Nintendo's Wii U is right around the corner and with Microsoft and Sony expected to reveal their next generation consoles in the first half of 2013, it's set to be a big year for gamers. Some have even gone as far as questioning whether we need this "next generation", while others say it's long overdue - so what do you the big three need to improve on? We're certain to see an increased focus on online capabilities and we've been told not to expect a huge leap in terms of graphics; so here's five things I want to see in the next generation of gaming:
More bang for your buck
With the Wii U set to retail for as low as $349 here in Australia, you'd think Microsoft and Sony's standard $700-$1,000 launch price isn't going to fly if they want to compete with Nintendo. If they do go down the pricey road, however, they're certainly going to have to give gamers an incentive to fork out for a console that's double the price of Nintendo's system.
In terms of hardware, we should expect to see large (250GB+) hard drives as standard (in Microsoft and Sony's consoles), and aside from the increased processing power you'd come to expect there's not a lot more to offer.
Software-wise is where the real battle will be fought. Nintendo will be playing catch-up and need to win back the core crowd through establishing a quality, yet unique online infrastructure. Sony must continue to innovate with PlayStation Plus and Microsoft must surely follow suit. While it can be argued that Xbox Live provides a smoother overall experience than the PlayStation Network (no flame intended), forcing users to pay to access online features and offering very little in the form of bonuses won't be enough for Microsoft to entice new users in the future.
Motion controls bundled from the get-go
While Nintendo successfully made a bucketload from various motion-based titles, Microsoft and Sony spent the better part of this generation trying to emulate said success. Kinect and PlayStation Move, respectively, have both been respectable entries to the motion-based market and have enjoyed moderate success with the casual demographic, but have failed to resonate with the majority of gamers.
If MS and Sony are serious about motion controls (judging by the amount they've spent on R&D you'd say so) then their respective peripherals must be bundled with the next-generation consoles. We're constantly being bombarded with games labeled as "better with Kinect", and what better way to find out if they actually are than to own the damn thing.
Not a huge deal, and will never happen with either of the three consoles, but that's not to say they couldn't interact with their PC counterpart. With Microsoft rolling out Windows 8 for the PC it'd be pretty neat to see a similar interface on the next-generation Xbox where players can interact. Imagine playing through your favourite game co-operatively with your PC-playing friend while you're on the couch, Xbox controller in hand. Even an indie development scene possessing titles that could be played on both the PC and Xbox would be a great addition.
Sony, meanwhile, needs to continue support for the Vita and the initiative of including the Vita title as a bonus when purchasing the PS3 version a game. Being able to take your games from home to your hands is a huge selling point that Sony need to further exploit - but whether the Vita will be able to handle the power of Sony's next generation console remains to be seen.
More free-to-play games
Microsoft has recently jumped on the bandwagon with Happy Wars, and while the game was met with mediocre reviews, it's a step in the right direction. Sony dabbled with DC Universe Online (which I found a lot of fun), and free-to-play is a genre that certainly needs to be explored more in the next generation of gaming.
Variety is part of the reason behind the longevity of the PC and it's imperative that we see this transition to consoles. It'd be great to see Nintendo jump on the bandwagon with their own first-party titles, a move many would not expect them to make. Having that differentiation allows those who may not be willing to spend more money on games the chance to get the most out of their system.
Social interaction is something that's grown exponentially this generation and will only continue to do so. We've seen through Facebook just how easy it is to become addicted to a social platform - and Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony need to find ways to implement addictive social features into their consoles.
Whether it's battling your friends for rewards or an interactive environment (a la PlayStation Home), there's a variety of options for the big three to explore. It'd certainly be interesting to set challenges against your friends (regarding achievements/trophies/high scores) and even more so if it culminated in a reward that was worth it. Bringing people together should be the focal point of the online infrastructure for next-generation console makers.
By Jake Galouzis