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Sony have been talking about their ten year lifespan for the PS3 from day one, and Microsoft have suggested Kinect will add another five years to the Xbox 360’s life. But even so, as the 360 celebrates its fifth birthday the current consoles are starting to show their age, and behind closed doors both Sony and Microsoft must be at the stage of starting to think very seriously about what comes next. So, here is a list of ten things both companies will, or at least should, be thinking about when designing their next consoles.
10. Cloud gaming
Cloud gaming uses your internet connection to directly stream games onto your computer or console, which are stored and run remotely on servers. OnLive is probably one of the best examples of the technology so far. Cloud gaming still has a long way to go, but its potential is huge. As games are run remotely it means that you need very little local computing power, so a Cloud games console would be much cheaper than the traditional consoles. And, as everything is run remotely it means the graphics can be constantly updated without you needing to buy any new hardware, so the lifespan of a Cloud console would also be much longer than what we are currently getting. The main problem with the technology at the moment is that you need a very good internet connection for the system to work well, and even then you can still have problems with latency. But in another few years Cloud gaming is going to start looking more and more appealing and will probably have a significant role to play in the future of video gaming.
It would be a risk for Microsoft or Sony to start betting heavily on Cloud gaming too quickly, but if they expect their next consoles to have a long life span it might be an even bigger risk to ignore it all together.
9. Improving classic controller designs
The Duel Shock 3 and the Xbox 360 controllers are both good, tried and tested designs. But most gamers would probably agree they could both do with some improvements. Microsoft are still struggling to get the D-pad right, and Sony seem to happily ignore the cries to turn the L2 and R2 buttons into proper triggers. We don’t need anything revolutionary next time around, but it would be nice to see some small improvements rather then the exact same controllers again.
8. Better heat removal
It was the early versions of the 360 that got the most press attention for overheating and the now infamous Red Ring of Death, but overall in this generation both the 360 and the PS3 have been unreliable. With the next generation of consoles likely to be graphic powerhouses, a lot of attention is going to have to be given to the design of the hardware to avoid the problems of overheating which plagued the current consoles. For Microsoft especially, the reliability of the 360’s successor is going to be closely scrutinized, so they will have to get it right first time.
7. DVD, Blu-Ray or Neither
As Sony helped develop the format and risked a lot in backing it early with the PS3, it would seem like a strange choice for them to use anything other than Blu-Ray on the PS4.
As a significant number of XBox 360 games now come on multiple DVD’s it seems likely that Microsoft will opt for something with a higher capacity than DVD next time, but they might still be reluctant to adopt Blu-Ray as the format is so closely linked to Sony. But what other choices do they have? They might choose to resurrect HD DVD and use the existing technology in the form of their own Xbox exclusive high capacity DVD compatible format.
It’s also worth considering that with the speed that Xbox Live and PSN are growing it is possible that both consoles could have no Blu-Ray or DVD at all, instead just relying on the hard drive to download games onto. But in the same way as betting on Cloud gaming, this would be a huge risk and probably a very unpopular decision.
6. 3D support for all games
There is no doubt that Sony and some other television manufacturers are betting heavily on 3D television being a success, and Sony will almost certainly support 3D fully with the PS4. But what about Microsoft? It is yet to be seen whether 3D will be adopted as the television standard in most homes, but Microsoft might not want to look like they are being out done by Sony, and might feel they need to fully support 3D even if only a small proportion of gamers are actually using it.
5. Backward compatibility
Microsoft have always stayed relatively close to standard PC design for their hardware, and so some level of backward compatibility between the 360 and its successor shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Sony however had to suffer through a lot of bad press and confusion when they removed the ability to play PS2 games on the PS3. It would seem like a good decision to make sure they design the PS4 around a similar hardware configuration to the PS3 so that backward compatibility is easy to implement. But, the PS3 has also been much criticized for being hard to program for, so they might also be under pressure to design the PS4 with a simplified architecture, meaning PS3 backward compatibility might be tricky.
4. Hard Drive size
There was a time, back when life was simple, when if you bought a console on day one, it would be almost identical to one bought a few years down the line. But both Microsoft and Sony have been continually tweaking their consoles in this generation by changing things like the number of USB ports, removing card readers and adding HDMI outputs, all of which has resulted in numerous variations with slightly differing specifications. One of the most noticeable variations has been the size of the hard drive. So far Sony have gone all the way from 20GB up to 320GB, whereas the Xbox 360 can still be bought with as little as 4GB. Bigger hard drive means more space to download PSN and Xbox Live games, so more money for Microsoft and Sony. But, it also means higher console prices. Anything less than about 120GB as standard will seem like a step backwards, so on the next generation will everyone be getting huge great 1TB hard drives from day one, or will Microsoft still feel they need to offer a budget entry level option?
3. Carrying across Trophies and Gamerscore
A lot of gamers have put a lot of time into getting respectable Gamerscore’s on the 360, or getting to a high level on PSN. But will your Trophies and Achievements be carried over to the next generation of consoles, or will we all have to start over again from zero? There will probably be a lot of very unhappy gamers if their score is not carried over, but Microsoft or Sony could have some alternative or improved reward system in the works which they might think is incompatible with the current systems.
2. Existing PSN and Xbox Live games
This is an interesting one. Most people who use their 360 or PS3 online will have bought at least a few games from Xbox Live or PSN, and others will have spent a lot of money downloading games. So will the PSN and Xbox Live games you currently own be playable on the next generation of consoles? If your gamer tag and gamerscore carry over then it should follow that the games you have already paid for online could also be transferable as they are linked to an account, not a console. But there might be compatibility issues with running old games on the new hardware in the same way as we have seen with disc games on the PS2 and PS3.
1. Standardize controllers and motions controls out of the box
With this new wave of motion controllers being added by Sony and Microsoft mid way through a console cycle they have both created problems for themselves. What do they put in the box as standard for the next generation of consoles? If Move and Kinect are both successful then they will not want to leave them out of the PS4 and the next XBox. But will they want to improve the designs of their motion controls, or keep them exactly the same? If they keep them the same a lot of gamers will already own Kinect or Move, so will not want to be forced to pay for them again bundled with a new console. But if they do change the design it might confuse people as to what they can and can’t use with their brand new console. The likelihood is that there will be multiple bundle options from launch, but if there will be different versions of the consoles with different size hard drives, and different version with various controllers included this could potentially risk fracturing the market to the point where people have no idea what version they should be buying.
Both Sony and Microsoft will have to spend a lot of time over then next few years bringing all the different parts of their current console markets into a new single coherent product they can sell at a reasonable price, and it will be very interesting to see what they come up with.