Gaming has grown at a rate beyond comprehension in the last decade. Nintendo gave us a console experience on the go, VR became a tangible reality, and platform ecosystems saw drastic changes.
This is an industry where competition is healthy as it breeds big, bold choices that push us forward. Whether that be with hardware, ways of thinking in game design, or something else entirely, it’s an ever-evolving medium that never truly feels like it’s losing momentum.
As we begin a new decade and enter a new generation for games, it’s interesting to think about just exactly where the industry is going.
Setting New Precedents
For starters, platform holders are breaking down barriers more and more. In an industry that used to gasp at the idea of a company acknowledging its competitor, companies like Xbox and PlayStation are blurring the lines. The two have made major strides with things like cross-play and even crossing ecosystems.
In 2019, Minecraft (a Microsoft owned property on all platforms) added cross-play between Xbox and PlayStation. For this to be possible, Microsoft mandated that players have an Xbox Live account. Xbox Live is now on PlayStation via Minecraft which is something no one could’ve ever probably guessed a decade ago.
Call of Duty, one of the biggest franchises known to man, also broke new ground in 2019. With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, players were given the ability to not only play with players on other platforms but also carry their progress from platform to platform. Ranks, weapon loadouts, and stats are universal meaning your MP character is not bound to just Xbox if that’s where you play.
With the new decade and generation, the first major breakthrough we know of so far is pushing these blurred lines even further. Sony announced in December 2019 that one of their most defining first-party titles will be branching out in 2021. Sony San Diego’s MLB The Show franchise will expand to platforms like Xbox, Nintendo, and potentially PC, signaling a much healthier approach to the industry.
Sony is also continuing to stretch their legs by allegedly bringing other marquee titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn to PC. While their big hitters like God of War and Uncharted will likely stay console exclusive to PlayStation, it’s likely they’ll come to PC as well. Whether this will just be opening up PS4’s line-up as the generation dies down or if this will be a norm going forward for all PlayStation exclusives remains to be seen.
Many have argued that this gives you less reason to buy a console and while that may be true, I’m not sure Sony or Microsoft care. Consoles are always sold at a loss, especially for their first few years on the market. They cost more to make than they earn back in sales, sometimes they get a very small profit or break even on each unit toward the end of a generation but it doesn’t matter by that point.
All of the money is in the games and services a platform sells. The fact of the matter is, games are getting more and more costly to make as well, especially these tentpole titles. Grand Theft Auto V cost roughly $250 million to make and that was 7 years ago. With the huge inflating budgets and the time it takes to make these games, you’re probably going to have to open up the revenue streams.
If Sony can make even more money on a game that is sold at $10 – $15 now on PS4 by selling it for $30 or $40 on PC, of course they’re going to. Steam takes a 30% cut of sales (it lowers as you sell more units, as low as 20%) and Epic Game Store takes a mere 12%. Sony has little reason to pass up something like this while Microsoft largely sells on its own marketplace, getting all the money.
While platform holders still need to maintain their marquee titles like Mario, Halo, and The Last of Us for a certain amount of time to give you a reason to purchase their particular console, it shows that times are changing. There is a willingness to share and breed less toxic competition. These multi-billion dollar corporations are making huge strides to be incredibly consumer-friendly, going far beyond expectations.
The Legs and Growth of Virtual Reality
In the past decade, VR has found an audience and unique ways to succeed. At the time of writing, we’re just a few months away from a potential VR game-changer: Half-Life: Alyx. Half-Life: Alyx is Valve’s first single-player title from Valve since 2011 and marks a return to a series that has been believed to be dead since 2007.
So, why is this such a big deal for VR? Valve is known for pushing the envelope with not only tech and hardware but also using the Half-Life series as a catalyst for groundbreaking concepts. In the past, the series has pushed the industry forward with its ability to tell a cohesive and immersive story without pausing gameplay, use of revolutionary physics, and dynamic systems.
This is a series known for paving the way for the industry and one can only imagine that Valve is aware of the lofty expectations they’ve set for themselves. This is a series they’ve been ultimately too scared to touch given its high regard and anything less than game-changing could be dangerous. They don’t have to do this game, they’ve attempted to make Half-Life games and canceled them at the snap of a finger, so the fact Alyx has made it this far is incredibly exciting for its potential. It means they’ve cracked the code for something big.
While Alyx can be played with most VR headsets and controllers, it’s being designed with Valve’s Index headset in mind. The controllers Valve has produced parallel to the Index are incredibly special. The Index controllers continue to allow you to immerse yourself in one of the most surreal experiences you can find. Using sensors and other functions, the geniuses at Valve have found a way to detect the pressure of your grip, individual finger movements, and more to accurately replicate your hand movements in-game.
While some controllers have you pressing and holding buttons that correspond to fingers, the Index controller really acts as a true extension of your body. Developers can even create functions that allow people to squeeze or crush items in-game by having the player apply pressure to the controller. Valve has even gone as far as to say that the Index controllers are designed in a way to make you feel like they’re “worn instead of held” despite the fact you do have to grip on to them.
As for where the medium of VR could go in terms of longevity, we spoke to CEO of Schell Games (I Expect You to Die, Until You Fall) Jesse Schell about the matter. Schell believes VR will break away from console/PC and become its own platform and will have its own healthy minority as a player base.
“I think VR on PC and Console is a temporary phenomenon. Those systems were never designed for VR. Long term, VR wants to be its own independent system, like the Oculus Quest is,” said Schell. “That said, I predict that by 2025, the number of people playing VR daily will be in the tens of millions. The split in worldwide gaming revenue by that time will probably be 50% mobile gaming, 35% PC and Console, and 15% VR. So, VR won’t be the dominant mode of gaming, but it will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Schell went on to note that PSVR is basically the apex of all the hardware out there. He hopes to see Sony expand on it in more interesting, innovative ways with the next-gen hardware.
“Presently, PSVR is the most successful VR system in the world, with five million units sold. However, cordless systems like the Oculus Quest are well-positioned to take over that number one spot,” said Schell. “What I hope Sony does is to create a VR system that is like a cross between the Nintendo Switch and the Oculus Quest — a portable VR system that stands on its own, but when connected to the PS5, it becomes even more powerful. Time will tell!”
Many have expected Microsoft to get in on the VR game and while there were plans to do so with Xbox One X, that quickly got swept under the rug. While Microsoft has in-house solutions with things like Hololens (which is mixed reality) and could also easily get in bed with a company like Oculus, it seems like they’re going to continue to let Sony exclusively dominate the console VR market.
“I have some issues with VR,” said head of Xbox Phil Spencer in an interview with Stevivor. “It’s isolating and I think of games as a communal, kind of together experience. We’re responding to what our customers are asking for and… nobody’s asking for VR.
“The vast majority of our customers know if they want a VR experience, there’s places to go get those. We see the volumes of those on PC and other places.”
Spencer also noted he got to play an early build of Half-Life: Alyx last summer and called it “amazing” but it’s not their focus with the new consoles.
The Dawn of a New Generation
At the end of 2020, we’re going to have two new consoles: Xbox Series X and PS5. Both platforms seem to be gearing up for a less intimidating transition between generations. Microsoft tried to do things very differently in 2013 with the Xbox One but ultimately had to reverse their strategy for something a bit more traditional.
In 2013, Microsoft designed the Xbox One as a “broad entertainment system” and didn’t want to build the beefiest gaming machine they could.
“We purposefully did not target the highest-end graphics. We targeted more as a broad entertainment play and did it in an intelligent way,” said GM of Xbox Silicon development Greg Williams in 2013. That’s clearly not the move this generation. Microsoft received a brutal amount of backlash with many games in the first year or two not running natively in 1080p.
They took the graphics debate so personally that they basically injected a bunch of roids into the ol’ Xbox One and birthed the Xbox One X. They’re trying to avoid all of that again this time around with a new approach.
With this gen, Microsoft is doing things differently but in a less “scary” way than the 2013 strategy. Series X isn’t a singular console but rather a line of machines, Microsoft will launch Xbox Series X with two models. One will be an upgrade from the Xbox One but be a relatively affordable option while the other will be a much more expensive, “premium” console that prioritizes pure horsepower.
Microsoft has also openly stated there won’t be any first-party Xbox games exclusive to Series X for at least the first year.
Sony, on the other hand, will seemingly be doing a lot of the opposite. They’ll have a single PS5 SKU, PS5 exclusives at launch, and will likely continue to beat the drum of VR as they double down on huge IP like Marvel’s Iron Man.
Despite all of this, this won’t be as big of a leap for transitioning between generations as it was in the past. Xbox has outright stated they’ve built the Series X with backward compatibility in mind and there are heavy rumors suggesting that’ll be the case for PS5 as well. In the past, your library of games became useless as many would trade in their old console for a new one. That’s no longer the case.
While Sony is still being rather coy on where they’re taking the PS5, it shouldn’t be much longer until they spill the beans. Whatever the case may be, this is going to be a very unique generation. You’re not really going to determine where you play solely on the exclusive offerings but rather how the consoles prefer to your gaming habits.
Xbox has positioned itself very strategically to be an insanely lucrative platform from the go. When you buy an Xbox Series X this November, you’re going to have hundreds of games at your disposal whether you’ve owned an Xbox before or not thanks to backward compatibility. On top of that, Game Pass will be there as a cheap alternative to full-priced launch titles.
Halo: Infinite will be there on the service day one and unless Microsoft has a big asterisk waiting for us, your Xbox Series X will let you play the brand new Halo game for $10. Add in any unannounced game, probably a new Forza, and all the cross-gen games we know about like Watch Dogs: Legion and you got a killer launch line-up.
On the flip side, Sony doesn’t have anything like that besides *maybe* PS Now. However, – and this is pure speculation with no real evidence – what if Sony were to develop a free-to-play cross-gen MP game set in The Last of Us universe. The beloved Factions mode in the 2013 PS3 exclusive will be noticeably missing from the sequel when it hits in May but… Naughty Dog has suggested they’re doing SOMETHING multiplayer related via job listings.
Free-to-play titles absolutely crush already and they kill especially when the pickings are slim when new consoles launch. Put out something of that caliber and watch the people flock.
Games are the most ever-evolving medium out there, it’s constant change and innovation. We can expect some very specific things but there will be a ton of other major twists and turns along the way as well, I’m sure.
Was anyone expecting Hideo Kojima to get ousted from Konami and go make a PS4 exclusive? Was anyone expecting Game Pass? Was anyone expecting the Nintendo Switch? No, probably not and that’s one of the most exciting things about this industry: it’s full of big, bold moves.