It’s been a long time since a new gaming console was released — so long, in fact, that the upcoming tag-team deathmatch duo of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One represents the largest cumulative techno-advancement from one generation to the next in terms of memory and processing power. Each system sports 16 times as much RAM as its predecessor (the PlayStation 3 has 256 MB each of main and video memory), along with up to five times as much raw video juice. I’ve heard it said that each system will be capable of rousting you from a restful slumber, ordering Thai take-out before you even know you’re hungry, and scouring the planet for a suitable life partner. And if you think you already have a suitable life partner, perhaps you should think again; nothing is so great that Microsoft and Sony can’t make it better.
So yeah, these two muscly bad boys are ready to make some noise; the PlayStation 4 launches in North America on November 15th (the twelfth anniversary of the launch of the original Xbox), and the Xbox One will spill onto These Great Shores of Ours on November 22nd (the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy). Normally I’d comment on the wisdom of launching a system on such a portentous date, but let’s not bring the room down with something as trivial as history, shall we? The point is that new consoles are coming, and as an unabashed adopter of all things shiny and technological, I should be ecstatic. I should be planning my midnight run to my local Big Gaming Retail Establishment in order to acquire said pre-ordered techno-confections, I should be perusing the launch lineup for potential software accompaniments to the aforementioned Nuggets o’ Wonderfulness, and I should be clearing a space on the entertainment unit for all their glorious rays of whatever. In short, I should be excited.
Read ‘Em and Weep
Honestly I could give less than a hairy hammered llama turd about the upcoming next generation of consoles. This generation has left me more than a bit weary, kind of like I just spent seven years babysitting a great white shark; I’ve had some fun, sure, but most of that time was spent waiting for the other leg to drop in the form of the next red ring or network outage, or trying to get the PlayStation 3’s wireless adapter to work with any one of five different routers and three different internet providers in two different states. I also spent a lot of time looking at advertising every time I turn on the Xbox, along with the exhortation to purchase Xbox Live Gold for the privilege of using services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, which I can do from every other device that I own without first paying a kickback to the Redmond Mafia. In short, I’m tired.
With the Xbox, I’m tired of 90 percent of my screen being used to tell me that I don’t spend enough money. I’m tired of paying for things that I get for free elsewhere. I’m tired of long start-up times (up to a minute and a half until the home screen appears), and I’m tired as french fried fuck of Kinect. I don’t even have a Kinect and I’m tired of it. I just want to play games; I don’t want to be assimilated into the control mechanics like some hapless redshirt who strayed too close to John De Lancie’s borg hole. I don’t want to talk to my Xbox, and I certainly don’t want to use the large muscles of my shoulders and arms to accomplish what should be — and used to be — possible with my thumb. I don’t want Microsoft to change me or my experience; just make a well-appointed system, let people make games for it (which includes indie developers, asswipes), and get the hell out of the way.
With the PlayStation 3, I’m tired of brand-new games that don’t run in 1080p and as a result sport more aliasing than a shoebox full of fake IDs. I’m tired of the aforementioned wireless adapter, which might or might not work on any given occasion. (I know, I know; you’ve had no problems with it, so my argument is a bird. Thanks.) I’m tired of constant incremental system updates that prevent me from connecting to the PlayStation Network unless they’re downloaded and applied, which might or might not take three cousin-humping hours over the aforementioned slow-as-sloth-shit wireless connection and which do absolutely nothing to change or improve my experience. I’m also tired of being asked to purchase PlayStation Plus, Sony’s equivalent to Xbox Live Gold, though the PlayStation 3 still retains its capabilities as a broad-spectrum home entertainment device without it; online gaming and Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are perfectly accessible without the need to slip a few extra greenbacks into Don Kutaragi’s pockets every month.
In respect to the premium subscription-based aspect of their online service, Sony is parsecs ahead of Microsoft; they use the positive-reinforcement of added value (free games and discounts for Plus members) instead of the ubiquitous restrictions and detracted value that Microsoft employs (no online gaming, limited access to apps and functions), but if either of these companies could read the Huttese written on the cantina bathroom wall, they’d realize that the days of nickel-and-diming people out of every last red cent are numbered. Take the mild conundrum surrounding the next-generation release of The Elder Scrolls Online; it’s not that people don’t necessarily want to pay a subscription in order to play (though $15 per month might be a bit steep for most console gamers), it’s that they don’t want to have to pay twice for what they perceive — correctly or incorrectly — as the same thing.
The Xbox Live Gold subscription is like paying to get into Disney World; once you’re in, you want to be able to do whatever you want as often as you want, without someone hitting you up for more money every time you feel the need to spin yourself into a Jackson Pollock-fruit-punch-turkey-leg Rorschach nightmare on the Mad Tea Party. After all, this is the model to which Xbox devotees have grown accustomed over the last eleven years; you pay, you play, and that’s it. What people — mostly console-only gamers, with no disrespect or fanboy rancor intended — don’t understand is that an MMO like The Elder Scrolls Online or World of Warcraft is a constantly evolving experience that takes a load of bread to capitalize; server maintenance alone represents a significant expense, which cannot be recouped solely through the sales of new games — the monthly subscription fee is necessary to ensure that the game stays fresh, playable, and relevant to as many people as possible for as long as possible.
The fact that Bethesda is trying to get Microsoft to waive the Gold subscription requirement for The Elder Scrolls Online is a good thing, but it’s only part of the solution; Microsoft should waive the Gold requirement for all online multiplayer gaming, and shift the Gold subscription to a rewards-based incentive, like PlayStation Plus. This is because as home consoles like the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 approach the PC in capability, they must also approach it in terms of accessibility; there is no portal fee in PC multiplayer gaming; that is, there’s no fee to access a service like Steam or EA’s Origin, as there is with Xbox Live, so in order to compete with higher-end PCs not only for MMO gamers’ disposable income (which is a variable), but also for their time (which is a constant), both Microsoft and Sony should make sure that the playing field is as level as possible.
Scrapping the Xbox Live Gold requirement for online gaming would go a long way towards recouping much of the goodwill that Microsoft has lost over the last few months. (Sony will require PlayStation Plus for online gaming on the PlayStation 4, but at this point they can probably get away with it simply because they’re not Microsoft.) I don’t know if I’m the only one who’s sick of the current way of doing things in the console gaming business, but if my opinions are even remotely close to pedestrian on this, the effects of Microsoft and Sony scrapping their premium subscription requirements for online gaming could turn out to be exponentially beneficial for everyone involved by increasing the scope of the new consoles’ appeal; people who wouldn’t ordinarily purchase a multiplayer game might do so if playing it didn’t require the added three-month or one-year commitment that Xbox Live Gold currently represents, and which PlayStation Plus will represent on the PlayStation 4.
(As a kind of postscript aside, my omission of the Wii U in the consideration of “a new console” is not intended as a slight; while the Wii U is indeed a new console, its specifications and capabilities aren’t new. I actually don’t consider it part of the problem with the current or future generation of hardware, as it sports none of the Xbox 360’s or PlayStation 3’s annoyances or foibles and as such is irrelevant to my state of weary dissatisfaction. In short, go Nintendo!)