“Next-Gen:” Is it Perhaps the Most Subjective Term Ever?

What does "next-gen" mean to you? The definition varies widely among the gaming populace.

You hear people discussing it all the time.

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In fact, gamers have argued about it ever since the Wii U came out. Those conversations intensified last year, when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched. The question is: What the hell does “next-gen” even mean? Rather, what’s it mean to you?

There are many facets to consider because obviously, multiple things change in each generation. There are numerous upgrades to our entertainment, so it’s not just about one particular element. Then again, maybe it’s simpler to focus on just one element, because then it’s easier to define and subsequently recognize a true “next-gen” product.

Is it just about graphics?

That one element could easily be graphics. For example, there are those who say that ports of previous generation titles, even though they look better on the new consoles, aren’t really “next-gen.” This is because the games in question weren’t made with the new hardware in mind; all we really got was an upscaled version of an “old” product. Even those that launched simultaneously across all previous-gen and next-gen platforms (Call of Duty: GhostsAssassin’s Creed IV: Black FlagBattlefield 4, etc.) don’t usually get the next-gen nod from core gamers.

In this way, the recently released Titanfall and inFamous: Second Son might be considered the first true-blue next-gen titles in existence. They were designed for the new systems and they certainly show off a new level of visual production prowess. Then again, a few of the more cynical are just saying: “Yeah, but these are early PS4/Xbox One games. They’ll look much better over time.”

See? It’s never easy.

Is it about the overall gaming experience?

Maybe it goes beyond just graphics. For you, it’s not merely about enhanced visuals, it’s also about an overall superior gaming experience. For instance, we want better AI, bigger and more dynamic worlds, more realistic characters and voice performances, better frame rate, more complex storylines, etc. There are many ways for interactive entertainment to advance and in your mind, they must advance in all those areas to be considered “next-gen.”

The only problem with this scenario is that many will pick and choose; many have their priorities. To some, AI isn’t as important as a more robust, more realistic world. For others, better writing and stories equal more immersion; they couldn’t care less about bigger environments. Therefore, saying that next-gen is just a “generally better experience” is just way too vague for the purposes of definition.

That’s what happens when you pop open another can of worms.

…or is it about more than gaming?

These days, video game consoles are diverse machines. They don’t just play games; those days are long gone. While I still find it hard to believe that people would purchase a PS4 or Xbox One just because of the streaming services or other non-gaming entertainment features, I’m sure it happens. I’m also sure it’s a consideration for all consumers who wish to be educated about their prospective purchase. These things aren’t just game consoles…they’re “entertainment hubs.”

That being the case, everything just got more complicated. If you factor in all the capabilities of these new systems, then the definition of “next-gen” might be impossible to determine. Personally, I’ve never really cared about what else a gaming console can do, so I just care about the gaming experience. In this way, I fall into the second category, even though as I said, it’s incredibly vague and subjective.

Where do you stand?

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.