>Article published on the Technology Supplement on The Sunday Times on the 9th of April 2009

It’s been over two years since the start of the seventh generation gaming console war and from the latest figures, Nintendo’s Wii is the clear winner, leaving Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 fighting for second place. The Wii’s innovative features and capabilities have been the reason for such a success, but with such a ground breaking console comes the inevitable question; what’s next?

Foreseeing what the eighth generation era of gaming consoles has in store and what companies like Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have already started working upon is a tricky task. The only sure thing is that the next generation consoles are going to be even faster and flashier than the current ones. Companies like Microsoft and Sony are not going to abandon their hardcore gamers who always want better graphics, better speeds and a more realistic virtual life. No matter how successful the Nintendo Wii is right now, there is considerable doubt whether Microsoft and Sony will ever give up on their powerful machines, take a step backward and completely rewrite their gaming consoles. Even though Microsoft have not reached their peak in Europe and Asia, America is a very lucrative market, where they have a regime of faithful followers, while it would be uncanny for Sony to surrender to Microsoft and give up their coveted ‘producer of the most powerful consoles’ title.

It is possible that both Microsoft and Sony will enhance their controllers to include motion sensing, similar to the Wii Remote. Sony’s PS3 controllers already feature some motion sensing controllers, but they are rarely used in games and this is due to the fact the feature is not as well developed and accurate as Nintendo’s. As regards to Nintendo, there is speculation about the Wii Remote having a double motion sensor for better accuracy. Needless to say true motion sensing would be practicable in a hands free environment where the sensor is able to pick up any of the player’s movements and translate them to the console.
In the near future, video game consoles might also be the only piece of equipment in the living room together with the TV. The Playstation Network on the PS3 is already echoing such features with the ability to download demos, high definition films (currently limited to US customers) and game add-ons together with the ability to communicate with friends through voice or text, not to mention that the PS3 already has an integrated Blu-Ray and DVD player, together with an internet browser. TV and radio streaming will probably be the subsequent step for the next generation consoles. There is also the possibility of making cinema theatres obsolete thanks to the advancements of high definition and large screen HD TVs that mimic the cinema going experience and which are becoming more affordable as time goes by.
As music artists are already offering their albums for free online whilst earning money mostly from concerts there is also a lucrative market when it comes to getting revenue through subsidies with consoles. Digital rights management on a console is better handled than on PCs and bands like Metallica are already putting their latest album on the PS3 Network available for download as playable content for Guitar Hero. Aerosmith even went as far as releasing a full game on Guitar Hero, and with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchise increasing in popularity, especially with the recent launch of the World Tour series more artists might go down this path.
One of the major changes between the PS3 and Xbox360 from their predecessor is probably the amount of hard disk space. Since downloadable content is becoming more popular with customers, and players are also downloading full games online. This not only means that games might be offered completely online but it also means that a user will need a massive hard disk for all the downloaded content. Cloud computing might be the answer to this dilemma as with a cloud computing approach, the games ( or movies or music for that matter) won’t be stored on your console’s memory or even on a shelf, but in a remote, virtual hard drive that you can access over a broadband connection. The advantages of cloud computing are plenty as a console would be cheaper to build, software patches would be easily downloadable while the games are offline and maybe games would even decrease in cost since there is no physical production costs. Obviously cloud computing is only possible if there is a high speed internet connection, and here comes the problematic dilemma; no internet connection, no games to play.
Of course this is just speculation as it is hard to forecast without the knowledge or any indication of where technology is going. It is possible that another company might try its hands at producing a games console and it would be interesting to see which path they would follow; the bigger, better, faster, Playstation and Xbox path or the alternative gaming experience Nintendo gave to its customers with the Wii.