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What the Next Generation of Consoles Can Learn From the Current

With the next generation of consoles taking over from the current generation later this year, there's no better time to take a look at what the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U can take from what the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii got both wonderfully right, and dreadfully wrong.

What to remember:

Playing with others online:

Arguably the biggest evolution of this console generation has come about through the use of the internet to play, talk and connect with our friends and fellow gamers. It's a concept that has developed something of a mixed reputation, but its direct impact on our industry is astounding to behold.

It's important to remember what makes playing online with friends so fun. The kind of over-connectivity we're steadily seeing is something that, personally, I'm not a fan of. Sharing great experiences with people from around the globe is brilliant, receiving random pictures of strangers playing those great experiences is not. I want to see a continuation, and evolution, of the great multiplayer experiences offered at the moment.

Cinematic experiences:

Before the 7th generation of consoles, there was a distinct difference between video games and the other forms of mainstream media (film, tv). That all changed when the power of the PS3 and Xbox 360 opened up new possibilities to developers; allowing them to create titles that closely resembled action-packed Hollywood blockbusters. That phrase has become something of a cliché these days, but there's no denying the success of Uncharted, Mass Effect, or Call of Duty - all games with significant cinematic qualities. Games became more than just button pressing, and I would argue that, more than ever before, they became experiences in which you loathed, loved and respected characters and places.

As much as continued innovation is important, it'll be great to see an evolution of this concept in the next generation. From what we've seen at E3, cinematic experiences are leading the new generation of games. Here's hoping developers don't restrict interactivity in favour of film-like experiences. Ryse already has me a little worried.

Independent developers can create gold:

While this generation has been largely defined by rich publishers making millions from consistent series, it's also seen the rebirth of the independent video game developer. A move that has, in turn, created some of the best games of the modern era. It's impossible to name a few as stand out titles, as there are so many great indie games available right now on XBLA and PSN. Of course, the indie revolution was kick-started on PC, but I'd argue that it was truly elevated once it hit the mainstream on console.

From what we've seen so far, indie developing is going to be a mixed bag on console next generation. While this year's Sony E3 Press Conference contained a brilliant segment dedicated to the host of indie developers working on PS4 games, Microsoft's messages concerning independent publishing on Xbox One have been confusing so say the least. Regardless, there's an undeniable recognition within the industry that you don't need bags of cash to create gaming gold. Here's hoping the big corporations don't restrict the freedom of indie devs going forward.


What to do better:

Fatal technical issues

Arguably, the single worst thing about the 7th generation of consoles was the unreliability of the actual devices. Red Ring of Death and Yellow Light of Death (both brilliantly titled...) are two terms that will live forever in the memories of gamers worldwide. In many ways, we came to accept the issues and learned to cope. I can't remember the number of times I opened up my PS3 to resolder the CPU. Think back to the previous generations, however, and terminal problems such as this were never prominent. Little issues, of course; but rarely such widespread failure.

One can but hope that the consoles of the future are more resilient; CPU architecture hasn't changed a whole lot in terms of heat production, but for all we know Sony and Microsoft could have a few tricks up their sleeve. What's more, heat management has greatly improved on PC, so there's good reason to be optimistic about reduced heat transferring over to consoles. There's always chance for other issues, though, so we'll just have to cross our fingers on this one.

Fewer restrictions on the player:

The concept of restriction on consumer rights within the video game industry was almost never an issue before the 7th generation came around. By the middle of their cycle, however, the big publishers were beginning to impose fees and restrictions on players, even those who had purchased their products. While many did so in the name of the fight against piracy, it became clear that the real reasons for online passes and the like were purely financial. In many ways, the free-to-play model has also been hijacked by money grabbing corporations. It's not often now you see a truly free-to-play console game.

This kind of greedy behaviour from publishers needs to stop, and with a new generation of consoles on the horizon, now is the chance for gamers to step up and make a difference. Microsoft's 180 decision on DRM is a good sign that the industry will listen to gamers if we can organise ourselves. There's a fine line between making money from us, and just plain robbing us; if the next generation of consoles brings anything new, I hope that it'll be a recognition of this fact. Of course, this will never happen if we just sit idly by.

Improving digital distribution:

Steam has straight up proven that digital distribution is the future of our industry; very few PC gamers buy physical discs these days purely because it's easier and often cheaper just to download from Steam or something similar. Despite this, there seems to be a strange reluctance to let the same thing happen on console.

New retail games are sold at often ridiculous prices and you rarely see any significant discounts. Schemes like PlayStation Plus' instant game collection, however, display a willingness to embrace digital distribution. While I wouldn't like to see the complete removal of physical discs, it would be good to see the big three really embrace digital distribution in the same way gamers on PC have. With Sony pushing Gaikai Cloud gaming, as well as their indie titles, things are looking optimistic. Hopefully the console producers recognise the success of Steam and take some tips.

It's an exciting time to be a gamer, no doubt. A new generation of consoles has always brought with it revolution and evolution and it's exciting to wonder what we'll see in the future. In many ways, the 7th generation of consoles truly brought gaming into the mainstream, so it's down to the 8th generation to make an impression on the mass market. One can but hope it'll be a good one.

RGDfleet | 15th July, 2013

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