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November 25th 2013 3:14 pm

What defines a new generation of game consoles?

With the release of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One this month, many are declaring it the start of the "next generation of consoles," in particular the eighth. Both machines are competing with similar specs and games, though each has its own unique attributes to push gamers in one direction or the other.

"But," a few have said, "the eighth generation actually started a year ago, with the release of the Wii U!"

And the response from some quarters has been, "The Wii U doesn't compete with them on specs! It's last-gen technology!"

And it's true, the Wii U doesn't really compete with the Xbox One and PS4 on specs -- heck, Nintendo only just added HD capabilities to their consoles, six years too late. But the Wii U has its own unique features, like the GamePad controller. And regardless of specs, being released in the same general period means it's still going to have to compete with the PS4 and Xbox One on store shelves.

So, is the Wii U part of the eighth generation? Or is it a late entry seventh-gen console? Do you determine console generations by specs, or by release date?

For what it's worth, Wikipedia lists the Wii U as part of the eighth generation: en.wikipedia.org­/wiki­/History­_of­_video­_game­_consol...

My own personal opinion is that console generations are cultural distinctions, and not technological milestones to be met. This eighth generation is also going to be marked by the release of a slew of Android-based consoles, which can't compete at all with the PS4 and Xbox One on specs, but they will impact the gaming landscape (probably).

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I agree. I don't think generations should be defined by technology. As such, I do consider the Wii U to a part of "this generation," but only once the Xbox One and PS4 were on the radar. While the 360 and PS3 were still prevalent, I considered the Wii U a part of that generation, and culturally, I now consider it a part of this generation.

I guess on some level I think the Wii U transcends the traditional notion of a generation, mainly because I think they (the company) also feel this way. Nintendo's products never seem to focus on being technologically superior, but rather focus on the actual experience of PLAYING THE GAME.

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I think it should be defined by technology, but not in the benchmark and spec point yes often touted. I view it more in a shift in what the current market is doing and where it's perceived to go. By that thinking you could argue that Nintendo is two generations ahead because the PS3 and Xbox were still by and large traditional consoles upon re-releases. However that would be a bit silly to think.

Given that all three companies touted media features and some kind of motion control indicates we're in the next generation.
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I don't think that the consoles themselves should be the mile markers in the generations of gaming evolution. It should be measured by games. Throughout gaming history, it has been groundbreaking games that define the trajectory of the industry. It could be argued that the PC Engine (TurboGrafx 16) was the first console of the next generation after the NES, but the games were really just NES level games with better graphics and sound. Same for the SNES and Genesis, really. It wasn't until the CD attachment was added to the PC Engine that anything really groundbreaking happened, but that set the stage for a new era of gaming with animated cut scenes that included recorded voice overs. I can still remember my jaw hanging to the floor the first time I watched the Ys I & II into on my TurboGrafx CD. Other games that come to mind that defined new eras n gaming were Combat, Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter II, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy 7, Elder Scrolls, etc....

Hardware means very little in the evolution of gaming. It is the games that set new expectations. Just ask Trip Hawkins how that emphasis on hardware worked for the 3DO.
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I couldn't agree more that the hardware advance in a game console doesn't really qualify it as a "new generation". When the gameplay itself advances to to a different level of enjoyment then I'll consider the older games as past. Graphics is not everything but gameplay is so they can increase the hardware all they want, but if the gameplay satisfaction is low it's nothing.
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