What will make the next next-gen console truly next-gen (say that ten times fast) will be fundamental hardware changes and subtle yet impressive software changes.
- An internet connection will be required to use the consoles - I know that high speed internet isn't everywhere just yet, but companies are pushing day one downloadable content and regularly patching their titles online. Another reason why the will be required is that
- Game saves will reside in the cloud. - By leveraging cloud storage, gamers can be confident that they won't lose saves if their hard drives or flash drives fail. Also, by eliminating user access to system memory there is a lower likelihood of modded games ruining the online experience for all. Which leads to
- Online Communities will be supported by the consoles - What I mean by this is the hardware makes it easy for you to find and connect with people who have the same interests as you and allows those who organize communities a way to become known. Think of not just bigger friends lists but the ability to group your friends so that if you want to get a Halo Reach session going, you send a message to everyone in the group instead of everyone on your list. By encouraging people to play together, I would think the likelihood of running into griefers would diminish.
- There will be dedicated hardware for AI and physics - Not just a chip, but boards with RAM that support that functionality. Imagine games that truly ramp up and get better at playing as you do. Games that recognize and react to your play style. Games with NPCs that understand the same rules as players do and can act on them spontaneously in the proper context.
- Increased motion control functionality and decreased emphasis on 3D graphics. - 3D will be a novelty because it costs so much to take advantage of the technology. Systems like Kinect and the Move will allow for more novel ways of interacting with the console with a much lower cost to consumers.
The future of video games is a pretty picture, but it's no longer about making pretty pictures.