Let’s face it: the next generation of consoles is not already on the market because it’s intentionally delayed. Of course, they were projects built with great lifespan in mind but as much as manufacturers like to deny, technology has advanced far more rapidly than they have initially projected. Today, we are going to stretch these accusations as much as we can and for the sake of gamers, shed some light while revealing the most-likely reasons.
The situation has aggravated so much that even game producers, not consumers alone, are requesting the new generation of consoles to be released as soon as possible, with the hope of salvaging the market and creating far more exciting titles.
Present Consoles hurt the user experience, badly
First of all, when we refer to the next generation of gaming consoles we generally call for Sony’s and Microsoft’s future creations, because they usually sell the most titles and generate the most interest. At the moment, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 are approximately 6 years old and considering the opinions of their makers, they should last 4 more years on the market – a dreadful thought.
As Yves Guillemot, the CEO of Ubisoft admits, the next generation has to happen, and has to happen quickly. The current gaming market is filled with over-exploited plots and series, such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, where developers stick to franchises that are known to be selling well and do not risk releasing more challenging titles.
A vicious cycle
Gamers on the other side are also guilty. They choose to purchase the same rehashed story which adds a few letters at the end of a renowned title, because they know that the previous game was worth the money. They fear to risk and buy a completely new game, so they won’t invest in something which might bore them. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is going on.
This vicious cycle that drowns the user experience and lifts the profits of gaming companies is boring customers. Sequels to famous titles are mostly worth playing because of the unfinished story and the slightly advanced graphics.
Once developers make bigger adjustments to the gameplay they risk losing a part of the community that does not agree with them. Thus, the circle we were talking about gives birth to another paradox, where the gamer gets bored and desires something new, but without accepting major changes of the title he is already used to. And the fun dies.
Current consoles are already obsolete
Image credit: yum9me
Consoles have evolved since their introduction. Several generations have been released and with newer models, more advanced specifications were included. Unfortunately, their path was slow and almost futile compared with regular computers, which seem to have exploited in the past few years and still manage to do so constantly.
Through the years, manufacturers have mostly targeted a bigger hard drive, a slimmer body, reduced power consumption, as many connectivity options as a device can take and last and possibly least, performance. When taking a look at what the latest generation PlayStation 3 “Slim” can hide under its hood, here’s what sparks our interest:
- CPU: Cell BroadBand Engine produced by IBM
- GPU: RSX developed in co-operation with NVIDIA
- RAM: 256 MB XDR and 256 MB GDDR
- Storage: up to 320GB
- Others: 2 USB ports, Bluetooth 2.0, Ethernet and Full HD output
In plain English, the PlayStation 3 can achieve up to two trillion calculations per second or 2 teraFLOPS, and this by combining the video card with the central processing unit. On a regular computer, this mark can be achieved solely by a wide range of graphic cards, with a fair example being the ATI Radeon HD 4870, which was released three years ago and now costs around $100.This old beast can produce around 1.2 teraFLOPS alone and when pairing the unit with a worthy processor, impressive results appear.
PlayStation 3 – an old hag?
As for the RAM section, is not even worth going into the subject. Although the technology used by Sony is quite a threat, the PlayStation 3 is no challenger even to mobile systems, which can sometimes pack up to 8 GB of DDR3 RAM. The processor cache is also a note-worthy factor, but once again it’s a factor that gets overwhelmed by the PC segment. The latest Xbox 360 4GB version comes with a tri-core Xenon PowerPC processor clocked at 3.2 GHz and 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM at 700 MHz.
The graphic card used is an ATI Xenos GPU clocked at 500 MHz, which can hardly be something to generate a fuss. Of course, considering the price of a regular Xbox 360 ($200 on Amazon) and of the PlayStation 3 ($250 for the 160GB model), we can consider that the price might be the selling point for developers. To assemble a desktop system with the same performances would require a bit more funds, but the owner will also enjoy extra functionalities.
Why are consoles being delayed?
There are several reasons why consoles could be intentionally delayed. Although evolution and competitive products might seem the way to gain profits, product makers like Sony and Microsoft might resort to a couple of tricks, just to keep numbers on the first place, and not the user experience. On the other hand, they might just delay evolution because they wish to implement new concepts, which might require a few more work. This is what we’ve found:
Sales profits and the evolution of hardware
Image credit: Marfan
A while ago we did a piece explaining how product vendors come on profit in the mobile world. The same principles apply on consoles, but we will explain them once again. At the launch of a product, when the manufacturer takes advantage of high-end hardware and the latest software tools, a console is released with a price so low, that vendors actually lose on every sale they make.
For example, back in 2006, when the PlayStation 3 was released, the estimated manufacturing cost was around $800 for two versions which were selling for $500 and $600- the 20GB and the 60GB models. More precisely, Sony lost $241.35 for every premium console and a whopping $306.85 for the lower-end version. On the other side, Microsoft was reported losing $71 for every Xbox 360 sold in the first year.
Loss in the beginning, positive income after a few years
With the passing of time, the components which make the internal become cheaper each day and in several months or even years, manufacturers rise on profit. Microsoft for example, managed to gain $75.50 for each console it sold one year after its launch, while Sony was losing hard cash even three years after.
Of course, this losses come with every generation and with every price drop, so the situation might be evaluated in waves: once a device is launched, it’s a loss on each sale in the first period, and a gain a while after; after a price reduction, the cycle repeats itself and so on. All this lost money must be returned somehow and unfortunately, the most secure way is to delay a more advanced product, and keep selling the old one which requires a far small manufacturing cost. And that’s how the gaming evolution gets delayed.
Integrating advanced tech, perhaps?
Anyone heard about Cloud Gaming? Also known as gaming on demand, this concept bases on online streaming of games directly onto a computer using a thin client. The actual game is stored and run on the cloud, probably on a server which takes care of several clients, and the user only requires a computer which has to handle the streamed data. This computer might as well be one which costs $100 entirely, because advanced technical specifications are no longer needed to enjoy titles such as Crysis 2 and others.
That being said, cloud gaming could possibly remove the restless chase between consumers and device makers, for the best video card and so on. Users will only need to upgrade their “gaming plan” and that’s how a 60fps mark will be scored. Although cloud gaming is still young, companies such as Gaikai seem to push the technology a step further each day.
Could PlayStation 4 integrate cloud gaming?
Almost two month ago, Sony purchased Gaikai for $380 million, in order to take advantage of the fresh new “engineering talent” and, possibly integrate their concepts into a future Sony platform. It would not be a coincidence if the PlayStation 4 would integrate cloud gaming concepts, where the user could enjoy games out of its league without needing to upgrade.
This “transition” may require some time, and time can only be acquired by delaying the launch of the next generation console. Of course, this is just an idea. Maybe manufacturers await other technologies, such as a new Kinect sensor or something even more advanced. But it’s hard to believe Sony would go for cloud gaming, as this seems to be a product that’s more aimed towards personal computers, than consoles.
The lack of new consoles and its effects
Lacking new material, the world started to twirl and noticed that something was missing. Of course, there is enough content to chew for console abusers but why when every new game appears, people start to look for differences between the graphic quality of a console-compatible title, and its computer-optimized sibling? Or why companies like Ouya appear? Because people feel the need for something else.
Opportunities, free for all
When the big share of the pie is being held by two companies which present sufficient products, but nothing to spark the mind of someone in 2012, opportunities are born. One of them is being taken care of OUYA (God, I like that name), which just received around $8.5 million in a KickStarter campaign.
OUYA takes gaming back to the TV using a beautiful, affordable console built on Android – two essential ingredients which will surely spike the interest of both Google, as well as Samsung. They rely on an opened console-based gaming environment, where all games are free to play and developers make profits using micro-transactions, in-game ads and God knows what else. Moreover, developers won’t need licensing to publish games or something extremely painful, you just make a game and if it’s good, they will play it.
OUYA lets hackers in right on the front door, by allowing people to root the device without voiding the warranty and supporting those who wish to build their own peripherals. Based on Android 4.0, OUYA allows endless possibilities to gamers and developers alike, from directly streamed games to watching videos on a console with a Tegra 3 quad-processor, 1GB of RAM and a very stylish controller, all for $95.
And this is just a start. Another surprise might come from Apple, the company involved in anything tech-worthy but still lacking a console. Although Apple did ty the console sea back in the ages and it failed miserably, why not try it again? Imagine, an iConsole, white and glossy as any white iPhone 4S out there and filled with Apple’s goody inside. They do have the iCloud, might as well use it for something more entertaining.
Games stopped evolving
“We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market”, said Guillemot, the CEO of Ubisoft. He also describes that the lack of new consoles on the scene forces game developers to limit their creativity and resort to producing the same plain old content. Moreover, this limit is vainly introduced in a world where the computer age moves rapidly and state of the art tools just wait to being used, but all in vain.
Most games have stopped evolving, we believe. In order to produce a title that’s compatible with the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 and a computer, the last one will surely have to suffer. For some, it’s a motive strong enough to abandon the console world and develop solely on desktops.
Hopefully, it will not take long until Xbox 720 and the PlayStation 4 will arrive, with some reports claiming that designers have already started working on titles compatibles to such devices. These reports mainly target Sony itself, Microsoft and even EA. And we need to stop buying these consoles! If we won’t buy them, then we might just hurry the innovation process.