2014: The 8th (Last?) Generation of Console Gaming

Where exactly can console gaming technology go next?

The new year is upon us, and many of us are probably enjoying a new console that we've been bequeathed over the holiday period. We're now at the eighth generation of gaming consoles, and they've never looked better. But are we reaching a dead-end concerning how much further we can go with mainstream console gaming technology?

Where We've Been And Where We're Going

What drove the gaming industry in its early days was the quest for better and more realistic graphics. It's laughable now to think that gamers found 32-bit graphics unbelievably crisp and near convincing back in their heyday. But now, the glorious high-definition revolution has come and we're being bedazzled once more.

What's more, the difference in graphic quality between the last and current generations really is the smallest it's been. Compare some of the latter-day PS3 games against those now available on the PS4. Whilst it is noticeably better, it's not as shocking as, say, the leap from 32-bit to 64-bit. The trend over the past generations have been a longer wait between generations, and the leap in advancements less staggering. The rate of progress has definitely been slowing down over the last decade and a half, with it being eight years since the last console upgrade, and only a six-year gap before that. On the current trajectory, it'll be another decade (2023) before another big advancement.

But is the eighth generation of gaming - the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 - the ultimate pinnacle of our achievement? What is the next step, if there is one? To be honest, there isn't really much more. We've gotten to the point with image definition that the only way we can get a more polished look is to physically reproduce everything in our living rooms.

What About 3D? 

We already have it, and it hasn't caught on, as Nintendo have left 3D behind by reverting back to flatter graphics with the 2DS, and even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has pulled its funding for 3D programming. So the future for 3D doesn't look particularly promising, unless you're a Hollywood director. Yes, games like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and the high-definition remastering of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are fantastic in 3D, but there are very few other games that have taken to utilising this functionality. The only place it seems to do well is in cinemas.

What About Handheld/Portable Gaming?

Games are now more mobile, but the rise in smart phones and tablets means handheld gaming is moving away from dedicate hardware like the 2DS and PS Vita, taking up residencies on devices that run iOS or Android operating systems.

The PS Vita might stick around a little longer, with its gaggle of interactive features (two touch-sensitive surfaces, back and front facing cameras, motion control, and analogue sticks); especially with the success of Sony's relaunch of the device to tie-in with the PS4. 

Both Sony and Microsoft are also investing in creating a smart phone/tablet visibility through PlayStation Mobile and Xbox SmartGlass. It really does look like the days of handheld consoles are numbered

App-based gaming is where the mobile gaming industry is moving, and the demise of portable consoles is now more a question of "when" rather than "if".

What about Virtual Reality (VR)?

This does seem like the only other direction gaming can go. Yet despite the Oculus Rift really creating some waves at the 2013 expos, the proof is found in the eating of the virtual pudding when it comes to being a viable new platform. There have been countless attempts of developers trying to get VR off the ground over the past 20 years, all of which have failed. However, the Oculus Rift probably has the best chance of succeeding, given the vociferous support of developers like Bossa Studios, and the hype it has trumped-up at expos.

Yet, we can only go two ways with VR. If it fails, we're just left with the next "big" advancement in gaming some ways in the distance, and potentially not being too exciting or revolutionary. But if VR succeeds, then traditional gaming as we know it will start to become obsolete. So it seems a lose-lose situation for console gaming, right?

What About a Different Approach to Gaming?

The only avenue left for console gaming is for games to start moving dramatically away from what we traditionally consider as gaming, and for technology to follow suit. This has already begun in earnest with games like The Stanley Parable and Kentucky Route Zero on PC, but it's still only coming from the indie developers, and not so much from the big publishers and studios. But hopefully both Microsoft and Sony's dedication to bringing indie developers to their platforms will spur this change.

Speaking at Game Music Connect in September, composer of the music for the Halo series, Martin "Marty" O'Donnell, reckons that how games explore narrative and interaction really is the last bastion of progress, given his opinion that technological advancements has reached a plateaux. Certainly, Destiny, for which O'Donnell has written the score for, is one of the first mainstream attempts in changing how we approach gaming.

But when you look at buyer comments on games like Gone Home, one of the most successful and inventive indie titles of last year, and the furore surrounding the debate on "what is a video game?", you do wonder if the gaming community at large really want this paradigm shift, let alone whether they're ready for it.

Is The End Nigh?

It feels like traditional console gaming has reached its terminus. Any new advancements in gaming are either going to sink or swim (VR), or are still brewing amid small beginnings on the indie scene. But there's still plenty of time to enjoy your PS4s and Xbox Ones. The point which we've reached is undeniably the most impressive yet. But come the "next generation", what we now know as console gaming, and gaming as a whole, may well become a thing of the past.

Featured Columnist

Bearded British game-bear. Likes his JRPGs accompanied with a G&T. Lives in London, UK. Also writes a lot about theatre and film. *jazz hands*

Published Jan. 2nd 2014
  • Stephen Pierce
    Nintendo is leaving 3D behind? Only 8 months after you posted this Nintendo has announced a new, more powerful version of the 3DS. (http://www.wired.com/2014/08/nintendo-new-3ds/?mbid=social_fb) Also, the difference in graphics is smaller this time around, however, are you only going to judge games on graphics? Despite the fact that the 360/PS3 had much more powerful graphics than their predecessors, those graphics came in the form of games like Sonic '06 and Madden '06. If you believe the only thing important for a console is that it is vastly superior to other consoles, perhaps you should buy an Atari Jaguar. What's more important than how it looks, or how much better than it is to its predecessor is the games it can play, and it would be crazy to believe that this generation will not be getting amazing games soon. It should also be pointed out that a console is at its weakest in its infancy. Developers have spent the past 7-8 years working on last gen consoles, and after much practice they've mastered it, all the while they've spent less than a year on the PS4/Xbox One and not much more on the Wii U. Once developers become better at developing for these consoles they will quickly outdate last gen's consoles. Do you also really believe that mobile gaming is going to be the death of console gaming? High speed internet is still too sketchy for huge swathes of people to make mobile gaming possible beyond things such as Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies. Games such as these may steal some casual gamers, but any true gamer (the kind that will buy more games than casual gamers anyway) will need more than the newest Angry Birds game to give up their console. I do agree with you that mobile games will start eating up handheld sales (I actually use my Vita and 3DS almost exclusively at home and use my Android to game while I'm away from home) but mobile games are still a long stretch from killing a console. It is also noteworthy that Sony has recently broke 10 million sales, and did so faster than the either the PS3 or the 360 (http://www.extremetech.com/gaming/187938-ps4-hits-10-million-units-sold-while-xbox-one-still-sits-at-around-5-million). Its sales will only continue to grow once mainstream titles are no longer released for last generation consoles. When games like Halo or CoD require a PS4/Xbox One to play, people will buy them.

    In a decade you could be correct, if gaming laptops become drastically cheaper and more portable they could replace home consoles. Also, consistent, easily available high speed internet becomes a reality, cloud games played on a tablet or phone could replace a home console. Microsoft's blunder demanding high speed internet is well known, and Sony also toyed with the idea of having a console that use download only games (and let's not forget the PSP GO), but they quickly decided it was not possible currently. It is possible that Microsoft may not survive into it, but barring drastic changes in technology we will most likely see a 9th generation with at least a Sony and Nintendo console. These are bold predictions made well before this generation had time to flourish. Perhaps you should have waited at least long enough for the first years sales figures began coming in.
  • Randy Arrowood
    You say that Nintendo has "left 3D behind", which is patently false. The 3DS and 3DS XL are both still available, and any amount of research would show that both are handily outselling the 2DS.

    Then you discuss the death of handheld consoles, and totally fail to mention the 3DS? You only mentioned Nintendo when you had an opening to take a shot.
  • Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
    Featured Columnist
    The way I see it, the fact that Nintendo brought out the 2DS shows that there is a definite demand for a non-3D platform; certainly a solid punt in the amount of gamers who end up playing 3DS games with the 3D turned down. If there wasn't, then they'd be pushing the 3D technology further in their latest technology, no? I know that Nintendo have definitely said they're not officially abandoning 3D (yet), because that would be a silly thing. As you've pointed out, there's still a solid 3DS and 3DS XL market out there, and making 2DS run 3DS just seems like a good business decision.

    Sometimes, sales do often go against a company's direction. The 2DS is ugly and unappealing (at least, I certainly think so!) and may be why some might not be buying it. However, the research I've done finds that the 2DS is actually growing in sales,especially with it being the best selling console in the UK in October 2013 (although, that was mostly down to some good marketing over a school half-term and retailer price cuts) and GameStop in the US getting a pre-holiday sales boost due to a surge in sales of the 2DS. So the console is certainly not floundering, for sure. These, and other sources and commentaries are what I've based my opinion on. But is interesting to hear that you have quite a different viewpoint to mine based on what you've discovered. But it seems that we've just come to different conclusions. So, maybe "leaving behind" might have been more appropriate. My statement may well be just a little too definite!

    Yes, I probably should have given Nintendo a bit more column space, especially regarding handheld gaming. But to me, the eighth generation really is being dominated by Sony and Microsoft. And when you look at disappointing sales of the Wii U, it's difficult to think of Nintendo competing at the same level. This will account for why I've unintentionally neglected them on that point. But even considering Nintendo's handheld contribution, my opinion still stands that fighting iOS and Android as mobile gaming platforms will ultimately be a loosing battle. And concerning Nintendo on this point, they've attracted a lot of criticism for stubbornly refusing to invest into smart phone/tablet gaming, unlike Sony and Microsoft.

    Lastly, sorry to hear that you think I'm "taking a shot" at Nintendo. I myself struggle to see what malice there is behind what I was writing, outside of stating the facts that their newest handheld is not 3D, and that games are moving from the handhelds onto phone/tablet platforms.
  • Randy Arrowood
    to say that Nintendo has left 3D behind is disingenuous at best. To then leave Nintendo totally out of the handheld discussion as you declare it dying?

    Sorry, where I come from, those are shots. Malice isn't a requirement.
  • Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
    Featured Columnist
    Omitting Nintendo in mention in the article itself doesn't change my overall opinion that the overall handheld market is loosing ground to smart phones/tablets. So it really doesn't change anything on that point.

    Well, if you feel it's a disingenuous statement, then I can't stop you from having that opinion. However, I'm still going to stand by the opinion I've come from based on my knowledge, experience, and research. Afterall, this is an opinion piece. I think that Nintendo are leaving 3D behind. It's certainly not an immediate thing, but certainly I think their direction is shifting away from it, which would certainly seems in tune with anything that isn't film, and the rest of gaming. That's my opinion.

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