The next generation of console is finally in sight. We’re less than a month away from the PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One will follow shortly after. But there’s something different about this new wave of tech that separates it from its predecessors. It will be different from any other console generation we’ve experienced up to this point, but not in a way that will benefit consumers.
Until now, consoles were relatively simple: the user plugged them in, inserted a game, and enjoyed. The Xbox 360 and PS3 began the next stage of evolution with an online marketplace that allowed demos and full games to be downloaded. Eight years later, the console landscape has become an arms race to see just how many supplementary features can be packed into these little plastic boxes. Because of all these promises of features that all utilize and require a broadband internet connection, it’s inevitable that these systems will go through a lengthy period of growing pains.
It’s time to lower our standards, and expect these pains in this day in age. It doesn’t seem like any companies - even the biggest and most competent ones - are able to release a popular product with an essential online component that is ready to go on release day.
EA and Maxis’ “SimCity” was unplayable for weeks because the servers weren’t able to handle the loads of fans who purchased the game on release day. Blizzard’s “Diablo 3” required a constant internet connection. Unfortunately, people couldn’t play because, again, the servers crumbled under the number of players. Recently, the online portions of “GTA V” were locked out because Rockstar somehow didn’t anticipate the sheer number of copies that were sold, despite the game being sold two weeks before the online play was even made available.
These features all require connection to a server. The formula is simple: remote servers + too many players = broken game. A key element of these new consoles requires connection to remote servers: system updates. Ones that add new features. We already know that the Xbox One has a required update on day one. PS4 remains to be seen.
Take the Wii U for example. The Wii U required a day one update to enable online capabilities. With everyone downloading the update at the same time, Nintendo’s servers couldn’t handle the traffic. This caused the download to take over an hour to complete and install. Consumers who buy a console on day one just want to play the machine. A lengthy download makes for unhappy gamers. And this was on the Wii U that didn’t have the initial sales that Sony and Microsoft are expecting.
We don’t know what features on the Xbox One and PS4 will be ready out of the box, and what will need to be installed via update. Will I be able to plug my cable box into the Xbox One to watch TV on day one, or will that feature require an update? Will I be able to stream PS4 games to my Vita as soon as I come home with my purchase? If it needs an update, it’s entirely possible that the servers will buckle under the pressure of everyone accessing them simultaneously. We already know other key features like live streaming won’t be available at launch for the Xbox One. Plenty of questions still surround these two machines.
Updates and server talk aside, the PS4’s relatively weak launch lineup just got worse. The highly anticipated “Watch_Dogs” from Ubisoft was pushed to 2014. “Watch_Dogs” was coming out for all current and next-gen platforms, but it does take a key title way from the PS4’s November catalog.
The upcoming “DriveClub” has also been pushed to next year. This leaves “Knack” and “Killzone: Shadow Fall” to shoulder the load as the only AAA exclusives at launch. Next year looks much brighter as the game library for both consoles will fill.
There’s no guarantee that Microsoft learned their lesson when it comes to building reliable hardware. Let’s not forget the high failure rate of the first wave of Xbox 360s. There’s always a risk of hardware failure when buying an early version of a new product. The companies haven’t yet mastered the manufacturing process, which can often lead to a system that doesn’t last very long.
I love being an early adopter. There’s a shallow satisfaction that comes from being the first person on the block with a shiny new piece of tech. But if you were on the fence about dropping the coin on an Xbox One and/or PS4 on release day, it looks like it might be in your best interest to reconsider.