Between a few parallels with the gaming landscape in the early 80′s and the fact that the tide can’t stay in forever in terms of the constant push toward new tech at the cost of actual meaningful innovation, I think we’re in for a bit of a bumpy fall (and sooner than some think or even want to consider). There are too many divisions in the current business model between mobile, tablet, social, console and portable games, there’s a big pissing contest going on in the industry over which will kill of what first (despite the fact that they ALL can and should thrive together) and then there’s the whole online-only thing that’s 100% useless when you can’t get online. Don’t get me started on “free” to play games (which aren’t really free), the current PC elitism bile directed at consoles and the foolish Ultrabook nonsense where some companies thought making expensive laptops would be a good idea just because Apple has rooked in billions with its overpriced tech. Then there’s the stupidity of “the uncanny valley” or photo-realism in graphics, which, by the Great Green Pickle has NOTHING to do with gameplay or story (two things that are more important at the end of the day).
Social gaming is slowly but surely eating itself alive, what with Facebook and Zynga going through their assorted stock problems and other woes, micro-transactions gone wild through people’s wallets and many social games developers looking at adding gambling to their games as the next big thing. This, of course will come collapsing down around their ears once enough outraged parents get wind of it in areas where gambling is seen as a bad thing. Even if the folks behind the games have the best of intentions and even better safeguards to keep those underage kids from accessing any of their content, all it will take is one or two scandals to get the politicians involved and stomping on that house of cards.
As for “next-gen” consoles – well, unless they do something different while also recognizing that people DO want to play games offline (the single player experience is NOT dead) and YES, still want physical media just in case, to quote Frank Black: “I smell smoke and it comes from a gun named extinction…” It’s all going to be an expensive joke the minute any hackers have their way with some new console’s online service or there’s some other long-term outage that keeps people away from their content. As for PC gaming, it will continue to thrive thanks to the mod community, e-sportsmen, the indie games scene and those who can afford to upgrade their rigs every year or so. But in one area, this part of the industry is making the same mistake it make some years back (which led to the whole “Is PC gaming dead?” era). Pricing consumers OUT of a new hardware cycle by making games that can’t be played by many who used to be able to do so previously is a really BAD idea. Especially in a recession. Of course, console ports will expand the user base of some of these titles despite the constant bitching among hardcore PC-only players that ports are inferior (which isn’t always the case).
Indie projects will thrive, but as many of them have creators working for little to no payment, I can see a tipping point coming because we’re seeing games made for free or cheap that are as impressive (or more impressive) as some top retail hits. There’s a definite argument to be made about the current pricing model for packaged games, but the fact here is digital games SHOULD be a great deal less expensive than they are, period. We’ve been rooked into believing it’s perfectly fine to be sold a stripped down game at close to the packaged price and paying more for extra DLC from day one is a fine and dandy proposition for a game that would do better as an all-in-one package for a single price point.
The main reasons Kickstarter game projects (and products like OUYA) are so popular are the more reasonable price points for entry (and in the case of OUYA, the open platform which will benefit those who like to tinker and those who want to see games made outside of the usual channels). Don’t get me wrong, PC gaming is fantastic, but it’s becoming more and more out of the range of budget-minded consumers who can’t afford to upgrade every few months to a year, have the skill or patience to do their own upgrades (nor the income to pay someone to do it for them). As for consoles, personally, I think they’ve gone way off track this generation, turning from simple plug and play game machines to home entertainment centers that demand to be fed from your bank account on a per-purchase basis and have too much in the way of options that many will never use. Sort of like cable these days 577 channels and nothing on, as it were.
Granted, I’m totally old school, so I use my systems for gaming first and foremost and playing DVDs or Blu-Ray discs second. Anything else I don’t touch (other than synching my PSP and Vita to my PS3 in the fading hope to see more games that use a cross-platform play or data transfer). Of course, I do realize that I’m in the minority here, but for some reason I keep running into people that agree with me to some extent (which verifies that I’m not a total loon). We all want our systems to play good games first – everything else is just more icing on a cake that’s getting too big to eat and starting to smell funny.
Of course, I could be 100% wrong here and gaming will get out of the rut it’s digging itself into, soaring into the sky like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Then again, perhaps it’s high time for a break so that things can settle down while game companies take it back to the beginnings and try going at it from a fresh perspective. At this rate, they’re running out of ideas on how to keep monetizing everything because they’ve spent too long figuring out how to do so and people are going to get tired of it soon enough. New gamers coming into the fold are always going to be the next, most obvious targets for these schemes (and they’ll fall for it like ducks to buckshot), but those of us who are tired of getting our pockets picked clean (even though we check those YES boxes on the TOS page) are hoping for a a lot more freedom of choice if we’re going to continue to support this hobby into the future.