The Xbox 360 turns five this week and with no known successor on the horizon for the Xbox, PlayStation or Wii, Cnet reports on the the death of the 5 year console cycle - one of the video game industry's most longstanding truisms. For example, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out in 1985, followed by the Super NES in 1991, the Nintendo 64 in 1996, the GameCube in 2001, and the Wii in 2006. But now why should console makers upgrade their offerings? Consumers are still buying their machines by the hundreds of thousands each month, and ramped-up online initiatives are breathing new life into the systems. "I've been saying since 2002," says analyst Michael Pachter, "that the generation [started] in 2005 might be our last one."
To observers like Pachter, a lot of it has to do with the fact that with the current generation of consoles, each company found a way to maximize either the technology behind the devices, or the utility to a wide range of new gamers. For example, while Nintendo's Wii didn't break new ground in its graphics capabilities, its innovative and intuitive Wii controller made it possible to design games that appealed to millions of people who had never considered themselves gamers in the past. By the time that Wii’s juice finally runs out and a more powerful piece of hardware becomes necessary, Pachter sees Nintendo releasing what he calls “Wii Plus” — a Wii with graphics more on par with 360 and PS3, to make it easier for game publishers to port games between all three consoles.
Finally the ability to put high-quality games in the cloud--via services like OnLive or Trion Worlds could mean that the basic concept of requiring gamers to buy sophisticated hardware goes by the wayside. "If the content [is in the cloud]," Pachter concludes, "why would I buy another box? So we really might not see another console."
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