I’ve maintained a console through every generation of gaming, NES, Genesis, Saturn, Playstation, Dreamcast, Playstation 2, XBOX, Gamecube, Playstation 3, Wii, XBOX 360. I’ve owned (or still own) all of these at one point or another and I just assumed I would always have a console. I have to say the recent pre-launches of the upcoming PS4 and especially the XBOX One have kind of put me off buying either next gen system.
The first question I have is, “why?” Though I jettisoned my 360, I have to say the PS3 and 360 are still both strong systems. They can get loads of life out of them and provide years of games with the “current” gen technology. I know there are loads of gamers out there who always want more and more in terms of graphical capabilities but they can squeeze so much out of the hardware it seems unnecessary that new hardware is needed to make games look better.
The second objection is the threat of DRM control. Most of us are familiar with the gaming industry in general and have heard that, despite shaky economic conditions and various natural disasters, the game divisions of most of these companies are turning profits, and in some cases are helping keep the rest of the company afloat. So why are game companies so concerned about “piracy” or the used game industry? It isn’t about their economic viability at this point it’s just greed. As a cartridge-gaming kid I never had more than a handful of games. My friends were in a similar situation. So we borrowed and traded with each other. Broke kids could play lots of games that way. When your friends wanted it back you had to either do without or, more often, sell some of your old ones and buy the new one you wanted. Buying used and trading has always been a dynamic part of the culture. The new plan is to DRM all games. To borrow a game from a friend you still have to pay for a game. This makes trading useless. All so companies already turning profits can make more money.
Even worse is the method in which they verify the DRM, specifically the XBOX One seems to have adopted the atrocious method used for Diablo III and the latest Sim City, always-on online server verification. It reminds me of the first time I put in my copy of Empire Total War and it made me install Steam. At that time Steam had to connect to the internet. I had a dodgy wi-fi connection. I couldn’t play it. A similar problem occurred when Diablo III came out, despite all the server preparation they didn’t have enough to allow the first-wave rush and people who pre-ordered the game couldn’t play it. The same happened with Sim City. Companies are now forcing you to be online even when you just want to play single-player games. I exclusively play one player so this is a barrier; as they focus on their marketing on online gamers and ignore what I’m guessing companies feel is a less-valuable customer. Microsoft can tout the number of servers they have ready for launch. There will be people who can’t get on. They will crash, and those gamers who want to just basically play a game won’t be able to.
And my third major objection, can we have a game machine that really just plays games? Both Sony and Microsoft seem to be obsessed with all the other stuff their dream machines can do. It can connect to their proprietary networks to play proprietary movies! It can constantly keep connected to social media! It can control your TV! It watches you while you sleep and checks your vitals like HAL from 2001! Ok. All well and good…and well-and-creepy, but does it play games? Are the games any good? Do they do anything new and worthwhile? It doesn’t seem to be the case just yet. They look slightly better from what I can tell. The question really is do they look good for what they NEED to do? Sonic the Hedgehog and Double Dragon II still look amazing for what they need to do. Make it HD and it doesn’t add much more. Make it 3D and it doesn’t make it better. Add motion control and it generally gets in the way… Do they do anything worthwhile and new? Or is it just “here’s the single player game (with maybe some motion control stuff) and here’s the multiplayer game.” At this point I’m not sure how much innovation can be put into games, but typically the innovation comes from designers and writers not the hardware. Get some good, creative ideas and you can make 8-bits look amazing.
I once read a book called The Pentagon Wars by Air Force Colonel James Burton. In the book he describes the major issue with weapons development in the Pentagon (in the 80s and it’s probably still true) is that weapons manufacturers use military funding to create new technology that was ridiculously overpriced and entirely unnecessary. The developers and consequently the Pentagon top-brass, made the weapons they wanted to see using the new technology they wanted to play with. In doing so they totally ignored what the soldiers and pilots wanted and needed. He discovered pilots mostly dog fight with enemy planes via sight…in response the Pentagon and weapons industry produced a missile that can fire from miles away and missed far more often than it hit. A troop transport vehicle was requested to carry troops and instead it was outfitted with so much hardware it doesn’t carry enough troops and can’t do anything well, it just does them “good enough.” While reading about next-gen consoles I thought of this book. The console manufacturers are spending WAY too much time trying to shoe horn the newest technology into their latest plastic box. All the cameras, TV-internet connectivity, social media functionality, 3D gimmicks, motion control, and voice activation won’t be worth anything if the newest, fanciest game machine doesn’t have good games or play let you play them easily. There will be decent games on it, but to me, it won’t be worth what we’ll be paying for all the technology I don’t want or need.
The only way to send a message to the gaming industry would be to NOT buy their latest over-engineered next-gen system or let them know NOW what we really want in a new system. The economic system is all on its head; it should be what the market desires not what the industry mandates we will have. I won’t be getting one any time soon after launch. But I have a feeling the market will buy it. They’ll buy it, complain about it, and continue to support an industry that cares more about doing what they can do rather than doing what’s needed; and increasing profits via absurd protection methods rather than simply making products their market wants to buy.
I’ll have fun with Mega Man 2 and Streets of Rage 3 in the meantime…