The current norms for games consoles are going to be flipped on their head when the next generation comes online. There are some things we could argue that are expected, like the lack of backwards compatibility, but the amount of change coming our way really doesn’t have any comparison in previous console generations. In nearly all respects I believe this is a good thing as many of the decisions made seemed to be born out of a mindset that worked 2 decades ago but was becoming rapidly outdated in today’s market. However one significant change could have a detrimental impact on consoles at large and could open up an opportunity for the PC (and by extension the SteamBox) to make a comeback.
The next generation of games consoles are shaping up to be some of the most developer friendly platforms ever created. Not only are they x86 under the hood, allowing many frameworks developers for regular PC games to be ported across with relative ease, many of the features that they have are a direct response to the requests from developers. This means that developers will be able to make use of the full power of these consoles from much earlier on and whilst this will make for some great launch titles that will be leaps and bounds above their previous generation predecessors it does mean that they’ll reach their peak early, and that might not be a good thing.
It was always expected that the best games of a console generation would come out towards the end of its lifecycle. This was due to games developers becoming far more familiar with the platform and the tools reaching a maturity level that made creating those games possible. The current generation, with its record breaking longevity, is a great example of this with the demos of current and next gen titles running on both platforms being very comparable. With the next generation being so developer friendly however I can’t imagine it taking long for them to be able to exploit the system to its fullest extent within a short time frame. Couple this with the next gen expected to have a similar life to the current gen and you’ve got a recipe for console games being stagnant (from a technology point of view) for a very long time.
Granted there will always be improvements that can be made and I’d still expect the best titles to come towards the end of its lifecycle. However the difference between first year and last year titles will be a lot smaller and in the case of the end user I doubt many will notice the difference. With the shared x86 base however there’s a big potential here for the PC versions of the games to start out pacing their console counterparts much earlier on as some of the optimizations will translate readily across, something which just wasn’t possible with previous platforms.
Indeed due to the current gen limitations we’ve already begun to see something of a resurgence in PC gaming. Now its likely that this could be dampened when the next gen of consoles get released however due the reasons I’ve outlined I’d expect to see the cycle begin again not too long afterwards. I do doubt that this will see PCs return to the glory days of being the king of gaming but there’s a definite opportunity for them to grab some significant market share, possibly enough to be elevated past their current also-ran status.
Of course this is wild speculation on my part but I do believe that the next generation of consoles will peak much earlier in its lifecycle which, as history has shown us, will usher people back towards the PC as a platform. With the SteamBox readying itself for release around the same time there’s ample opportunity for current gen console customers to be swayed over to the PC platform, even if it’s camouflaged itself as one of the enemy. In the end though the next gen consoles will still represent good value for money for several years to come, even if they’re quickly outpaced.