The argument against the long generation gap is that consoles have not kept up with the times—especially when "the times" are defined as "what midrange gaming PCs are capable of." Back when the Xbox 360 came out, games like Gears of War made console players feel like they were neck-and-neck with their PC-owning friends. However, PCs improve gradually, with new graphics cards appearing each year, instead of in generational leaps—and no reasonable person would say that today's Xbox 360 games compare favorably with PC titles that make full use of DirectX 11. Nintendo looks especially bad on this front: The marketing geniuses behind the Wii guessed correctly that HDTVs would take a while to catch on, but a while is over now.
If you want to experience anything close to top-notch visuals, there's no question that you should be turning to PCs rather than consoles right now. This would not be the case if we already had a new crop of consoles. But there are downsides to a quicker generation span, too.
The first is the economy. In case you haven't noticed, we've had slow growth and high unemployment for years now. This means that families are hesitant to make big purchases—such as, say, an expensive game console. They'd much rather buy new games for their old consoles. A longer generation span allows them to do this, especially with Move and Kinect breathing new life into aging machines.
The second reason is that most games don't even use the full capabilities of our current consoles. For every Crysis or Arkham City, there are plenty of games a good step down from that—and also plenty of incredibly simple 2D games. As technology improves, it becomes more and more expensive to take full advantage of it. Tetris was made by a single person; games today cost tens of millions of dollars to create.
I have no doubt that the first Assassin's Creed game to appear on the Xbox 720 will look like nothing we've seen on the Xbox 360. I'm not convinced that will be true for most other games. And as a lower and lower percentage of games take full advantage of current hardware, people will become more and more reticent to plunk down their hard-earned cash for an upgrade—and generation times will grow longer.
Certainly, it's about time for some new consoles. But I'm not sure that the hardware companies erred in stretching this generation out a bit.
Date: August 8, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*