20 predictions for next-generation consoles

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Now that Nintendo has priced and dated the Wii U, it's only a matter of time before people once again start trying to guess what Microsoft and Sony have in store. Other than unnecessary redesigns, that is.

Aside from secondhand information from developers, there aren't many facts out there regarding the Xbox 720 (technical codename: Durango) or the PlayStation 4 (technical codename: Orbis). But they're both definitely coming, so we're heading out on a very large, very shaky limb today by blasting out some informed predictions for what gamers might expect in the near future. While we don't expect every one of these to come true, we're sure going to brag about the ones that do. Take it away, crystal ball!

Used games won't be banned, but will cost more.
Despite the chatter, Microsoft and Sony won't actually build systems that refuse to play previously owned games. To do so would alienate Gamestop, a critical retail partner, not to mention outrage the very consumers they're hoping will buy new consoles. Instead, expect to see one-time use codes in games even for single player, meaning people who buy used will have to pay more to "re-activate" those titles.

They'll be on shelves even longer than this generation.
There have been plenty of complaints about the length of the current cycle of consoles, but don't expect that trend to end. If anything, the Next Xbox and PlayStation 4 will be around even longer before their successors reach the market. Even game design legend John Carmack agrees, telling CVG "I hesitate to predict anything five, six years into the future, but the next generation should last a long time."

We won't see 'em all next year.
While the common assumption is that Microsoft and Sony will both bring their new systems to market around holiday 2013, it may turn out that only one company does so. Some analysts, including Wedbush Securities' Michael Pachter, don't expect to see at least one of the systems until 2014. That rings true with the launch pattern of the current systems: the Xbox 360 was released in November of 2005, while the PS3 arrived a full year later.

It won't be the last generation.
Fatalists are already declaring consoles to be dead and vowing that this upcoming generation will be the last. They said the same thing about Nintendo during the Gamecube's heyday, and they were wrong then, too. While Apple's iDevices and a revitalized PC gaming scene have taken some of the bite out of the home systems, they're not going anywhere. Generation nine of video game consoles will take longer to get here, but it will arrive — we'll guess sometime around 2021.

[Related: Sony's explanation for not cutting PS3 prices is astounding]

Nintendo will revolutionize online play.
Okay, so they didn't exactly set the world on fire with the lackluster online setup on the Wii. Nintendo has basically sat out of the online gaming race so far, but it has declared plans to change that this generation. Details about the Miiverse are still slim, but if there's one thing Nintendo does well, it's making us look at things in a different light -- and shifting the industry's paradigms. They might not create the best online gaming network, but they'll deliver a feature or two that will fundamentally change the way we look at online play.

Blu-ray will finally hit the big time.
DVD storage is on its way out, as it's simply too small for holding all the data in next-gen games. Expect Blu-ray drives in both the next Xbox and PlayStation (which, accordingly, will give it a bigger presence in the movie section of rental stores).

Backwards compatibility will be sacrificed
By now you no doubt own a burly game collection, but don't expect to play those old games on the new machines. It costs money to configure new consoles to play old games — and expenses are going to be high enough on next-gen systems. Ditching backward compatibility will cause a mild squawk at first, but ultimately we'll all get over it (if the new games are cool enough).

They'll be processing powerhouses.
The Wii U is being dinged a bit for providing roughly the same graphical power as a current 360 or PS3, but don't expect the next wave of machines to do the same. Experts predict that the next gen should have six to seven times the processing power as current generation systems and a lot more RAM to boot -- and reports from developers indicate that power can go a long way. That's critical if next gen consoles are going to be future-proofed to stay on shelves longer.

They'll contain DRM and you will complain about it.|
Digital Rights Management schemes are already causing outcry among gamers, but it's only going to get uglier. One developer we spoke with said if there's no backlash to the amount of DRM in next-gen consoles, they'll be shocked. If you thought publishers locked things down today, just wait.

Digital delivery will grow…
The Wii U will allow full game downloads on the day of release. Microsoft and Sony will likely follow suit, making it even more critical to have additional storage for your gaming systems (which is why Nintendo made it a point to mention that the relatively small 32 GB hard drive in the Wii U can be externally expanded)..

…but brick and mortar stores will be just fine.
That said, never underestimate the power of physically holding a copy of a $60 product. Spending $5 on a download or a cloud-based game is fine, but as that price goes up, most mainstream consumers want something they can hold on to -- or re-sell.

Non-gaming elements will become even more critical.
Consoles are no longer just game systems: they're complete home entertainment solutions. Nintendo got the next-gen ball rolling with the announcement of Nintendo TVii for the Wii U, but expect Sony and Microsoft to go even bigger by building non-game content into their new consoles from the ground up -- and possibly taking on Tivo by turning the systems themselves into full-fledged DVRs.

They won't be islands.
The Wii U comes with its own 2nd screen included in the box in the form of the fancy Wii U GamePad controller. The next Xbox and PlayStation won't copy that design, but they're not going to ignore tablets and other second screens — especially with both Microsoft and Sony making their own tablets these days. We also expect to see an added emphasis on cross-platform play, which Sony is already beginning to explore with the PS3 and Vita.

Single-player games will be harder to find.
Gaming is increasingly moving to a multiplayer world. It allows titles to stay on sales charts long after their release and ultimately makes the publisher more money. This will put a squeeze on single player experiences, unfortunately. The upside is multiplayer doesn't have to be obtrusive. Journey's use of other players wandering into your game (without having to deal with griefing or pre-adolescent rants) could be a beacon for the future of single play.

You'll see fewer games in general...
We'll see more new IPs with the launch of the new systems, but expect the total number of games to continue to shrink.Development costs are still climbing, meaning there's no room for moderate hits anymore.

...but a lot more free ones.
Spearheaded by social games, iOS games and new models for massively-multioplayer games, free-to-play gaming has completely changed the landscape. It's still pretty rare on the consoles, but expect that to change with the next-gen systems (including the experimental Ouya system, which has been built from the gournd up with freemium gaming in mind.)

User-generated content will get monetized.
You know all those cool levels you built in LittleBigPlanet? In the future, you might make a few cents off 'em. No one likes to pay for UGC, but everyone likes making money. Expect the consoles to find ways to profit from the labors of its players, but to reward them as well. Some might complain of being nickel and dimed, but it will allow the best content to rise to the top.

They'll bring back old favorites.
While today's big franchises will continue into the next generation -- and new ones will emerge -- we've got a feeling that some of the hits of yesterday might find new life in the next generation. There are a lot of IPs that have been almost forgotten, giving developers lots of creative leeway to adapt them to modern gameplay. We'd love, for instance, to see what a System Shock 3 or new Crusader would look like. And what does a gamer have to do for a new version of Mutant League Football?

They'll give virtual reality another shot.
Ok, holodecks are probably a bit too lofty of a goal, but from what we've seen of the Oculus Rift, new display types aren't a fantasy. Will they be a key component of new systems? Probably not, but next-gen console gaming may include more ways to play than just looking at your TV.
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