Next-gen is about potential, not instant amazement

So, next-gen is now mostly spread across the western world. Last night saw the launch of PS4 in the UK, and thousands queued at midnight to get their hands on Sony’s latest piece of hardware. Early signs suggest that sales records have been broken all across the globe, with both Xbox One and PS4 smashing targets and expectations. Yet much of the media coverage of next-gen, combined with a good percentage of user comments, has had a whiff of negativity. It’s like many feel let down.

I’ve been guilty of it myself, berating both Microsoft and Sony for their digital game pricing. It’s one small part of next-gen’s overall offering; as is TV functionality, voice recognition, online servers--all things that have been nit-picked in recent weeks. I think the problem is that Xbox One and PS4 haven’t been able to provide one feature or game that represents a genuine step up from Xbox 360 or PS3. We’ve all been desperately looking for that one killer feature to proudly proclaim as ‘the next big thing’, and when it was nowhere to be seen, many have chosen to accept that as a sign that this next-gen lacks razzle-dazzle; that X factor which has been present at most previous generation changes.

However, to expect such a huge leap forward is unfair. While the innards of the new machines are indeed more powerful, the true potential of next-gen lies in the way it will evolve to suit the needs of its players. Right now we’ve got the raw clay from which Sony and Microsoft will shape the future of entertainment for the next 5-7 years. And yeah, the clay is pretty ugly at the moment. Just looks like regular old clay, albeit shinier. Cross-gen games look current-gen at worst, or ‘as good as high-end PC’ at best.

Cast your mind back to the launch of Xbox 360 back in 2005. Gaming was hugely, hugely different back then. A mere 8 years ago we didn’t have (deep breath)… true HD gaming, Achievements/Trophies, digital games or stand-alone DLC, TV streaming services, motion control, remote play, second-screen support, party chat, cloud storage, social media integration, or even a button that lets you access your dashboard mid-game. Over the course of the current generation, the way we use consoles has changed dramatically.

Not bad for a generation that started in much the same way as this one. None of the games looked particularly great--even when PS3 appeared nearly 2 years after Xbox 360, the launch line-up was mediocre at best. Improvements to Xbox Live were minimal, and there were few wider uses for the machines beyond playing a DVD or Blu-ray.

So, with this new generation, it’s important that we keep all this in mind. We’ve paid £350-430 (and beyond) for the potential, not the immediate gratification. There are glimpses of it already--features like the ability to stream games to Twitch on PS4, or the impressive voice commands on Xbox One. Yes, impressive--one calibrated properly, they work beautifully. Xbox One’s cloud features could change the way games behave, and the ability to share footage on both consoles will change the way we behave around games.

So what if some of the TV features don’t work properly or haven't arrived yet? Does it really matter that some games don’t run in native 1080p? Not really. These consoles are built to evolve, and that’s exactly what they’ll do over the next few years. The kinks will be ironed out, and they’ll work according to our needs. And if Microsoft or Sony try to introduce features we don’t want, then it’ll be equally easy to remove them. In other words: relax. Your new console is a small slice of the future, sat under your TV, just waiting to impress you.

Andy Hartup