Editorial – Do we need new gaming consoles?

With E3 upon us, and both Sony and Microsoft having announced their new consoles, everyone is ramping up for a mass info dump at E3, and the epic arguments that will follow.

Yet I think there is one question that will not be asked by the majority of gamers or news outlets: Do we need a new gaming console?

I have to say, even when the rumours first started coming out from the various camps, I did not hear that question being asked. Everyone was speculating, which they still are, about what would be in both and what would they offer. Would the new guys coming, from Ouya and Steam, make an impact? What about Apple and the offerings from the “i” range?

Of course, the idea of something new will always generate buzz and a sense of wanting. People would look at their old consoles and PC rigs, and then they would start saving for the new thing, as new is always better. Right?

People are stupid.

I looked at my consoles and wondered how the heck I would get through my back catalogue of cheap games that I have. That’s before looking at the games I will buy once they drop down in price, like Bioshock, which I will be adding to that list. I looked at my PC and wondered the same thing, although my PC is at least 5 years old so is now showing signs of age and need of update.

Yet I was curious to see what new shiny would be offered and what, if anything, would be said that would make me answer the question of “do I need a new console?”.

Sony started first with a good strong showing, pitching at the gamer and developer, and effectively apologising for everything they had done with the PS3. The specs were touted, nice PC specs, which would be outdated after 6 months of launch, but as a PC gamer that’s nothing new to me. We saw some lovely tech demos of graphic rendering, the social features of the share button, and streaming. The idea of downloads working behind scenes (finally) and even being able to start playing before the download has finished. These bits of news piqued my interest, as I really find the download and install process to be very tedious on PS3. Yet I’m not sure how many people will develop a game in that way, especially if it adds to the already lengthy developers cycle.

Sony did come out and say the console would not always require a internet connection to play games etc. Yet I will assume that to use most of the functions that they touted, I would always need an internet connection. They showed some pretty games, most of which I really didn’t care about, but that is down to my own gaming preferences. The only thing I really want is Watch Dogs, which also is set for PC. The announcement show solidified the idea that this would be a games console, as have much of the adverts, and very little news other than that has been confirmed or released since.

My issue, they did not answer the question of needing a new console for me. Yea, its nice having the streaming and video tools, it’s nice to have the background download. I don’t care about the controller with its move strip, and I am hoping to God they don’t make it look ribbed or curved or like a heat sink. Yet they did not give me enough of an answer to make me want to buy out of the gate.

Granted, I don’t really do that too often, anyway, but I do if the pitch is right.

Sony then went on to confirm details they announced, games being made with PS4 in mind. Yet little other info was mentioned. No confirmation on how the PSN will work, our IDs and achievements and if they would port over. No backwards compatibility was confirmed, although the option of Gaiki was proposed as a possible solution to that.

Eventually, a month later than originally planned, Microsoft came out and spoke about their console, amidst many comments about the console being always online, and other “leaked” documentation. Microsoft’s offering is the Xbox One, which many people immediately labelled the Xbone. They announced similar specs to PS4, as well as similar ideas of game streaming and editing (game dependant) which was quickly passed over. The chosen distinction for the Xbox one is TV integration. You can plug in your cable box and have it sat on its own layer, and the switch between that and games, internet and other apps. Most of the pitch was for this to be your one device to go to for all entertainment. Microsoft also showed various partnerships and alliances with publishers like EA and Activision, which will lead to timed DLC exclusives, and other social features.

Overall, the show was a completely different pitch to Sony, and set it apart as a machine that could also play games. A pitch that had been used by Sony for the PS3 at one point if I recall.

For me, there wasn’t much again that I really cared about. The inter-layered features and app spark my interest, as it would mean I could switch between gaming and TV easily. Handy for when my wife wants to watch TV but I would like to jump back on once the program has stopped. Also, the snap to feature would be nice, especially if it wasn’t just Skype apps that you could do that with. Order food, check weather, check twitter. Skyping next to a big screen also has some possibilities. The Kinect 2.0 has some nice tech, which if used by developers properly could lead to some actually innovative games.

Still nothing really answered the question of do I need a new console, though.

After the show, the animals were let out and chaos ensued. Sony has at least learnt to hide those who know nothing away once the show ended. Microsoft just left them to it and created a confusing atmosphere that left the gaming community baying for blood. Granted, we have had a lot more information come out since then, and some questions have been answered. Still there are plenty of questions left to answer, and Sony has remained even more tight-lipped than Microsoft about the same issues.

Even with the clarifications coming out, I still don’t have an answer to my question. The vocal majority of gamers will be championing PS4, as Microsoft is “clearly not understanding gamers” which I think is laughable as Sony has not yet clarified its stance on used games, authorising games and licenses, or anything about the PSN. Right now I am looking at pouring money into my PC, as I can get all the games I want to play on there. Of course I am using Steam, which is licensing games to me. There is an offline mode the service but will check the games are mine each time I log on. My PC requires internet, for most parts of my gaming experience as well as everything I do on there when not gaming. Plus I can record games and edit them, not to mention I use Google services… A lot.

It frustrates me that the question of why we need new consoles -now- is not being answered, and that people are jumping up and down about everything except this, as we still have two perfectly good consoles that are still being developed for. In the latter years of every generation we see better games and ideas, so I see no reason to throw money at a new console.

Frankly, I don’t think people will ask my question, because all they see is new and shiny. Whilst gamers will shout about DRM and corporations controlling what they can do, they will still use Steam, Google, Apple, and their ilk. They will still go out and buy both consoles. They will complain and moan about both… On their PCs, which they will pay money out on to keep on the technology curve and will outstrip both consoles after six months.

Buying Xcom has brought into focus that I need a new PC, as my current one really won’t run Windows 7 well enough. So I won’t be spending money on the new consoles simply because I already have two perfectly good machines and a computer I need to upgrade.

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