The next console generation has, finally, dropped its pants. We can now see its bits. Patrick Garratt sums up the trends you can expect to see emerge in living room gaming after PS4 and Xbox One release in November.
Wii U spearheaded the idea of controlling the TV action in tandem with a second screen, but PS4 and Xbox will take the concept further by natively synching with phones and tablets. Watch Dogs is a prime example of how fast this is going to become the norm. The possibilities here, especially taking a new focus on console indie development into consideration, could be awesome.
Mystery be gone. With E3 and gamescom behind us, we know what PS4 and Xbox One will and won’t do. The next console generation is going to look markedly different to the current. How? This.
Downloading. It’s coming. The FIFA 14 copy inside European Xbox One pre-orders is a download, and we’re likely going to see day-and-date parity – price included – of digital versions with discs very quickly. Most second tier games will move away from discs altogether in the next two years (at the most). Steam-like sales and a focus on retailing the type of games which floundered on discs in the current gen will become normal on PSN and XBLA after November.
Indie. Unless you’ve been watching the games media through a steel shield for the last year, you’ll know independent console development is a serious focus for Sony, with Microsoft finally playing catch-up. Digitally self-publishing games created by singletons, large teams and everything in between will be one of the great differences between the coming console generation and the last. We may well see Steam’s monopoly on indie eroded in the years to come. This’ll be a big deal.
Always-on. Xbox One and PS4 are designed to be constantly connected to the internet. It doesn’t matter how much you rail against it, game-makers are now going to be assuming you’re online. Those UI’s you’re seeing are online. You are online. You may not have to be to play, but you will if you want to use all the social networks you’ve implanted into your brain. Get used to it. Offline’s done.
Free-to-play. Free-to-play will become normal to console users within the next year, with games like Planetside 2 and World of Tanks being early examples. A good indicator of just how much the world of business models is changing in the triple-A space is the reaction to Bethesda’s announcement that TESO will need a sub. The word “free” will be heard regularly in relation to PS4 and Xbox One.
The console MMO. Persistent online play is going to be an immovable next-gen feature. While “straight” MMOs will be available, there’s going to be an inexorable drift towards instance-based multiplay with friends, Guild Wars style. GTA Online, Destiny and The Division are all early examples of this: they aren’t “mass” in the traditional sense, but more about smaller groups enjoying persistent worlds.
The living story. Console gaming is about to suck up a lot of the attributes of PC. Service-style games are to be constantly updated with smaller pieces of content, as opposed to whopping great packs and sequels after multi-year waits. Guild Wars 2 is updated every two weeks with small-ish bits, and you can expect the same from the always-on triple-A console titles. Anything with a persistent world on PS4 and Xbox One won’t be a static product.
The second screen. Wii U spearheaded the idea of controlling the TV action in tandem with a second screen, but PS4 and Xbox will take the concept further by natively synching with phones and tablets. Watch Dogs is a prime example of how fast this is going to become the norm. The possibilities here, especially taking a new focus on console indie development into consideration, could be awesome.
Streaming. Both PS4 and Xbox One have Twitch integration, and, thanks to that always-on thing you’ve been doing for the past 15 years, you’re going to have the option to stream next-gen console play from day one. Sony showed how simple it’s going to be to drop into the game of a streaming friend in its gamescom press conference. Watching tournaments is bound to become more popular on console. This isn’t going away.
Cameras. Xbox One may have had a bit of a nightmare with Kinect’s messaging this year, but it’s in the box for a reason. Whether or not you use it for motion-tracking, having your face on the screen, for telephony as well as games, is about to become standard. When was the last time you bought a laptop without a camera? They’re going to be just as ubiquitous in the living room.
Social networking. Like, dur. Twitter, Facebook and whatever else you use to show your borked name on a Starbucks cup are so integral to internet life that leaving them out of the next console equation would be a darker shade of ridiculous. Everyone shares everything. Expect your triple-z web stardom to follow you onto Xbox One and PS4 as assuredly would a hungry puppy into a butcher.
PS4 and Xbox One release in November.