6 years ago it was exciting. I watched every frame of MGS4's footage, drooled on the Gears of War trailers and stood in line to get the Wii just to play Tennis. What's changed?
First of all - the life style and the amount of time I can dedicate to playing games. Whereas previously spending 3-4 hours a day was a commodity, now squeezing in a full 2 hour session during a workday seems like mission impossible. Yet somehow I manage to play at least one Plague Inc session per day before going to sleep. Yet somehow I play [any indie game on sale] every other day.
And then I quickly realize I still have Batman Arkham City in it's packaging, that I barely touched Hitman Absolution (my teenage years favorite game), and that the last AAA game I beat fully was Far Cry 3.
(not saying Arkham City or Hitman Absolution are bad games, I just didn't get into them like I should've if there was a lot of extra time on hand)
What's happened with me as with probably most of the 80s-born generation, is that we got lives. Families, work, commuting - it all eats into our game time. While we as gamers still have the same "needs" when it comes to games. So looking at my own behavior patterns, it's obvious that I started filling them up with smaller, more digestible games. I will occasionally fire up StarCraft II, only to play a mod called Marine Arena which has much shorter and less brutal gaming sessions.
So that's one of the reasons - behavior change of the generation that had widespread adoption of games as leisure time growing up.
Observations on the 90s-born generation
Then there's the "next" generation of gamers, born in the 90s. These grew up playing connected, didn't really witness the shocking transition between 2d to 3d to online 3d, and more often than not had a very smooth experience playing games (easy online purchasing via Steam/XBL, no video card driver issues, etc).
These folks - most in their teens - grew up with connected smartphones. They use tablets in their daily life during school. Their tastes are different. Their patterns are different. And they're growing up in an ADD-fueled environment. You're twittering while playing kingdom rush while doing your online shopping while sitting in class. I seriously doubt many of these gamers experienced the thrill of a weekend-long LAN party, which is not a bad thing - it's just different. Same as the generation before mine grew up playing arcades.
A big issue with this generation is since they are growing up to so much information and entertainment surrounding them, it's pretty hard to justify $60 games. Instead playing freemium stuff on iOS, or even hat trading in Team Fortress 2, seems to have much more value for the buck. Plus the occasional $10 indie game, and sales.
I believe this behavior change of the two generations combined will result in a collapse of the overall "next gen" console generation in it's traditional form. More polygons, more pixels, more more more of everything -- isn't going to solve much.
There's a lot of anger around EA's decision to put microtransactions in all games
- which as an 80s gamer I can totally agree with -- but if EA executed this properly (read: sell customizations for your DOTA2 character), and not just milked gamers (read: pay to get all BF3 upgrades and win), it might actually be good for the industry. Again, if executed properly in balanced way. But since this is EA, that probably won't happen.
So what can Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft do?
Yes, invest into 1st party content, show what the hardware can do. But also partner up with someone like Unity to enable stupid easy content creation by indie developers. And just open up your platform(s) - both Vita and the PS4. There needs to be more strict control of what goes on your homepage and not, but platforms like Kongregate have shown it's more than possible - as long as you empower your users to make decisions, knowingly or not (let them rate or just monitor what they do in games, how long / frequent they play).
And make the console cheap. Really cheap. Lose money on every sale (much like previous generation), you absolutely need to make sure it's adoption rate is very high.
Finally, the media capabilities of the PS3 still suck. Make it a media hub. Do a spotify partnership, give Europeans a Netflix-style alternative, provide something of real value.
Dropping the whole confusing "PlayStation Certified" devices might also be a good idea.
I'm out of ideas here. Watching the Wii U E3 announcement, I actually thought it was a multitouch tablet and that the box was the old Wii. The whole double screen idea doesn't excite me at all, since that's been going on in our household for years - iPads alongside the main TV alongside laptops. The controller is indeed unique and I liked ZombiU, but the communication and the selling points are way off on this console. Why on earth would a Wii user adopt it?
I bet hardware specs will be similar to the PS4 with the "next" Xbox, but that's not what'd sell it - it's the whole ecosystem built around it.
If Microsoft manages to pull together Windows 8, Phone and the next Xbox in a single, streamlined, and logical experience - it might just make sense for a next-gen console. Create a framework that's very easy to put on all devices (much like Unity in Sony's case, just here it'd cover the whole spectrum of devices). A single account, a single currency, buying content cross-devices.
Of course I'm just dreaming here. It will end up in a texture-fest at E3 and who gets exclusive DLC, plus first party content showdowns. I just hope there won't be too many tattoos. Baseline is that whoever makes it easiest for smaller developers to make money and put their games in front of relevant eye balls, will have a better chance of succeeding or actually surviving in the next generation.
Or Nintendo will just give up and put Mario on iOS platforms.