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Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U: Say hello to the WAFT generation

The upcoming (and current, if you include the Nintendo Wii U) video game console generation has been called a lot of names. It's the "next" generation, which is factually true but also the same as every other next generation for the last few decades. It's the "third" generation, which is just fundamentally wrong because gaming did, in fact, exist before the Sony PlayStation 2. It's the "eighth" generation according to Wikipedia, and while it's the most technically accurate name, it's also the most stale sounding. I have a better way to identify this console generation based purely on what the new systems have to offer and the questions these features raise.

This is the WAFT generation. Because the one question I keep coming back to is: "Who asked for this?"

Graphics are getting better, but with the WAFT generation the focus isn't nearly as much on visual improvements as it was in previous generations. The new hardware is more powerful than the previous generation (or in the Wii U's case, about as powerful as the current Microsoft and Sony offerings but still a big step up from the Wii), but those numbers are purely academic until developers take advantage of them. No, the big emphasis every major gaming manufacturer is placing on the new generation is the gimmicks, and they're gimmicks no one really asked for.

Nintendo Wii U

Let's start with the Nintendo Wii U, which has been around for half a year now, and stands as the first available entry of the WAFT generation. Its biggest feature is its gamepad, which incorporates a huge touchscreen (and makes the gamepad look and feel like a chunky tablet more than a video game controller as a result). The idea behind it is to allow a second screen experience, local gaming in other rooms of the house, and asymmetrical competitive video game support with other players using Wiimotes.

These are bold new features that show some potential to make local multiplayer more compelling and make the system more flexible. But they stand as the centrepiece of a game system that has only just caught up with the graphics technology of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and which still lacks a comprehensive online service that incorporates all of the friends list and matchmaking features that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have both had for a full generation. Instead of focusing on those two aspects, Nintendo decided to dedicate its resources to creating a touchscreen controller, and based an entire system around it. Who asked for this?

Microsoft Xbox One

Then there's the Xbox One, the announcement of which was met with increasingly negative responses as more details came out concerning its requirements and restrictions. While E3 is coming and there's no doubt Microsoft will unveil plenty of Xbox One games during its press conference there, besides FIFA and Call of Duty Ghosts, the Xbox One announcement was conspicuously short of actual games.

Instead, the Xbox One announcement focused on its control and media features. It has a new Kinect, which is required and will always be on when you're using the Xbox One. In fact, the Kinect features are almost entirely not about gaming anymore; no new Kinect games were announced, and everything about the device was highlighted as a way to control the Xbox One's menus, not play games with it.

The Xbox One has a TV watching feature that can control your cable or satellite box and offer its own channel guide and recommendations. The Xbox One both supports and requires full installations of games to the anaemic 500GB hard drive, which lets you play all of your games without switching discs (but it requires an Internet connection to regularly make sure you have the license to play the game you bought). Whether you think these features are useful or constricting, the fact is that Microsoft had these ancillary entertainment and control features take centre stage at its Xbox One unveiling, rather than presenting a compelling gaming experience set to arrive with the new console. Who asked for this?

Sony PlayStation 4

The PlayStation 4 isn't innocent either, although Sony has been very quiet about specific connected features coming with its WAFT-generation system. The PlayStation 4's gamepad has touch capabilities, like the Wii U gamepad (albeit a touchpad on a smaller scale, of course). It has a Share button, so you can record videos and screenshots while you play. It has its own Kinect-like camera, an update to the seldom-used PlayStation Eye and PlayStation Move. It has new and improved Sixaxis motion sensors.

These features are more game enhancing than the Xbox One's, but they're still unusual. Video and screenshot capturing is a great addition, but a dedicated button on the controller seems strange and vestigial, like the Select button that remains on gamepads to this day. It would make much more sense for today's games to make gameplay sharing, like weapon and equipment selection, menu-based instead of using a dedicated button.

The touchpad is another strange addition we haven't seen much of yet, and few people bothered with Sixaxis controls or the PlayStation Eye when they came out for the PS3, so why is Sony trying to push these technologies further? Who asked for this?

I'm not saying these features are all bad, or that they won't enhance video games. However, the emphasis Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are placing on them over other, more directly game-related features, is strange. Maybe they will all be game-changers (even the Wii U, which still has time to prove itself), but for now I look at all of the new things added to the upcoming generation of game systems and I keep wondering: Who asked for this?

This is the WAFT generation of gaming and so far, it's generating a lot more questions than answers.