bruised trust and get back into our wallets? I mean...Our hearts.
1. Simple Design XBox360, XBox360 Elite, XBox360 Slim 4Gig model, XBox360 Slim 250Gig model, PS3 20-80Gig models with backwards compatibility, PS3 20-80Gig models without backwards compatibility, PS3 Slim, Wii, Wii with Motion Plus, Wii with Motion Plus but without backwards compatibility, DSi, DSi XL, 3DS...
There are a lot of different models and it does not stop there. The 3DS XL is just around the corner. Rumors from Comic-con have sprouted up regarding yet another PS3 model that is now "officially" the slim model. While having options are great, it confuses the hell out of people and clutters store shelves. It is understandable with this passing generation that we have a few different models. Microsoft desperately needed to clean up the Red Ring of Death epidemic, Sony needed to drop production prices of the PlayStation 3 to drop it to more reasonable price range, and Nintendo realized more needed to be included with their system.
Redesigns of systems might be necessary to fix flaws, but there is also an underline business scheme of making profit off of people rebuying a system in order to get an improved model. I support the need to fix a system if it truly needs an improvement. Though I am not sold on the mechanic of changing a look or adding a few bells and whistles to make me want to spend money on a product I already purchased. With the coming generation, each company has had plenty of time to test the water. Nintendo maybe the grandfather of the three, but each have a minimum of ten years experience with consoles. Therefore, we should only see a new model if it truly is necessary to prevent failure of the system. This generation alone has given each developer a chance to see what consumers want; they should know by now:
* Built-in wifi: there should be no reason as to why this is not included in every system from where on in
* Option to expand memory with the addition of larger harddrives: (I am looking at you PS3 where if people wanted more space, they had to pretty much buy a new system.) While Cloud saving is nice, you cannot store a whole installed game onto it. Sure, you can always delete it and redownload or reinstall it later, but in the perfect world this would not be an option.
* Include everything: Like Nintendo eventually did with the Wii by including the Motion Plus with a new system, there is no real reason as to why consumers cannot have everything right out of the box. I understand the premise of gaining a few dollars from us needing to buy an accessory when we pick up our new system. While something like a Play-and-Charge kit might not be a true necessity, the gesture would easily win points in the systems favors in the eyes of the buyer.
* Please no cosmetic redesigns: We would like a sleek looking system that takes up as minimal space as possible to set on our modern, cluttered entertainment centers. The current design for the XBox360, PS3, and Wii work fantastically; so do not stray far from that.
2. Keep Backwards Compatibility When it came to cutting back costs on production, all the systems sacrificed the ability to play games from yesteryear. Microsoft did not include full backwards compatibility and eventually abandoned it in order to maintain the XBox360's $200-$300 price range. Sony dropped it not long after the PlayStation 3 was first released in order to dip down from a $600 price tag to a more competitive price. Within the last year, Nintendo removed the Wii's ability to play GameCube games in order to lower the production cost to make up from their profit loss. Luckily, they are already making the right moves with the WiiU by allowing the system to support both Wii games and accessories. This is a trend that both Sony and Microsoft need to follow.
The importance of backwards compatibility is something that I do not believe has fully been realized; or at least, the benefits of it have been ignored. By allowing gamers access to their older games on a new system, it makes them feel like they are getting more of their money compared to purchasing a new system that will only play newer games. Instead of only being limited to a single library of games, they are opened to two or more libraries. This also helps encourage consumers to purchase systems earlier in their lifespan because regardless of the launch titles, they will always have something to play.
On top of that...High definition remakes of older games are starting to get a tad out of hand. It is fantastic to go back and relive through a great moments in a higher resolution but I foresee it as being unneeded going into the new generation. The games of the current generation would not gain much of a noticeable difference if redone for the next. Some polishing maybe and new content but there would not be as big of a leap as going from standard to high definition.
3. Support Preowned
Online passes appeared within the pass two or so years. Much like serial numbers for PC games, online passes are a form of registration for a new products. However, unlike serial numbers, these passes limit the features of a game in order to sway the public opinion to favor the purchase of new games over used games. Despite the similarities, the gaming community has grown more tolerant of PC serial numbers for a few reasons. Most PC games keep their price tags below the $60 price tag when compared to their console counterparts butt importantly, PC titles try to not set limitations regarding personal distribution at home.
Digital rights management (DRM) was introduced to PC gaming within the last four years, not too long before online passes. DRM's purpose was limit the number of times a single game could be installed either one the same computer or other computers at once in attempts to combat piracy. This meant that owners with more than one computer or laptop were restricted to a single device. Protests quickly followed from the unethical concept behind being limited on the usage of a product they purchased. As a result, having DRM can make or break sales for PC developers and have caused most to avoid its usage, ultimately relying on their consumers to purchase their games over pirating them.
However, console developers still set on winning the war against used sales. Mike West of Lionhead Studios seems to feel that used sales cause more harm to developers than piracy (url=http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-05-17-lionhead-pre-owned-worse-than-pc-piracy]Eurogamer[/url]) since studios see no profit from the sale while the retailer gains 100%. As a result, some studios like EA, Activision, Sony Computer Entertainment, and Ubisoft have begun forcing the use of online passes for their games. A code is included when purchasing a new copy and those who do buy used can pay for a pass with the average cost being around $10. Without this code, users are prevented from using certain game features like the multiplayer or chunks of the single player. Though would what happen if more than just a handful of studios turned their backs to used games? What if the rumors end up being true?
We can expect the industry to collapse. Regardless of your stance on purchasing new over used, the limitation would not sit well with consumers. With no support of used games, game rentals would no longer be available since the game would be unusable after the first rental. This also means that people would not be able to share games with their friends or family. We would no longer be able to let others borrow games from us and vice versa due to the game being tied specifically to a single system. Then what happens if someone has to purchase another system due to their first breaking? Or what if families want more than one system in their home? Does this mean they would need to purchase another copy of the same game or pay an additional fee to get the right to play a game they had already purchased?
It is a ridiculous idea that spells suicide. People want to feel like they own what they buy and want to be able to do what they please. No one likes having their property controlled by other sources than themselves. The community has already shown their disapproval by stating they would not purchase the system. Without sales, the industry would start to crumble. Companies would see extremely decreases in profit which could ultimately lead closures.
4. Creativity and Customization What do people do when they first buy a new phone? Or a new computer? Or a tablet? They customize it. They make it fit their needs while adding a personal touch to their device.
At the moment, customization is limited for our current systems. We can chance individual idea pictures for our profiles and purchase themes that change the background of our systems. Though we can do nothing else. So what if we had more freedom with our systems?
Dashboards could be treated like cell phones, tablets, or the PlayStation Vita. People could pick and choose what applications they want available on their main menus (Netflix, music programs, installed games, etc...). Then drag and drop them to where they want them on the dashboard, thus adding a personal touch to their property. It also lets users clean up the clutter from their screens by removing features they may not use. While it would be a small addition to a system's feature, for a new generation that seems to be focusing on personalized experiences there is almost no reason to not include some ability to customization.
5. Break Free Regional locks has been the bane of gamers' existence for years. Constantly taunting players as they have a system that a game is designed for but cannot play it due to its coding being locked out from their part of the world. Even with some Japanese only games being recorded with full English voice acting or games being released in Europe, we still see some games never get approved for U.S release - including some series that have abandon in other countries. If region locks were lifted, it would allow players to follow their beloved series no matter where they live.
There are currently three pillars that support the use of region lock. The first is to allow developers to maintain a set price for their games. Daily irregularities in currencies balances prove to make it difficult to keep a single price around the world. However, with the internet, people could order directly from the developer or select retailers where I universal price decided before the game's release.
Next is the desire to have staged launches or specific street dates for countries. By allowing restrictions on playability in each country, developers have some control over the game's release. The idea behind this is to prevent huge waves of demand from around the world on the title's release. It is easy to say that a developer just needs to produce enough copies to meet the demand and by having an online ordering system, they should hypothetically be able to track the demand before the game's release. Or even offer the game up as an available downloadable title to system owners in other parts of the world - an option that should greatly be considered, especially as the idea of digital distribution continues to be exploded.
Finally is the issue regarding the content of the game. Each culture has a very different views when it comes to controversial content such as violence, gore levels, and sexual content. Some countries may be a bit more sensitive than another particular how America tends to shy away from sexual tones but exploits violence while Germany shares an opposing view. Out of the three reasons, this will be the hardest to overcome mainly due to legal reasons. Even if a game developer was to refuse shipping to a country due to its rating, having it be more easily available would make it easier for people to possibly import illegal media to their country. The only solution that I can think of would be for developers to somehow release a patch that prevents a specific title from being playable on a system registered to a country that it is banned in instead of restricting all games. Even if people found a way around it, the effort would discourage the average consumer; those who would try to cheat the system probably do it already and probably would not stop either way.