When you consider how long this console generation has lasted it's no surprise that both gamers and big developers alike aren't quite sure how to handle the lifespan of these consoles. When technology was rapidly developing, gamers almost expected their beloved systems to only last a few years before the next major upgrade came into play, and upgrading wasn't simply a matter of spending money on better performance and graphics; it was like touching an entirely new future, or being able to place a down payment on technological evolution. But that all changed with the rise of the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Graphically we have hit a standstill and over the past few years innovation in design within the games themselves has been pinnacle to sales and reputation. Which begs to ask the question, what the hell are Microsoft and Nintendo doing?
Let's not start arguing about what Xbox Live and the Wii have brought forth to the industry, because at this point their impact has already more than resolved. Solid online functionality has become a must for multiplayer games these days, and being able to connect and communicate with friends and family easily is something gamers (casual and competitive alike) rely upon from their consoles. Motion control has evolved well beyond the imagination of the poor Wii Remote too, taking into account a full range of body movement, increased accuracy, and more application than simple sword swinging or menu navigation. It did these companies well to sit back and rest on what they had accomplished for a long time, but that time is at an end. Most gamers have become heavily disenchanted with the regular shovelware that Nintendo puts forth, and with such a heavy focus from Microsoft on their Kinect, you can't help but wonder where all the exclusive support has gone.
This is exactly the kind of game plan we need to see coming from both of these companies this E3. Though it's been proven through sales that new IPs generally don't fair as well as existing franchises, there's still no reason to keep us wondering if hardware upgrades are the only thing we have to look forward to. It's not the Xbox 360 itself that makes me want to play after all, but the games that come out. Microsoft is in a position to take their last year of silence and turn it into something really big, throw down a 2013 line-up that will no doubt include the expected fan favorites but will also show that all their hopes aren't resting solely on Kinect family titles and the remnants of the Halo and Gears of War franchises.
Nintendo is in a similar but worse position, and though to be completely fair they've taken a few steps in the right direction by letting some third party developers play with their beloved IPs, there's still an incredibly poor stigma tied with the Wii. Many parents are looking at the console almost apathetic eyes as their kids rarely touch the slim list of titles in the first place, and not having access to many of the AAA hits without having to purchase a second competing system is a disappointment as well. In an age where consoles have become media centers and online multiplayer centers, the Wii sits as a pathetic remnant from an age of gaming that's long past.
Every year gamers look for new IPs at E3, but rarely do we consider that the evolution of a console is dependent on being able to provide unique games to play. If either of these companies choose to become 'more' than just a platform for gaming then now is the time to convince us by truly deciding to providing a unique experience. The Xbox can most definitely survive without any unique games or individual IPs, but that means the features on the console have to be absolutely mind blowing, and that the multiplatform games that are released for the Xbox 360 have too many additional features to pass up. It means that if Nintendo wants to become a family entertainment center they need to focus on creating games with definition, and the Wii U needs to be more than just a system with fancier graphics. Just the same way that the PlayStation is a good reason to invest in Bluray and Uncharted, the Wii U needs to become the reason to own the next big Mario/third party title, not the other way around. Once gamers start buying a system just to play a game you can't help but go down that same slippery slope that the Wii has been sliding down these past few years.
As we approach what most would see at the last years of this console generation, there's no question that, how our major console developer/publisher teams handle the industry over the next few months is going to be crucial to inspiring consumer confidence. I don't think anyone minds the idea of Nintendo and Microsoft rebranding themselves, there's certainly enough room in the industry for all kinds of gamers let alone gaming styles and platforms, but sitting in a gray area and expecting gamers to dish out the cash for promises isn't going to work any more.