What’s Your Definition of Next-Gen?

Yesterday, “Roderick Leermakers responded”:http://www.captainaugust.com/index.php?when=2007-04-14 (bottom of the page) to an article I wrote about the PlayStation 3, for a Dutch games magazine called GMR. Specifically, he doesn’t like what I said about Sony’s motto that “the next generation of gaming doesn’t start until we say it does”: that this has turned out to be correct.

However, the PS3 really is the only no-compromise next generation videogame technology out on the market today.

Sony has taken its time to introduce a console with–as just one example–a truly next-gen optical drive – Blu-ray. (In other words, just like PS2 really was ‘next-gen’ because of the DVD drive, PS3 is ‘next-gen’ thanks to Blu-ray.)

Contrast this with Microsoft, that wanted to rush out its new console, forcing game creators to work with the last-gen limitation of 9 GB of storage space and forcing gamers to buy an optional HD-DVD drive if they want to watch HD movies on their Xbox 360.

(I’m not saying 9 GB of storage is too little or that HD movies are holy, I’m just saying that Xbox 360 was clearly compromised on this point, while PS3 is truly next-gen.)

Real world 1080p support and built-in Wi-Fi are other examples of Sony’s no-compromise approach, that have made sure that the next generation of gaming, indeed, didn’t start until Sony said it did.

In the end my discussion with Roderick, if I were to have one, would very much be about semantics. In his reponse, he argues that ‘next-gen’ is not just about technology. But the definition I had in mind while writing my article was 100% about technology.

The goal of the article–which was something of a coverstory, four pages long and appearing early on in the magazine–was to celebrate the launch of the PlayStation 3. In that sense, I think it’s fair that I took a technology centered point of view, a point of view that’s close to Sony’s.

(Also, one has to wonder where the origin of the phrase ‘next generation’ lies. With new generations of more powerful gaming hardware, perhaps?)

From the technology point of view, the comparison with Xbox 360 was easy. The comparison with Wii was a lot harder, which perhaps is why it was mostly left out of the equation.

See, once you start talking about Nintendo, the DS and the Wii, the ‘next-gen’ discussion becomes a discussion of philosophies. Which one is right? Really, there’s no telling at this point. Wii is doing great in the marketplace, PS3 currently isn’t, but Xbox 360 basically follows the PlayStation model, and seems to be doing fine. And who knows what will happen in a year or so, when the PS3’s price is lower and the games library broader?

I personally think there’s a place for both philosophies: both the ‘PlayStation model’ (divided between Sony and Microsoft) and the ‘Wii model’ will be succesful and sell tens of millions of consoles, until the next generation arrives.

As a thought experiment, ask yourself what will happen at that point, five years from now. If you ask me, I’d say it’s likely that Nintendo comes up with a new device that has HD graphics of higher quality. Also, it’s entirely possible that the controls won’t be a big leap like the Wii Remote, but a refined version of the same. The question is, what will we call that? ‘Next-gen’? Surely it will be the next generation of Nintendo consoles…

Again, this is a discussion about semantics. What exactly is the meaning of the phrase ‘next generation’?

To be frank, that discussion was beyond the scope of my article. Personally, I’m happy with how it turned out: amidst all the negative PS3 coverage, it gives some attention to the amazing engineering achievement that is Sony’s latest. Without coming off as a piece of Sony PR, of course.