25 years of gaming
It has been ten years when I last looked back on how the gaming industry changed since I started gaming. A lot has happened in the meantime. Back then my biggest complaint was a severe lack of single player titles and day one patches. While both of these things did not change (but actually got a bit worse), it feels like a lot more happened during the last ten years than the prior 15.
If I would have to describe the industry today in one word it would be „micro-transactions“. (If I write it with a „-“ it counts as one word, right?) Once a concept of mobile gaming to grep the attention of people on the infinite list of low budget games in AppStores and then let them pay a lot more than they realize is now deeply rooted in the whole industry. Want a new skin? $1 please. Want a different weapon? $2. Forgot how to turn down difficulty or only playing while drunk but still want to win? $10 and you are all set for an easy win.
In the beginning publishers tried to hide the „death by 1000 cuts“ concept. But as gamers started to accept the fact that they do not only pay for a half finished game but also for cosmetic add-ons, they saw a chance to make even more money. Lootboxes. You still pay money, but you do not know what you will get. The by far worst company in the gaming industry tried to brand them as „surprise mechanics“.
And while we talk about worst company in the industry - Blizzard decided to give EA a run for the title. It was not really a secret that the gaming industry with their crunch mentality and employee abuse is not a really nice place to be. Now we can throw in sexual harassment and plainly disgusting behavior. This was not the first incident, but I think the most prominent one. Obviously without severe consequences.
VR is still a nice gimmick, but so far away from a „Ready Player One“ like experience that I am not sure it will be a thing during my lifetime. It surely became more mainstream thanks to the Oculus Quest 2, which is in my opinion the headset you want to get from a price / performance perspective. But do not be fooled, nothing beats the Valve Index controllers. They are so good and the individual finger tracking is a joy. Sadly the Quest is so tied to Facebook, that I do not really want to recommend it. While the Quest 2 solves a few problems and even allows for a wireless experience, game selection is still abysmal and sometimes badly ported or buggy.
eSport became a lot more relevant. While DOTA, Counter Strike and League of Legends already were insanely big events with a lot of money on the line it feels like Overwatch League took it to the next level. Hopefully not the last franchise trying to break into more traditional markets, even if seems to have been not that well executed and even worse received.
Indie studios are stepping up and producing some cute, some fun and some unexpected games in new genres we have not seen on mainstream platforms before. More often than in the past these projects are Kickstarter or Indiegogo funded, allowing gamers to actually vote with their wallet. There is a lot to say about gamers having a direct connection to studios. If you want a pretty good overview of the pros and cons I can recommend the chapter about Pillars of Eternity in Blood, Sweat and Pixels.
Mobile gaming has gained far more traction than I expected. While there were always some handheld consoles like Gameboys or the PSP they came with a noticeable price tag. The shift to nearly everyone having a computer with them all the time dramatically expanded the mobile gaming market. While many games are blunt cash grabs there are also a lot you can play for free and buy irrelevant stuff or trade a few dollars to save a lot of time progressing. There is great variety in games, monetisation and some attempts to make mobile esport a thing. I cannot really get into mobile gaming despite re-playing some classics like Day of the Tentacle and Final Fantasy 7 - the best FF of all, fight me! - and some League of Legends Wild Rift. A nice distraction, but I already struggle with controls and whenever I would get to play a bit I prefer my computer.
Steam is trying to get into the mobile gaming market with their Steam Deck. Limited supply and a few early adopter issues, but overall the console seems to be very well received. I had a preorder open but I am not a fan of Steam and I do not see me using it enough to justify spending the 650€. Steam is not the first company shipping small form factor, portable computers being able to game. But Steam has the most appealing one by far. So far they have the best input options too, despite them still trying to make the stupid touch pads happen that made the Steam Controller unusable. Depending on the Steam Decks success mobile gaming might even become more relevant than it already is. What I appreciate is their investment in Linux and Proton to get AAA games running - I still hope to run Linux on my gaming system one day.
The biggest surprise for me was the Netflix model applied to gaming. For a few months now I got Xbox Gamepass for PC. I was a firm believer in owning games - which is already tricky when all shops are digital only and most require some form of DRM auth. But realistically I play most games once. And I do not even try many games because I do not want to spend $60 on release if I am not sure I will like the game, just to later spend another $40 for a DLC to see the complete game. Paying a few dollars each month and having a large library to try games or simply play and dismiss them works in my favor. I am surely getting my money’s worth out of it. There are games I would not have bought but tremendously enjoy after giving them a shot, especially Forza Horizon and Need for Speed Heat. Horizon was a surprise, Heat did not bring back the fond memories of NFS Underground, but is still fun. Halo Infinite single player is, let us say okay. I think by now we are all aware of the disadvantages of subscriptions. And naturally every large publisher has their own, which will likely be one of the reasons they will fail in the long run.
On a personal level I feel like I am getting too old for multiplayer games. Not because I lack the skill or reaction time to keep up, but I am at the point where I am simply annoyed by yet another 13 year old explaining they had intercourse with everyone’s mother. Which does not mean that people you would expect to be more mature behave better. Everyone is always supposed to have a higher rank than they are, but their teams suck. Also, everyone is always doing stupid things and throwing. So they have to communicate this with insults in voice, which you sadly have to join for most team based games or you have a significant disadvantage. Good old days where you trash talked a bit in IRC, joined a game, said „gg“ and started talking about Anime when back in IRC.
Overall the last ten years were not as exciting as I believe we were promised, but still pretty good from a hobby perspective. I am looking forward to see if gaming shifts to mobile. Cloud gaming is by far not there yet, but if it gains more traction and is bundled with a publisher subscription model we might get to the point where spending multiple thousand dollars on a gaming system, just to troubleshoot Windows will be a relic of the past. I am fairly certain the usual cloud and subscription practices will make this horrible in the long run, but gamers seem to put up with virtually anything you throw at them. Meanwhile you can find me trying to drift a Porsche 918 Spyder in Forza and being slightly insulted to see the „you are in the top 100% of players“ message, waiting for Elder Scrolls 6 and trying to figure out how to land skill shots in Wildrift as reliably as in LoL. GG everyone, see you in 10 years.