Nov 01 2014

Don’t call it New Gen

Last year, the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 were released to the North American market, pushing all 3 major game console manufacturers into the 8th Generation of gaming, following the release of the Nintendo WiiU in 2012.

Like every generation of consoles before them, these consoles represent a new stage in console gaming hardware, with distinctively superior hardware and software compared to their predecessors. Every generation, there is an overlap between the previous set of consoles and the new set and every time, the new consoles are referred to as the “next generation” of game consoles, or in shorthand “Next Gen.”  The term has made perfect sense, and no one has ever really had any trouble with the concept.

This generation however, things seem a little murky. I am noticing people referring to the Xbox One, and the Playstation 4 as “New Gen” rather than Next Gen. This is the first time I have ever seen or heard anyone use this term, and it somewhat confused me. What’s the difference? Why are you calling it new gen instead of next gen? You use a new term, so it must mean something different.

Then, it hit me – the term is being used to treat this generation of consoles as something other than a successor to the past generation. They are not being acknowledged as replacements.

To me, treating them as such is absolutely stupid. They are replacements. Eventually, production of hardware and software for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 will end. The consoles are already approaching a decade in the market, which is far longer than any console generation has been dominant. They are overdue for replacement, but it seems the fans of these consoles (the Xbox 360 especially) simply refuse to accept this fact.

This is hilarious to me, considering that the moment the Xbox 360 was released, nearly everyone abandoned the original Xbox. This was not the case with the Playstation 2 – it enjoyed a quality life for nearly 5 years after the Playstation 3 was released. The Sega Genesis, as another example, was dead by about 1997, with it’s successor, the Sega Saturn, having been released in 1995. The NES only received about 15 game releases after the SNES was released in 1991, and by 1994, the final official NES game was released.

Console hardware designs only have a valid shelf life of about a decade.  That, from what I have observed, is the absolute longest lifespan such hardware can have before it simply needs to be abandoned. Most consoles don’t have a full 10 years to their official life – about 5 years of being a “current” console, before their replacement is issued. The original Xbox had one of the shortest lives of any modern console before its replacement, only 4 years, compared to the usual 6 years between consoles such as the Playstation and the Playstation 2, or the 6 years between the NES, in 1985, and the SNES, in 1991.

Granted, there is usually a 2 year period where new consoles are still too expensive to be commonplace, and considered the standard, but they are what the game industry will be moving to over the course of those 2 years. This means that by the time all is said and done, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 will be nearly 11 years old by the time the PS4 and the Xbox One reach a decent saturation in the market (if you follow the standard 2 years to become common trend that happens with every console, by my observations.)

Why did I go on that long ramble about the history of game consoles? Because, in every case, the new console was called the “Next Gen” console. To say anything else about the Xbox One, the PS4, or the WiiU is to ignore the vibrant history, and the evolution of, gaming culture. It’s to treat your nearly decade old game console as something irreplaceable, which is simply not true. Eventually, the console will no longer be supported. No one will make games for it, online services will be turned off; eventually, the console will be effectively dead, just like everything to come before. It will become a vintage game system, a slice of gaming culture.

In example, Microsoft shut down Xbox Live service for the original Xbox in April of 2010. At that moment, the last bit of life in the original Xbox, and its games, left – at that moment, the system finally died, symbolically. Every online game for the Playstation 2 has had its servers closed, and it too finally stopped hardware production a few years ago, giving the console a vibrant 12 year life span. The thing is, it died gracefully, while its competitior, the Xbox, seemed to be mostly killed off suddenly when the 360 was released, and was left on life support for 4 years with no game releases, and only the leftovers of Xbox Live keeping it afloat. The online services too eventually end. Don’t think your PS3 and Xbox 360 will not have their online services closed eventually – even the original Wii has had much of its online connectivity removed, even while the system is still being sold in a cost reduced form.

All I am saying is, don’t use a term like “new gen” to describe the newest game consoles. They aren’t a new option, they are the next option. They are another step in the evolution of digital entertainment. They will, and already are here to, replace your existing hardware.

The past generation far overstayed its welcome. It’s time to move on, and in doing so, ensure devlopers can focus on bringing out the maximum potential of new hardware, rather than trying to squeeze new tricks out of a game system from 2005.

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