It feels like ages ago, but it was only a year or so where I posited that the largest shift this generation for gaming would be cross-play. That was related to Dauntless, and it’s ability to link any version together. Frankly, there are nothing but benefits to having MORE people play in an online game. We’ve seen some bits of it moving forward – Fortnite, and PUBG do it now, Apex Legends is in beta. Genshin Impact is another big splash. I still think this is like the largest change to all gaming.
With these OS/hardware refreshes underway, fancifully called new consoles, there’s a common ground in that the foundational platforms are the same. No significant architecture changes, just “new” assets. It’s allowing for backwards compatibility for nearly anything currrent-gen, without real issue. It also means that the efforts to make crossplay work in the past are still valid. There’s more in common across platforms than not.
Some thoughts on current trends and where we’ll end up.
Last gen really only saw Sony do this with their 1st party games. Many GOTY candidates were in this basket, and XBOX users were left in the dark. Last of Us, God of War, Horizon, Ghost of Tsushima to name a few. XBOX was meh. Forza, Gears, and Sea of Thieves. This does explain Microsoft’s insane buying spree of late, Bethesda of note.
I’m sure we’ll continue to see exclusives, but only in relation to timed exclusives for say 6-12 months from the Microsoft team. Sony is a question mark, the drive a serious amount of console sales from their software. The trial run with Horizon’s on PC is the likely future, with again a timed exclusive model.
Software as a Service
So this is a buzzword that can be used for so much, but this is more like the PS and XBOX monthly gaming passes. This allows the platforms to have a consistent cash flow in exchange for keeping a useful digital library. This provides a ton of value to gamers who float from game to game, and tons of value to platforms for those who stick with a game for a long duration. It dramatically changes the cash flow for developers, where they are putting in millions of dollars and not getting that $70 one time buy.
Consoles are going to invest in partnerships with developers to get access to their services (EA and Ubisoft in particular) to increase the attractiveness of the service. Again, due to the shared architecture with PS, XBOX, and PC, the library of games just keeps on growing.
Updates and Networking
XBOX is in a decent spot. PS4 is so much better than PS3, but holy moly the amount of system updates preventing you from playing is annoying. Sony has said that this is further improved in the PS5, so time will tell. A big change here is more related to hardware, with SSD drives being so much faster than disk drives, which should dramatically speed up the install times. Game load times will be SUPER fast (Monster Hunter on PS4 takes 90s to load a zone that takes 5s on PC).
Now for games themselves, this is actually going to get much, much worse. We’re going back to the early CD days where you had multiple install disks because the storage media couldn’t handle everything. The XBOX S only has ~350gb and doesn’t have a disk drive. That’s about 6 standard games, but for the very big ones you may end up with only 1 or 2. As much as we have modular storage upgrades, my gut is telling me that industry is going to go the game streaming route instead.
Graphically there isn’t much here that hasn’t already been seen on PC. 4K + ray tracing, everywhere. We won’t see 8K (nor can people really afford those TVs). That said, a console today is cheaper than a PC video card.
Voice acting is everywhere today, even in indie games. Musical scores are astoundingly solid and memorable. The mid-days are long dead. I don’t see much progress in this department, other than just a new baseline.
The weird spot here for me is going to be character creations. With all the AI tools we have around us, I’m surprised we don’t have a more mature “replicate this picture” in games.
This console run we saw “open world everything” and “rpg every system”, with Ubisoft certainly taking this to the extreme. With better processing power, I’d expect more procedurally generated content that increases replayability. I’d also expect there to be better support for player-generated content. To me it seems strange that things like Minecraft and Dragon Builders, and I guess No Man’s Sky, are not being explored in more depth. Hell, Roblox is a cash cow.
Rogue likes are everywhere, and mobile is covered in the concept of incrementals. We haven’t seen a big budget version of this yet, unless you’re counting FPS games here. We’re due.
Integration into the mobile space is severely lacking. I don’t mean ports to mobile, I mean having a companion program to “games as a service”. There’s an insane amount of money left on the table here, if only in the ability for the companion app to be in the players pocket during all waking hours. It obviously would need to be optional, but since all the consoles support Bluetooth and cloud connections, this shouldn’t be hard to sync up.
I would be ultra surprised if we don’t end up seeing Early Access games on consoles this generation. If there’s a way for a developer to make money on a broken game, damn sure they will do so. There’s a GOOD argument to be made around Fallout76 and Anthem being examples of this behaviour. Maybe EA gets a subscription service instead.
Maybe this is the generation where we see a return to Myst-like games of exploration, using FMV and VR. The PS VR toolset worked well, and Oculus 2’s requirement for permanent big-brother Facebook links is putting a ceiling on adoption. Using a standard framework, this is a great opportunity.
Mobility is weird one. Consoles are not exactly tied down like a desktop, but they aren’t exactly mobile either. Streaming would allow you to play the console from anywhere in your house, or from another location if the network supports it.
The days where consoles drive gaming progress are long behind us. Their best bet is home entertainment units, and at a stretch, a potential VR interface. PCs will continue to dominate the bleeding edge, and the indie scene is where we will see new game mechanics iterated upon.
I do think PC has some serious hurdles to get over, primarily on the absolute insanity of custom PC builds to play potato-quality games. Or, at a more extreme level, having to modify the core settings of a game (or find a mod) to allow a game to use all the parts in the PC. Driver support alone is bonkers. The future of PCs is in the hardware space. Larger/faster storage options. Smaller components with non-PhD cooling solutions. A continual price reduction on pre-built gaming rigs.
Here is where I think the largest change will take place, specifically in the streaming area. Right now, Apple and Google “own” the app delivery method and they take a 30% cut. Game streaming services mean the game never really exists on the device, and all the compute is done remotely. Assuming the network speed is sufficient, you should be able to play pretty much anything through a streaming service.
Ok, an example. Fortnite right now can’t be played on iOS for fun reasons. Imagine Fortnite being deployed as a gaming stream rather than an actual app. This would likely break the Great Firewall of China and a whole slew of other interesting hurdles. Bluetooth controller, USB-C to HDMI, a TV, a streaming service and you have gaming on the go.
Gaming today feels like magic. The audio/visual fidelity is right at the edge of the uncanny valley (RTX is crazy good). They bring more and more people together. The provide long term goals and a sense of continual progression and community. There are options for everyone. To me, the future is going to focus on gaming where you want with who you want. It’s going to be awesome.