2019 will be a turning point for the video game industry. A lot of things are moving, some companies are entering the game (pun intended) with revolutionary ideas and technologies that will redefine the way we broach and play video games.
Not convinced ? Let me take you on a little trip about game history, and talk about the coming changes in light of the past…
40 years of video games
When we look to the past, far far away when consoles weren’t as common as today, video games were mainly played in arcade rooms. That was the good old days for Pac-Man or Space Invaders, and all you wanted was to write your name at the top of the highscores board. Games were not something you possessed, but an activity you gave yourself up to in a dedicated place. Arcade rooms were a thing, in North America, up until the 1983 crash. Yes, some consoles existed at that time (like the Atari 2600), but none was actually mainstream and the games were very close to arcade games.
Then, the first mainstream consoles started to appear. 1985 is the year of the Nintendo’s NES (1983 in Japan). More people could finally stay at home and play video games. Highscores started to disappear (at least, they weren’t the ultimate goal anymore), and saves became a thing ! You could stop playing at some point, take a walk, go to school, come back and continue your adventure ! And we really can talk about adventure here, because games were richer, bigger, the mechanics were completely different from arcade games (yeah, I’m looking at you The Legend of Zelda – 1986). And no need to put a quarter in your machine anymore, what a relief.
From here – the 3rd generation of consoles, we go on an always increasing consoles’ power and graphics quality, new gameplay mechanics, new IPs, etc.; up until nowadays. Why do I pass that fast on 20 or so years of gaming ? Well, because there is more than consoles now, you’ll see in a minute. And the milestones of console generations is not the point here, we have to see wider. But please note something important : before the 7th or even the 8th generation, on console, you were buying a finished game (with all its bugs and glitches). There was no DLC, no day-one patch, and only a handful of online games.
For people like us born in the late 80’s/early 90’s, that seems very normal. That’s why some of us are collectors, that’s why retro gaming is riding high. But in the recent years, with the explosion of the Internet, and the fact that everyone of us has a powerful smartphone in their pocket, the way games are made, distributed, and, we can say it, consumed, has radically changed.
Mobile gaming and Internet for everyone
It might seem banal today, but just a few years ago, a permanent and fast Internet connection didn’t exist. Our phones were just capable of calling or texting basically. When the Internet speed became adequate, and that the storage space was big and cheap enough, things changed step by step. We can now easily load and play whatever game we want on our cellphone; devs can send patches to fix some bug in their games in a matter of minutes; we can stay at home, warmly wrapped up in a blanket, and buy a digital copy of the last Insomniac’s game and play almost instantly (yeah, almost, we talk about 50 GB…); or launch Clash Royal and battle some random player in the world in an instant.
But, wait ! Do you even possess the game ? I mean, yeah, it is registered in your account, but you don’t have it physically. Let’s picture something. 10 years into the future, your PS4 dies, with the digital game stored on it. Sony servers are down for good, so you can’t even download the game anymore. You just can’t buy a second-hand PS4, because you don’t have the disc !! You don’t have what you bought anymore. That’s it, you just have to try to find a physical copy and buy it… again.
For the sceptics here, remember that on January 30th 2019, the Wii Shop has closed. And since that date, players can’t download the games they bought anymore… Also, to reinforce the idea that mobile gaming is growing and will have a major place in the next years, let’s remember Pokémon GO, Mario Run, … Even Blizzard wants its share with the upcoming Diablo Immortal. Thanks to smartphone, you can reach a larger range of people as anyone now has a decent smartphone in their pocket. Casual gamers and non-gamers are now very easily accessible.
So, dematerialized games are our present and close future (just think about those dematerialized only deluxe editions, those DLCs, …), and the few of us who collect games are already nostalgic of our childhood and those games that we can still put in a console and play 25 years after the release without any worry or connection issue. Don’t think that I reject everything of our current game industry. I really enjoy playing a game on my phone, I am glad I can download a patch for my games! It is awesome that I can download and play a brilliant Indie game like Shovel Knight on my Switch. That’s cool ! But I am a collector too…
The Netflix era
So, take a look at the game industry now. You see it. Playstation Plus, Xbox Live, … You don’t need to pay $70 for each game, each disc. You can get a monthly subscription, and play all the games you want, from home. You download, you delete, passing through hundreds of games, by just pressing a button. And a lot of companies talk about the concept of game as a service. Yes, a game is now a service, like you can watch a movie or a series on Netflix. Editors prefer this new trend because producing physical copies has a cost higher than having a game hosted on a server.
And then, look at the Playstation Now, with which you can stream games on your PS4 or your PC. No download, you pay your subscription, you play all the games you want immediatly. Or look at the promising Project Stream from Google. In the coming months, maybe years – but it will come quickly for sure – you will not need a console anymore! You will be able to play the last AAA game, directly from the browser of your computer or your smartphone. And that, without any latency, with perfect graphics. Sony, Microsoft, Google, Nintendo, Ubisoft, … all of them recently spoke about the end of consoles, and the cloud gaming golden age to come. Rumours even talk about Amazon entering the industry (after buying Twitch, that makes sense)…
We won’t even go on the field of microtransactions. You are not even buying a game, but something in the game. Something virtual, sometimes useless. 20 years ago, nobody would have imagined that.
Playing games is now easier than ever, but also more volatile. And that’s all linked to new technologies : more power, more Internet speed, cheaper hardware too. That certainly is a good thing. Maybe a bad one too, for those who are attached to physical games. But, one thing’s sure, that offers us new ways to enjoy our passion.
What’s next ?
So many things to talk about ! When can we expect cloud gaming to arrive ? Will it be the revolution everyone talks about ? What new game mechanics will be invented with the new technologies which are currently being developed ? What will result from the partnership between Xbox and Nintendo concerning the Xbox Live compatibility with the Switch ? Will the backwards compatible PS5 or Xbox Scarlett be true, and save our old games ? Will the next generation be the last generation of consoles, at least as we know them ?
That’s what we will try to know from now on, following the latest news from the industry! This article is our introduction for the coverage of the video game industry news.
I am conscious I really focused on game distribution, because it is important and it is an entire topic on its own. But we can also think about AR, VR, and games that allow us new interactions with our world or a new immersion. That’s all new ways of playing. It’s also a huge, but different topic, that will also be covered.
Games literally surround us. The gaming industry revenue is way bigger than the cinema one. Dozens of games, indies or not, free or not, are in our hands. And if you followed me on this quick trip, you see that the way we consume games has evolved and will still evolve. That’s a normal thing, and it’s really exciting. Dematerialization doesn’t mean the brutal end of physical copies. However, retro gaming can seem to be threatened in some way. If the service is shut down, we lose the digital games we bought. Almost as if we don’t own our own games… I sincerely hope that the gaming industry will not become 100% digital, because in my opinion, games are art pieces. Games are made to be entertaining, but also to feel emotions (play Marvel’s Spider-Man, play God of War PS4 – among others, please!), games can be shared experiences. Games are part of our culture, of our lives, that we can share with others, through generations.
The way we broach game distribution is linked to our emotional relation to the games : what can a particular game mean to us ? I will be happy when I put the Crash Bandicoot 2 (PS1) disc in my console, give the controller to my daughter and say : “Hey, enjoy, that’s the first game dad’s ever played on console. And gosh, it’s a good one!” I hope we can still do that in the future… But, let’s be honest, I will also appreciate playing a good AAA on my phone, in my bed, for a few bucks, like I enjoy be slacking on the couch, playing a random mobile game for a couple of minutes…
What does gaming and video games mean to you ? Are you a collector, a fan of binge gaming, or another type of gamer ? What do you expect from cloud gaming ? Let us know in the comments !