mercoledì 27 aprile 2016

Time to ditch the console generations paradigm?

There's a very interesting blog post over at Gamasutra (source) reflecting on how the advent of PS4K is going to change the way console cycles are handled from its release on. Author David Galindo speculates on how we might be in for a new, incremental update model that basically erases the concept of "new generation console" entirely, incorporating some tenets of the PC world: manifacturers have all shifted to x64 architectures, meaning that running the same games over multiple hardware iterations becomes much easier than it was before. However, are we really done with cycles and generations?

The so called seventh generation, marked by hugely popular consoles as the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii, has lasted much longer than the previous six, a situation that had both negative and positive implications: people mantains that improvements on graphical fidelity and complexity of game mechanics have been held back, but at the same time we've seen Sony and Microsoft's online platforms grow bigger and stronger, hosting services and initiatives that shaped them into the viable, attractive environments of today. A completely new gaming market blossomed during the seventh generation by way of indie games, often put under the same spotlight as their AAA counterparts.

As technological advancements slow down their pace, consoles needs to stay around longer and provide the developers with opportunities to make their super expensive games last longer too

Where hardware stood still, the market responded with new opportunities. As technological advancements slow down their pace, consoles needs to stay around longer and provide the developers with opportunities to make their super expensive games last longer too: the era of "enhanced modes" is upon us, driven by (you name it) stop gap incremental updates to existing machines without having to re-release the software entirely. Word on the Web is that programmers are not very happy with what's happening in the console world right now, but their tune may change as soon as they start seeing more revenues coming from their games over time.

What about consumers, then? What will their perception of this new marketing model for consoles be? This is a trickier question, as the masses' idea of what they consider "new" or "progressive" is extremely brand driven: they are not likely to change their equipment until something that is branded as new and progressive comes across. This is what leads me to think that the concept of "generation" is not really going to go away, even with its meaning reduced to a simple marketing hook. But from now on, people will have to think very well through when buying a new console, as waiting for the cheaper model to show up is probably not going to happen anymore.

If you're looking for culprits (and I'm entering pure speculation territory here), VR is probably your best option as the new technology's sudden and unexpected uptake is what prompted Sony to come up with the PS4K idea in the first place, not the will to disrupt the current market setting. The japanese company had no reason to even think about a new console, having an almost 100% sales' lead over its main competitor, but they surely need a stronger base platform supporting their position as the cheapest VR solution provider around - bar Google Cardboard. For once, creating a "just in case" prototype like Project Morpheus turned out to be a very good stroke for them!

Better resolutions and framerates for games may have been the only cascade effects of PS4K, if the vision of a new marketing scenario didn't come along with it.

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