You wake up at 1 a.m., after only three hours of sleep, and head to Best Buy to get in line. There are already 20 people there (they didn't sleep at all), but that's okay—you'll only be waiting for six short hours. Then you'll finally have it: the new system that all those hardcore early adopters have been raving about.
Your sleeping bag isn't as comfortable on the concrete sidewalk as you thought it would be, but you hardly complain as the hours slip by, so great is your anticipation. When the moment finally arrives, you find out the store only got 15 consoles in today's shipment. But don't worry, they'll get more next week. And you'll be there waiting, won't you?
THE CONSOLE RACE
When was the last time a new gaming system actually met your expectations? A console launch is marked by exorbitant fanfare, artificial shortages and a handful of crappy games pushed out at the last second by developers who understand a fifth of what the system is capable of. Another round of Perfect Dark Zero, anyone? Didn't think so.
So why can't we stop talking about the "next generation" of consoles? It's been more than five years since the Xbox 360 hit shelves, with the PS3 and Wii flopping to life a full year after that. In any previous generation of consoles, we'd have new systems by now. So why don't we?
In an interview earlier this month, Epic CEO Mike Capps posed an even more direct question: "What's the point of those next-gen consoles?" Today's consoles have continuously evolved to be the systems they need to be, and all three have seen enough success to warrant their continued existences. Compare the upcoming Skyrim to 2006's Oblivion. They're both for Xbox 360 and PS3, but you wouldn't even think they're from the same decade.
INSERT WII PUN
If the 3DS's current numbers are any indication, the Wii U may very well bomb. And contrary to Capps's notion that the system is coming too "early," it's actually way too late. The possibilities presented by the new controller are tremendous in scope, but who knows whether any third party developers will actually step up and run with it after having their Wii titles largely ignored for the last six years. It's an iPad with joysticks, artificially tethered to your "New Console" at a range of however-many-feet, and it will most likely follow in the Wii's underwhelming, shovelware-filled footsteps.
The fact that the U has power comparable to that of the other current-gen systems is not the draw Nintendo seems to think it is; "The Wii is finally in HD!" probably sounds better on paper. Gamers will inevitably cry out for better A.I., improved graphics, and more particles of sand between their virtual toes, while at the same time deriding new technologies like the one in this video as scams and pipe dreams. Is this really what you had in mind for the next generation of consoles?
CAN YOU AFFORD ANOTHER $600 SPACE HEATER?
Capps seems worried that mobile platforms will replace consoles altogether, but that's never going to happen. Epic makes games for both types of platforms. Their markets have spiraled too far away from one another for them to merge now, despite what Nintendo would have you believe—no one system will please everyone at this point. No, consoles won't go away, but the now-beleaguered minority of hardcore gamers (always first in line for new consoles) aren't numerous enough to keep another PlayStation afloat for two or three years of mediocrity while developers figure out how to use it. And the rest of us simply don't have it in our budgets.
Will the Xbox 720 have a built-in Kinect? Will the PS4 be able to fly fighter jets? Who cares? We're not asking the right questions, and our expectations aren't high enough. Today's consoles have plenty of life in them; always-on internet connections allow for unending tweaks and updates, not to mention hardware revamps like MotionPlus, Move and Kinect (though their staying power remains to be seen).
Nintendo acted surprised when 3DS sales dropped off after its initial launch, but anyone could have predicted that a handheld without a single killer app wasn't going to appeal to the masses. Why should anyone buy a new console just to sit on it for three years waiting for publishers to get onboard? It's going to take a miracle to get me squatting in a camping stool outside Gamestop in the cold again while Nintendo executives sip bubbly and laugh at our naivete. When the next generation of consoles does launch, it had better be mind-numbingly amazing. Otherwise a legion of gamers might just stick with their iPads.