Some Thoughts on Common Next-Gen Gripes

Recently, a PS4 Remake of God of War 3 was announced, eliciting some critical remarks from some of my facebook friends. What's with all the remakes? Where are the exclusives, the new IPs, or at least true sequels? Where's that "next-gen gameplay"? There seems to be some discontent and some console owners question why they even bought the newest iteration of their favourite console brand. While I understand where a lot of that is coming from, I believe some of those criticisms are a bit confused and unfair. Here's why:

1. Too Many Remakes
Some people seem to think that the perceived lack of new games is directly caused by an overabundance of remakes, that we're getting remakes INSTEAD of new games. I have my doubts about this, because I believe the resources required to remaster a game are not comparable to those needed to create a new game. While development resources certainly are finite, the amount that is funneled into remakes is too small to seriously impact development of other games. If I'm correct about this aspect, however, I see no other sensible reason to get upset about a specific game being remade, specially not the popular "Who needs that?!" argument: So you personally have already played that one before on a different console? Good for you, but maybe other people haven't and they'll appreciate its existence on their new console.

2. Lack of Exclusive Titles
That's one criticism I disagree with completely. The fact that a game can also be played on some other console than my own does not impact my enjoyment of a game. The value of my console is determined by the experiences it can provide for me, not by what other people miss out on if they don't get the same console. Who would get upset that the latest hollywood movie can be enjoyed not just on their Samsung tv, but also on their neighbour's LG?

There is only one scenario where exclusivity deals actually benefit the consumer: If a nice exclusivity deal leads to a game being made that takes advantage of that console's unique features and that game wouldn't have been made otherwise or would have been significantly compromised. Now, that kind of exclusivity made sense in previous generations, when there were significant differences between consoles and first parties wanted to show off their hardware's strengths. But the X-Box One and the PS4 are more similar than any previous consoles, to the point of being almost interchangeable, especially after Kinect was pretty much abandoned. The input controllers are virtually identical, so is performance and even the underlying architecture is much more similar (and PC-like) than before. In these circumstances, platform exclusivity is nothing but a marketing tool that is unnecessarily exclusive in the worst sense of the word.

Of course, whoever funds a game, has the right to determine on what platform that game is released, and it's preferable to have Microsoft and Sony investing in exclusive titles, than not have them fund any games at all. I just think what most people actually mean when they complain about the lack of exclusives is: "There's not enough big-budget games!", which is a much more valid point to make.

3. General Lack of Games

This point here is one I'm not going to argue much, because I believe it depends a lot on your personal consumption pattern. According to this list, there's currently 179 games available for the PS4. Of course, if you discount all the games on that list that are also playable on a last-gen console, the list gets quite a bit shorter. Also, many of the available games are indie games. So if the only kind of games you enjoy are big AAA titles and you are the kind of gamer that can devote a lot of their time to this hobby, I can totally see how the available offering might feel a bit slim. Personally, I can't even keep up with what I already have on my PS4 (not to mention my Steam pile of shame), but I'm aware I don't necessarily represent the average gamer. The hardcore "I've already played all the games" gamer probably doesn't either, though.

4. "Next-Gen Gameplay"
This is a rather diffuse one; The absence of "next-gen gameplay" is usually critized in three different cases: a) When new (usually indie) games look like they would also have been possible on previous consoles; b) When a game gets a cross-gen release; b) When AAA games are released that don't offer massive gameplay differences to previous releases on older consoles.

Now, while I'm as much a fan of massively innovative gameplay as anyone, I'm not sure what some people expected. We've known for a long time now that this current geneneration would bring significant horsepower improvements, but otherwise only feature slight controller changes (Kinect didn't work out, neither did the Wii U pad in any major way). The performance increase, although nice, happened in relation to a previous level that was already quite capable of powering a wide variety of experiences, although admittedly not quite so pretty ones.

So there was nothing that would suggest major pardigm shifts in game design or inspire fundamentally different games like the new input methods of the Wii or mobile touchscreens did, or like VR's new output capabilities (and inputs, once we figure those out) promise to do.

Now, that's not to say there are no genuinely new gameplay experiences to be had, but they're mostly not really hardware-driven and might have happened on last gen, too.* It could be argued, for example, that Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system was a big recent step forward in establishing an emotional relationship between the player and in-game enemies, yet the game also worked on last-gen consoles.

I also don't think it's quite right to completely dismiss graphics improvements as a factor of "next-gen gameplay". For me, they are just as much a part of the whole experience as sound, game mechanics, story etc. Particularly in games where immersion plays a central role, graphics matter. They're not my area of expertise or even particular interest, but I certainly appreciate it when I get to explore the lush environments of Dragon Age: Inquisition, for instance, or GTAV on PS4.

Final Thoughts
I'm pretty sure that the next time we see actual "next-gen gameplay" will be when VR takes off, and that's fine with me, because that doesn't mean we won't get great and innovative games until then. Even when VR (or something else) arrives, I'm sure it will complement, rather than replace older types of experiences, because like touchscreen gaming and the Wiimote, the new possibilities of VR will come hand in hand with new limitations of the type of games that it can support.

* Battlefield 4 64-player online games represents a huge leap for console gamers, just to mention one example where next-gen horsepower did enable "next-gen gameplay".

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