Published on September 9th, 2013 | by James Hart3
Blog: The State of Play (PT.2)
Hello again. I hope you enjoyed the first part of my article on the state of gaming. So far we’ve discussed the idea of NES, Master System, PS1 and PC being the defining machines of the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, with Mario, Sonic and Half Life 1 and 2 being the key games of those eras. Next, I’d like to talk about 2005-2013.
Up to this point, certain platforms were more significant than others, but it was the software on them that made the impact, that created milestones in the industry. I’m acutely aware of the relative little mention of N64, Dreamcast, Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox 1 in my previous article, but I don’t believe they had the scale of impact as others. This was partly because up to 2005 I had only ever owned a PC, Dreamcast and Xbox and although they had some fantastic games, they didn’t stir the emotions and reactors like other games did. Also, Half Life 2 was the defining moment in the early 2000s and PCs had started to take big leaps forward with the advent of services like Steam, but also because of what came in 2005 and 2006.
We all know how popular Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii have become, but I again believe it was for the same reasons as the machines and games in part 1, just in a different way. As mentioned, PC and Steam started to bring multiplayer gaming to the masses as well as the convenience of digital over physical media. These 3 consoles as well as PC naturally improving, took that idea and brought it to the previously unreachable. The key thing 360 and PS3 had was online connectivity out of the box with an entire service forming part of the core experience of the machine. This made it incredibly easy to communicate, play online, play demos, view news and eventually becoming a media platform with TV on demand and other applications. In some ways, they were just doing what PCs have done for a while, but it’s in one self contained package under the TV, not a separate system out of the way to do your work on, which is what a lot of people still view computers as, presented in a very simplistic way.
As with all previous systems that had a major impact, this base platform allowed for the software on top of it to be incredibly enriching and unique. Media applications have been described above, but I don’t think there was 1 unique game or series that defined this generation. Games such as Halo, Little Big Planet, Rock Band, Call of Duty, Portal, and Wii Sports brought something quite unique and new to gaming, in their classic core as single player games, but mainly with what the new platforms allowed to a degree unlike before, which was social gaming. Rock Band and Wii Sports had numerous people in the same room playing and enjoying together, Halo and COD expanded competitive multiplayer to a huge audience, LBP and Portal 2 giving very unique and fun online co-op play. Clearly there are lots of other games that are relevant to this and also had a large impact, but these are just a small example for the sake of this article.
Another thing that has exploded in recent years is obviously mobile. But not mobile in the sense of traditional handheld gaming. PSP and DS were very popular, like Game Boy was back in the day and Vita and 3DS are clearly popular at the moment, but phones and tablets have really expanded portable gaming. Apple i devices and Android mobile phones have become extremely popular for various reasons that I won’t get into here and as a natural result of this, small, cheap, fun games have captured an interest in people that probably hasn’t happened since the Game Boy first came along. Evolving from this, tablets seem to be getting very popular (again for various reasons) and expand on what the phones introduced, but with people using them at home as well. Mobile devices have had the same large impact on gaming as some of the key moments described in this and part 1 of the blog, by getting even more other people interested in games that normally wouldn’t be.
The above shows that the current generation has had a massive impact on gaming and has even raised other thoughts about it, such as the often stated but rarely discussed in detail “Games as art”. Again, at the risk of banging the same drum, Portal 2 was one of those games that pushed this form of entertainment into areas not yet explored in such great detail. Games are starting to become as fulfilling as movies, music, etc in that they provide many different elements to take in, appreciate and enjoy. Of course many other games have touched on this and Half Life 2 started it nearly 10 years ago, but Portal 2 really hit a sweet spot in terms of how focussed, clean and enthralling it was with things like story, environment, script and voice acting. Portal 2 and it’s experimental predecessor have had as much of a cult impact as some TV shows and movies in my opinion, with many quotes and events spreading wildly through gaming circles as well as partially into the mainstream. The cake clearly wasn’t a lie.
So where does this leave us now? Well, a lot has changed and improved in the last 8 years and a lot of innovation has taken place. Gaming has become a much wider reaching media form for numerous reasons as described above. But as a result of this, it has partially become too commercialised and fallen into the same traps of the industries it has taken inspiration from. So many movies and songs these days are churned out purely for monetary gain without the slightest slither of credibility or uniqueness and unfortunately, many games did the same, such as Call of Duty and Guitar Hero and to a lesser degree, the likes of Halo and Forza. The generation started with Sony resting on their laurels and Microsoft wanting to make a big impact and it clearly made a difference, PS3 was panned by leading developers as being a nightmare to develop for due to it’s overly complex APIs and lack of tools, whereas Xbox 360 was simple and provided great servers. Now we’re at the end, it seems Sony have learnt their lesson and are helping developers and are producing some very unique games and experiences, whereas Microsoft are more focussed on tying down popular franchises into exclusivity deals and tightening their walled garden system.
So, to be frank, I’m torn. I have great optimism for the future as there are a lot of things that look exciting, but also have fear in that it will become more about the money than the experience. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the third and final part of this series of blogs and give my thoughts on where I think we’re heading. I hope you enjoyed and I’ll catch you soon.