The current generation was special in a lot of ways.
It was the first in which online functionality became standard, and the first in which global network infrastructure allowed for online play (albeit inconsistently in practice). It was the first built around high-definition graphics, bucking 30 years of precedent in terms of visual quality. We also saw Nintendo come back in force with the Wii, after a middling showing with the N64 and a colossal failure with the GameCube, as Sony shot itself in the foot with the PS3 and allowed both Nintendo and MS to win sales and market share.
One of the most interesting aspects of the current generation has been the sales. I’m a total sucker for sales data with video games, and this gen has offered plenty to sate my appetite.
This is the only generation in my lifetime in which 3 consoles all sold at least 70 million units, with the top seller (the Wii) only selling 30% higher than the other. You wouldn’t think that based on how fanboys gloat and mock each other over the numbers, but all three consoles did great this gen. Even Sony, with it’s convoluted $600 mess of a PS3, managed to recover. It’s a far cry from previous generations, in which either Sony or Nintendo monopolized the entire market (the 16-bit era being an exception).
The handheld space was even more interesting. For over 15 years, Nintendo had a complete lock on the handheld space with their Gameboy line. Sony stepped up to the plate with the PSP, and put up a much better fight than any of Nintendo’s previous competitors–one of the few cases where being outsold 2-to-1 is still a monumental achievement. Together, both handhelds sold over 200 million units globally.
I don’t expect to see either situation play out next gen.
The PSP and DS line were the last dedicated handhelds sold before smartphones and tablets were a factor. That’s already depressing sales in the west, where the PS Vita is selling like dogshit and the 3DS is selling far less than in Japan. I’ll be surprised if Nintendo’s newest unit sells as much as the PSP at this rate; there’s no way in hell it’ll hit the DS’s 150 million units sold. No dedicated handheld will ever see those numbers again.
Nor do I expect to see a repeat of current gen numbers in the console space either. If Nintendo is going to be leaning on their core fans to push units this time, the system will sell little more than the N64 did. The price differential won’t be as wide as it was with the Wii and it’s competitors, and people will hang on to their PS3s and 360s for a while. That will also depress PS4 and 720 sales, as they cannibalize each other from the off due to launching around the same time. I expect the market for the next-gen consoles to be smaller than it was for this one.
This generation was an anomaly that won’t be repeated any time soon.