What does being a next-gen game or hardware mean, exactly? While the answer is kind of murky -- in some ways, the coming generation doesn't feel like a huge departure from our current generation of hardware -- one of the places we can see concrete changes is when it comes to multiplayer games.
So let's talk a little bit about what we can expect out of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 when it comes to (console) multiplayer games, shall we? Improvements, changes, continuations of trends, predictions -- you name it. Here are some of the many ways next-gen games and hardware will affect multiplayer games.
- Better shooting: Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers have been revamped with a number of improvements to their gamepads, some of which will prove to be a boon for first-person shooters. The new triggers on the Xbox One controller, for example, mean that you can feel rumble feedback when you press down -- and depending on how developers use it, that can be particularly rad for games that require shooting. The PlayStation 4 might not have fancy built-in rumble features the triggers, but the triggers are still improved, too. Hopefully this means in improved kill/death ratios for us all.
- Better...raging? While raging is kind of dickish and inadviseable, one of the improvements on the Xbox One controllers is that they're designed so they wont shatter. Hopefully this means those of you that can get kind of heated during matches don't have to worry about buying as many controllers anymore.
- More second screens: A number of upcoming next-gen games continue what the DS started -- gaming via multiple screens. Smartglass promises that it will let you keep tabs on friends, and find better matches. Games like Tom Clancy's The Division allow players to use an iPad to get a different view of the action, tag enemies, issue buffs, debuffs and commands to other players, amongst other things. Driveclub will let players send others invitations to races via smartphone. Second screens in multiplayer gaming seems like a trend to bank on.
- Dedicated servers: When playing against each other, Xbox One players don't have to worry about dropped matches or bad connections as much -- matches won't be hosted by other players. Thankfully.
- More online-only games? Current trends make it a safe bet to assume even current-gen games will require you to constantly be connected to the Internet -- and already, we're seeing games like next-gen racer The Crew require players to be always-online. Heck, at least one game -- Titanfall, the mech-shooter by the folks who brought us Call of Duty -- won't even be bothering with single player; it's multiplayer-only. Hopefully, the more we see online-only or multiplayer-only games, the better developers can utilise online features to give us more alive and complex games -- versus online-only functioning as DRM for players. But even just based on the fact that the Xbox One initially wanted to be an always-online console, we can safely assume we'll see way more always-online, if not multiplayer games.
- Better Connections: The ways we connect with our friends and with each other will improve, too. Our friends cap on the Xbox One will increase -- we can now have up to one thousand friends. Dang. And the new reputation system on the Xbox One means that not only will feedback affect what your reputation is -- which affects the sort of player you'll be matched up with -- but it can also recognise when you're playing like a troll or griefer.
- Better social options: One of the PlayStation 4's biggest, most exciting features is its share button -- which allows you to easily broadcast your games in real time, if not easily spectate games. Heck, your friends can take over your games and assist you. And the Xbox One makes sure that it records your latest and greatest achievements -- you know, so you can brag to your friends? Neat.
- More inattentive players? The Xbox One's new snap mode means that players can multitask with ease; we all have the ability to 'snap' from one application to the next. Why wait in a multiplayer lobby when I can browse Twitter or something while I wait? Heck, why not have Twitter running at the same time/over my game? Snap mode is a cool feature, but I can totally see some more absent-minded players using it and then basically going AFK in whatever game they're playing.
- Absent friends: Of course, while online-only is on the rise, so is asynchronous multiplayer. That is to say, your friends don't always need to be present when you're playing against them. Forza 5 for example will base AI on actual players and their behaviour -- so it's like others will be able to race against you, without ever actually playing against you. It's kind of spooky, actually!
- More Free-to-Play games: Here's another trend that is likely to continue, if not grow in the coming generation. Already, there's proof of it: fighting game Killer Instinct will start off free with one unlocked character, and any additional characters will cost five bucks a pop. It will undoubtedly not be the only game of its ilk, especially since free-to-play games go hand-in-hand with multiplayer games.
Downsized MMO: one of the big buzzwords for the coming generation is "shared-world shooter" -- not quite MMOs, and not quite single-player/multiplayer, either.
Lots of changes, lots of improvements, and perhaps some worrying trends -- what are you looking forward to or dreading out of next-gen games and hardware?
The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It runs every Monday at 6PM ET.