January 15, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

The New Console Experience

It’s been an interesting generation for gaming. For the first time in a few generations we’ve seen some big changes not just in the style of games we’re playing, but fundamental shifts in the platforms we’re gaming on. With their dashboards and updates, the modern console is a very different prospect from those gone before.

For no particular reason, I want to catalogue some of the big changes we’ve seen at a platform and hardware level, and mention at least one change I’d like to see in the future. (Some of these are rooted, in part, in the previous generation, but have really come into their own in this generation):

  • Achievements – I’ve talked about this before but I think achievements, when done well, are the most promising change in gaming for a long time. The best achievements extend the life of games by asking you to do something out of the ordinary, the worst are essentially free (think the Avatar game). Although I’m not a Gamerscore Whore, I often find myself pushing on a little longer and further to get something that’s just out of reach. A great idea.
  • Friend lists – The Wii/DS online experience shows us exactly how not to do online gaming. While it’s good to make sure that both parties know each other for safety reasons, do they really need to do it for every single game? The 360 model is effective, safe enough, and user friendly. You add each other, and that’s that. Knowing which of your friends is online and ready to play something is very handy. I’ve had some excellent Halo 3 and Burnout Paradise sessions that I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much with random strangers.
  • Avatars – Nintendo got this one very right: bring in the mass market by putting them in the games. While I’m sure Wii Sports would’ve been plenty of fun without them, the miis of your friends add a lot of extra charm. Who hasn’t moaned when they get someone useless on their baseball team? A very handy excuse for poor performance. I’d like to see their integration go further though. Most of the games that use the miis (or the new 360 avatars) are pretty lightweight, casual games. I think we can do better than that.
  • Control methods – Nintendo, again, have proven very handy here. The Wiimote and balance board have both brought in gamers way outside the traditional hardcore element. Long may it continue. I hope we see some better uses of other inputs, such as the cameras that can be bought for the 360 and PS3, and the plastic instruments from the various music games that are around (I’m a big fan of Guitar Hero).
  • Downloadable Content – While I think few games have yet to deliver on the promise of DLC, we’re on the threshold of delivering substantial new content for games that would otherwise be shelved. Burnout Paradise has really led the way here, with the bike pack etc, but we’re seeing some big updates coming for most of the A-class games (I am, in fact, writing this while I await the download of Fable 2’s Knothole Island — released today).

I fully expect that, while not all consoles today have all of those features, all of the next generation consoles will have them all.

What would I like to see for the next generation? Richer integration with the web. Now, I know that sounds a little odd, but hear me out. Right now, you can go and find my Xbox Live gamercard online (I won’t link to it just now, but it’s not hard to find). It’ll tell you my current score and some recently played games. A few other sites who happen to be part of the Xbox Community Developers Program can also get at a handful of my other stats as well, like recent achievements. I want more.

I want a decent REST API for everything that happens to my profile (which anyone can opt out of, of course): games played, time played per day, new achievements, and any game specific stats like my levelling up in Fallout 3, or a new high score in Wario Ware. I want everything opened up.

Why? Two reasons: 1) I’m becoming very interested in the concept of lifestreams (more on which at a later date), and 2) because there is information there that I bet is illuminating and can be used in interesting ways that the developers and I cannot foresee just now.

Maybe I could tie my playing time stats into a fitness website, which would start hassling me about getting out and about. Maybe I’d like to see the distance my virtual characters have walked in Fallout 3 or Fable 2 (or both of them combined), and have it project onto a Google Map.

In short, I don’t know exactly why I want that data, but I know I want it to be accessible.

Is it likely to happen? Probably not. While I see the platforms opening up slowly, there is a cost in making that volume of data available and I honestly don’t know if any of the platform holders or developers would be willing to foot the bill for potentially nothing.

I hope they do though, because the more information in our lives we can mash together and accumulate into a context, the more interesting and rich that data can become.