There has been talk of the next generation for what feels like years, yet both the PS3 and Xbox 360 continue to fight on, providing some quality games along the way. We are promised that the next generation of consoles will bring a level of quality like no other, a suggestion that most PC owners will probably scoff at. What I want to know though, is just what will the next generation bring? For now we can only speculate.
It seems obvious to me that both next generation consoles will take a leaf out of Nintendo's book. As you no doubt know by now, the Wii U will be using a second screen to provide users with a different kind of experience, allowing gamers to interact with maps, in-game inventories and all other manner of features. Already we are hearing similar noises from both Sony and Microsoft. The latter announced Smartglass at E3, which seems to offer features not unlike those on the Wii U, while Sony has already experimented with cross-play features, allowing users on Vita to play against those on the big screen, while also allowing Vita owners to control games using their handheld.
But what else will the next generation bring? I think the biggest answer could be more of the same, but better. You can surely expect the next iteration of motion controls from both companies; Microsoft will be releasing the next Kinect, marveling us with a hands free controller (that actually works this time hopefully), while Sony will no doubt tweak the Move and release a new PlayStation Eye camera (unless it's built into the console), giving us a whole new level of precision.
Another area you can be sure will be bigger and better is the current trend of TV services. I'd expect services such as LoveFilm, Netflix and BBC iPlayer to expand, perhaps providing us with more features. It also seems likely that we will have more of these services and who knows, possibly even the ability to record live TV, although this may be speculation too far. Whatever happens in this area, it will expand, of that there is no doubt. Both Microsoft and Sony are fighting for your living room and if that means taking on your satellite dish or cable box, they will do it.
One of the things I'm most sure of is that the graphical performance of these machines will be a cut above the current models, although this does not necessarily mean better games. Obviously any unique IP's being released for this next generation will come down to developer innovation. We have seen some great titles this time around with Uncharted, Heavy Rain, Dishonored, Assassin's Creed and LittleBigPlanet to name a few, however better hardware does come with issues of its own, so even if we do see new machines from Microsoft and Sony next year, even though we'll no doubt have a big graphical boost, it doesn't mean we'll start to see games which offer a different experience, instead that could come later down the line.
As much as things will change with the next generation, a lot will stay the same. The currently worrying trend of day one patches (I'll get to that in another feature at some point in the future) is something that I can only see becoming a regular occurrence as more people connect online. It also seems like online passes will also be more widespread, while DLC will only continue to grow. What may actually happen, or rather what I'd like to see happen is for publishers to start reducing the cost of retails games, since more and more games seem to be releasing with DLC then completing the experience further down the line, although whether this will happen or not is another story. On a related subject, I could also see it being possible to rent games on future generation consoles, Sony of course has acquired Gaikai, which could see back it's entire back catalogue become available on the cloud, while Microsoft will no doubt have similar plans. This could also count for future releases too. Can you imagine renting a game for the price of DLC? Wouldn't that be interesting.
One more area which has got me scratching my head is storage. I'm pretty sure that both companies will provide us with a huge hard-drive to store our games on, but what will Microsoft do about disc based media? It's obvious that Sony is sticking with Blu-Ray, but what about MS? Will it finally take the plunge to this superior-to-DVD format?
Whatever happens, the next generation is going to be an interesting prospect. Whether or not it'll change the way we game remains to be seen, but it's going to be fun finding out.