Don’t be misled, although the cycle of next-generation gaming consoles will begin this year, gamers won’t see the ‘PlayStation 4’ or ‘Xbox 720’ (or whatever you’d wish to name it) hitting store shelves any time soon. While that is an obvious statement, draw your attention to 2012’s E3. MCV, a popular UK-based media outlet, has made claims stating that the successor to both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will be revealed during the upcoming E3. While an unconfirmed statement is usually dismissed as a rumour, MCV is known for being a reliable source and claims that their source is “100% concrete.” If these reports have any truth to them, gamers will have a notable E3 to look forward to. Unfortunately, the chances of this occurrence are very unlikely.
To understand why, one must look at the position of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 throughout 2011. The PlayStation 3, despite launching a year after its dedicated competitor, is on its way to surpassing the Xbox 360 in overall sales. Sony’s home console is gaining great momentum and moving forward. This is a result of Sony’s ideal of a strong exclusive line-up. 2011 brought PlayStation owners a handful of great exclusives worth playing, such as Uncharted 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, Resistance 3, InFamous 2, Killzone 3 and many more. While game sales continue to rise, Sony is in a difficult position for 2012.
By promising a 2012 launch for the Wii U, Nintendo has interrupted the assumed console-cycle. Sony has repeatedly mentioned a ‘10-year plan‘ for the PlayStation 3, and Sony has continuously stuck to its guns. Alternatively, Sony has also felt the affects of ‘launching late’, and its safe to assume that Sony would not like a repeat of their sale-related problems back in 2006. While this is understandably a difficult position for Sony, it is also safe to assume that they won’t officially reveal the follow-up to the PlayStation 3 this year. The reasoning may point to NaughtyDog, one of the PlayStation’s strongest exclusive developers.
NaughtyDog, most famously known for the Uncharted series, has publicly announced their fear of the next-generation. Stating that their PS2-to-PS3 days were their “darkest”, they don’t sound completely ready for this next transition. To solidify their position, the next big exclusive being pumped out from NaughtyDog, The Last Of Us, will only be available on the PlayStation 3. Although there has only been a cinematic teaser for the game, The Last Of Us is gaining huge hype, and expectations could not be higher after the success of Uncharted 3. While NaughtyDog’s statement about the ‘PlayStation 4’ may sound like they know a bit more than the general public, their new exclusive reassures us that there is still a bit of life left in the PlayStation 3.
While industry experts agree that there will be no big announcement about a ‘PlayStation 4’ at E3, the question can still be raised about the next Xbox. In 2011, Sony was winning the hearts of millions while Microsoft was doing the opposite. Many games launched on the Xbox in 2011, but few were notable exclusives. Many would agree that the Xbox only saw two ‘must-haves’ this past year; Forza Motorsport 4 and Gears Of War 3. Unfortunately, that was not enough. While Forza 4 was a beautiful game, perfectly crafted for car-lovers of all sorts, it only appeals to a smaller group of people. Many ‘shooter’ or ‘platformer’ fans will voluntarily miss out on the great experience. Gear of War 3, on the other hand, appealed to the core market of the Xbox. While the game proved itself with the critics, its hard for a console to live off the success of a single game for an entire year. This is something that Wii owners also felt in 2011, with only one AAA title; The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword. With the third most anticipated game of the year being a remake of a 2001 title, and the Kinect failing to provide any stand-out games, the Xbox may be losing its balance.
With all these problems, it would make sense to the untrained eye for Microsoft to launch their next console, but looking closely, Microsoft does not need to resort to such an extreme. The Xbox 360 does not have any noticeable hardware limitations. The latest model even incorporated an HDMI slot, enabling its 3D-capabilities. While only a small handful of games take advantage of this growing trend, it is reassuring to know that the Xbox 360 gives gamers that option. Furthermore, Gears Of War 3 is one of the most graphically impressive games to ever hit the home consoles. While some criticize the game for restricting itself to a smaller colour palette, it can still easily be classified as a graphical achievement. Clearly, the Xbox 360 has more power than some give it credit for. With all this, it is clear that the Xbox 360’s hardware is in no need of a renewal. The problem, as aforementioned, rests in software and exclusive-developer support. Back in 2007, the Xbox reigned supreme in offering exclusive titles, hosting classics such as Bioshock and Mass Effect. Now, in 2012, both franchises are seeing their third incarnation going multi-platform. While launching a new system in 2012 or 2013 may rekindle some hype and publicity, it will not fix the obvious problem gamers have with Microsoft’s business strategy.
It is impossible to predict Sony and Microsoft’s next move, but developers such as Epic Games and NaughtyDog are pushing our home consoles to new territory on an annual basis. By the end of the Gamecube or PlayStation 2’s life-cycle, gamers knew exactly what the machines were capable of. This time around, the need for a hardware upgrade is simply non-existent. While some demand for ‘Cloud Gaming’ or an improved framerate, it is hard to complain about the current status of this generation’s home consoles. While they may not be comparable to a $2500 gaming PC, there is little room for improvement. Nintendo, on the other hand, is clearly overdue for a new console. Since the Nintendo Wii has encountered both hardware and software issues in 2011, the Wii U’s 2012 launch is a necessary step in the right direction. Even so, analysts are finding it difficult to classify the machine as a truly ‘next-gen’ system. While the start of a new generation is an incredibly exciting period for core gamers, 2012 is not quite the ‘year of the next-generation’, as rumours and reports suggest. That title will depend on Sony and Microsoft’s next move, which may be years away.