San Francisco Chronicle

New vision for video game consoles


LOS ANGELES — The next generation of console gaming is coming — or is it?

At last week’s Electronic Entertainm­ent Expo, the video game industry forecast a future where Xboxes and PlayStatio­ns are updated almost as frequently as smartphone­s. The move to release more consoles with varying features may mark the end of the traditiona­l console cycle, the decades-old tradition of new systems coming out every seven years or so.

Microsoft offered a glimpse of this potential reality by unveiling the Xbox One S, a slimmer Xbox One set for release in August, with an infrared blaster and support for 4K video. The company also hyped Project Scorpio, a more powerful version due in 2017 that will offer virtual reality and 4K gaming. The company said all Xbox One games would work across the three systems.

Ahead of E3, Sony said that it was similarly working on a more powerful PlayStatio­n 4, which it has sold 40 million of since the console hit the market in 2013. The company didn’t show off the new PS4 at the industry’s annual trade show, but it is expected to also boast 4K gaming. The push for new consoles so soon after the release of the PS4 and Xbox One is unpreceden­ted.

While console makers have slimmed down Xboxes and PlayStatio­ns in the past, they’ve never featured such dramatic jumps in computing power or new features. The introducti­on of consoles with varying prices — the Xbox One S, for example, ranges from $299 to $399, depending on the hard drive size — could confuse, fracture or frustrate consumers.

“We’re trying to shift the culture and put the power of when to upgrade in the hands of gamers, as opposed to it being driven by technology or a corporate initiative,” said Shannon Loftis, head of publishing at Microsoft Game Studios. “I hope that we don’t frustrate gamers. We’re responding to them. The feedback we’ve received is that they want more choices.”

For decades, gaming consoles have offered a plug-and-play approach to gaming that’s usually cheaper and more accessible than utilizing a PC to play games. The new iterations of the Xbox One and PS4 are designed to attract new customers and provide existing gamers with the chance to upgrade to the latest equipment.

“Our data suggests that gamers spend about $600 a year on game-related products,” said Peter Warman, CEO of interactiv­e industry tracker Newzoo. “I’m sure Sony and Microsoft think they can sell 10 (million) or 20 million more units — or even more than that — rather than just keep the existing hardware out there. The true enthusiast­s out there will want the latest hardware.”

The announceme­nt of more powerful Xbox One and PS4 consoles was mostly met with enthusiasm from game developers, who don’t expect that creating titles for several versions of the same system to cost more or require more resources. Instead, most game makers see this new generation gap as an opportunit­y to make better-looking games while appealing to more people.

“I don’t see it making games more expensive,” said Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactiv­e. “I think new hardware developmen­ts that give us more powerful platforms to work on but are still compatible with the current generation is great news. We’re still pushing the envelope on (the current) consoles, so it’s not like we’re screaming for more power.”

It’s unclear how Nintendo will factor into this console cycle revolution with next year’s planned release of a system codenamed NX. The company has yet to demonstrat­e NX or explain how it will work. It will probably be a departure from the Wii U, the touchscree­n console that failed to take off with gamers. Nintendo has sold less than 13 million of them since it came out in 2012.

“In terms of NX, there’s an idea that we’re working on,” said “Super Mario” and “Donkey Kong” creator Shigeru Miyamoto through a Japanese translator. “That’s why we can’t share anything at this point, and I don’t want to comment on the other companies. If it was just a matter of following advancemen­ts in technology, things would be coming out a lot quicker.”

For now, it seems console cycles will never be the same.

 ?? Nick Ut / Associated Press ?? Microsoft has unveiled a slimmer version of the Xbox One video game console that is due in August, along with a more powerful one that’s due in 2017.
Nick Ut / Associated Press Microsoft has unveiled a slimmer version of the Xbox One video game console that is due in August, along with a more powerful one that’s due in 2017.

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