For the past six months, I have had the incredible opportunity to consume mountains of gaming-related information and regurgitate on Game Cache the things I thought were interesting.
In that short time I got to see the warm and fuzzy side of the industry as well as the smarmy and corrupt. It's been a fun ride, but it's time to find the exit while I still enjoy actually playing games for the sake of playing them. Like the video game equivalent of Alexis du Tocqueville, I have some parting observations and predictions for where games are and where they might be headed.
Communities have more power than ever
The slice of the pie that any given piece of entertainment can command is getting smaller by the day. A game release not only needs to capture new customers, but also satisfy the loyal fans who have been counting the hours to a game's release. Publishers and developers can't afford not to retain a high level of interaction with their customers, and the tools to do so have never been more robust. The downside, of course, is that those tools (like Twitter) are so robust that anything negative is amplified tenfold. Just look at "Mass Effect 3."
Gaming going mainstream is a good thing
The longer cultures remain subcultures, the longer they can hang on to outmoded morals that don't jive with mainstream society. As the rock is lifted on certain gaming niches, we see the amount of sexism, homophobia and general misanthropy that exists in gaming. If eSports and gaming-related events are to see more and more mainstream media coverage, shrugging off sexism or any other foul behavior with a "that's how gaming is" isn't going to cut it. It may never be the most socially evolved culture, but gaming is going to have to grow up as a whole if it wants to continue to grow economically.
The more stuff is free, the more we pay
There is more "free" content out there than ever, which is obviously great for players looking to sample a wide variety games with little to no financial risk. However, the lights still have to be kept on at the places they make video games. Digital purchases are the wave of the present and the future. On one hand, this is great because it means the stream of content you get with a game doesn't end when you beat it the first time. On the other hand, it's a model where games "cost" a lot more than they actually do if you want to get the full experiences. As the old maxim goes: there are no free lunches, even in gaming.
The middle is shrinking
Jim Sterling wrote this excellent piece on "middle class" games last year, but it bears repeating that games in the middle simply aren't getting the attention they once did. Everything that gets talked about is either dirt cheap or $60. The games that make the needle move were either made in some guy's converted home office or by a huge team of developers. It's sad, but if a game doesn't have a big intellectual property license or a bunch of hype leading up to the release, it makes more sense economically to build a bold, avant garde indie game and distribute it digitally.
Games are about to get incredibly good, or are they?
A lot of hope has been pinned on the idea that once this generation of hardware gives way to the next, games are going to improve dramatically in look and play experience. This makes sense of course, because that's what has happened every time before when the old consoles and computers are ditched. But is there a point of diminishing returns, and are we close to reaching it? How photo-real will games get, and is the next wave hardware the first one that will have to cope with the fact that the games on it don't look that much more "real" than on the last one?
R.I.P. physical media
In developed countries with widespread access to broadband internet, the list of reasons to have physical game media grows smaller and smaller. Unlike making the transition to hardcover books to eReaders, games are something we don't actually handle while using anyway. Some have opined that a PS4 or Xbox 720 that only played digital games would be detrimental to the core essence of "owning" a game, and that may indeed be true. However, it could bring back something crucial that has been lost: video game rental. For most of us, renting the full version of a game from a brick and mortar store wasn't just a test of "should I buy this," it was renting for renting's sake. Redbox and GameFly do offer the chance to try games out, but they are anachronistic to an age of instantaneous acquisition. Why mail when you can download? It's going to take some getting used to, but the days of trying to keep the bottom of a disk pristine for resale may be numbered.
Hardware models are finally changing
Since the 1970s, the general model of gaming (handheld controller, device and screen) has remained roughly the same. Things are starting to evolve outwardly instead of improving on an existing paradigm, and motion control is only the tip of the iceberg. If there's any nuggets of truth in the leaked Microsoft road map, the image we think of when we say "playing video games" is finally going to start to look different. Now if we could just get to work on hovercars, jetpacks and lightsabers.