The next decade in gaming

March 22, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

The last decade has been filled with incredible innovations and quirky gimmicks, some of which will remain commonplace within electronic products for many years to come. This past decade has seen the birth of downloadable content, of digital distribution, of dual screen handhelds, of touch screens and gesture based gaming. This is the decade that pioneered streamed game play onto any system around the World, negating the need for system specs. This is the decade of motion capture and placing yourself within the game. This is the decade where consoles explored online modes and subscription-based gaming. From 2000 to 2009 we have this to be grateful for and so much more.

Yet, with all of these revolutionary concepts in place, one has to wonder just where 2010 will take us and how things will develop as we move forward toward 2020. How will these already amazing concepts be improved and what other secrets does the industry have in store? In this article, I will investigate the future based on all the facts we have right now. I will evaluate the importance of the products on the market right now, and assess just how it can evolve over the next ten years.

TIMJ finds out what is in store in the next decade of gaming…

Digital Distribution: Right Now
Perhaps the most important innovation in the last ten years is digital distribution. Companies such as Valve with Steam, D2D and even XBLA and PSN have started to place fully licensed products on the internet to download without the need for a box and CD. The game would be licensed to the purchaser and be available for them to download however many times they like on their own system. You can also have the option to purchase additional licenses for use on other systems, or, in the case of Steam, an option to buy the product as a gift for a friend. Some games are even being made available online before they hit store shelves, although, admittedly at a higher price point. Of course, a large download stands in your way before getting hands on time with your game, with titles ranging from 300MB to 3GB! However, if your connection is good enough, it beats waiting for the post and for your local store to restock.

Digital distribution also offers a fantastic way for gamers to get hold of games that have previously been difficult to obtain because they have stopped being produced. It also makes them more accessible to new audiences and playable on modern day systems. For example, Lucasarts have re-released many of their classic adventure games through Steam, making them compatible with modern operating systems such as Windows Vista.

For consoles, Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network have introduced games of their own from in-house and external developers to much critical acclaim. Especially in the case of the Xbox Live Arcade library which seems to go from strength to strength, incorporating classic games from previous years and exciting new titles built from the ground up, specially for use on Xbox. In many cases, people have opted to purchase points for an Arcade game rather than actually go out and buy a full release! This has also been a blessing for the independent gaming market as developers with the right tools can get their product out there for the public to buy and play and develop their reputation. These types of games would never have survived against heavily publicised titles from the likes of EA and Activision, so this presents an opportunity for them to make their sales without such fierce competition.

Stepping away from PC’s and Consoles, another force in digital distribution is iTunes. Apple’s enormously successful program has become more involved in distributing games and applications for the iPhone and iPod touch. Even mobile phones have become a solid platform to release titles on and been a huge success for developers looking to promote their wares, old and new.

I’ve certainly found myself using digital distribution more and more in the last two years, both through purchasing Arcade titles through Xbox Live and Playstation Network, and perusing some remarkable deals on Steam and iTunes, purchasing classic games for a very small fee. It has proven to be a reliable, stable service across the board and is quickly becoming such a rival to retailers that companies such as Amazon, Play and GAME have had to develop their own digital distribution services to adjust with the times.

Digital Distribution: To Come
Pricing for Digital Distribution is ludicrous in most cases, and reasonable in others. However, as more and more people become aware of the service and more companies decide to create their own service, digital distribution is going to become more and more competitive, and quite possibly by 2020, every single title released on the market will be done through the medium of downloads. As is evidenced by iTunes, the popularity and competitive pricing for music has become so great, that stores such as HMV no longer make their profit by selling singles or albums and they have had to explore other avenues.

Ultimately, this could spell the end for retail chains such as GAME and HMV unless they are quick to move with the times and make their online business their priority, such as Zavvi and Woolworths. The reality of online shopping may be a lot closer at hand than people suspect, and I certainly don’t think ten years down the line is too little time to expect that retail as we know it, will probably never be the same.

Obviously, this is also the most economic way of owning games, and as time goes by, it will no longer be practical or sensible to buy a hard copy. The days of large A4 sized cardboard boxes containing a single CD will soon be a distant memory and deemed as relics.

I can only see the Playstation Network and Xbox Live growing from strength to strength with greater support from developers but also better quality titles being created once developers realise how much potential lies in this market. As is already proven by the likes of the ultra-popular Battlefield 1943, Flower, Castle Crashers and Shadow Complex, these games can very easily sell a million units and continually have steady sales overtime. This is also true of add-ons to already successful retail games, such as the expansions to GTA IV and Fallout 3. Steam is also expanding to MAC and has given significant increase to PC gaming sales where before they were starting to dwindle.

This change in the market will also be of major benefit to independent developers with so much of a limited budget that they cannot afford to mass produce boxed titles and able to offer their products for a small fee and build a reputation for themselves through the internet. In many respects, power may fall into their lap as they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, whereas some of these larger corporations who make their business in other means may lose a grand chunk of money, which hinders their development opportunities. Through this, I am certain that many creative concepts are waiting to be unveiled and released upon the World for their gaming pleasure, which will only help the industry to flourish.

Perhaps the next generation of consoles could even head further down this route, without a disc drive but rather providing the user the ability to download the same game from a self-devised network or through several selected retailers, all offering produce at a competitive price.

I feel that this won’t just be the case with gaming, but with every entertainment form on the market today. In that sense, we’re headed toward a very economical future and with internet speeds set to increase for the general population; it’s only a matter of time before the need for a game on a CD is going to go the way of the floppy disc. It is all evolution, and we’re headed toward the next phase!

Downloadable Content: Right Now
The tail-end of the noughties has seen the emergence of Downloadable Content as an important and now, integral factor in a fully licensed computer game. It is now expected for every large release at retail to have some sort of support at and post launch, and we will be seeing that in nearly every single major game that launched over the 2009 Christmas period, including Assassins Creed 2, Uncharted 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Dragon Age Origins and Modern Warfare 2.

Rock Band and Guitar Hero, are perhaps most guilty, offering a new selection of songs for fans to download each week. Every developer sees this as an opportunity to expand their product and charge x amount of money for the privilege. Sometimes it is to enhance the single player experience, sometimes the multiplayer and sometimes both.

No matter which way you look at it, there are now teams in place to work on a product post launch and create content that people want to play. It is also clear that people are willing to pay, as content packs can go from as low as three pounds, to as much as fifteen. There is certainly a market for DLC and it is on the increase as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are making more advertising campaigns to promote their online catalogue for XBLA, PSN and Wii Ware respectively. Officially supported DLC from developers is the in-thing and everybody is jumping on board.

In the early stages of the decade, the PC was still rife with mods and add-ons which helped people to expand their product, one distinct advantage it held over its console counterparts. In 2000, consoles were only really just starting to discover the internet and what it can do for their system with the Dreamcast being the first to dare to try. Now, it is fair to say that consoles, while still not on an equal peg with the PC in terms of a community being able to contribute additions to a game through the medium of in-built tools, are closer to the nirvana that PC gamers relish in.

We have even seen some DLC be converted and sold as a retail product for people who are not online or have been hesitant to try, such as the Episodes from Liberty City package from Rockstar and all episodes of Siren: Blood Curse combined on one blu-ray disc on the Playstation 3. Also, Game of the Year editions of games are now shipping with DLC, such as the Fallout 3 GOTY edition which contains all five add-ons and Batman Arkham Asylum which will ship with the two free map packs along with the main game.

Of course, because it is such a new thing, there is the issue of pricing, and frankly, what people are currently paying for what they’re actually receiving is the subject of much argument. In some cases, with Rockstar Games, full on expansions to the GTA franchise in the form of the Lost and Damned and the Ballad of Gay Tony are worth their price tag with their longevity, playability and credibility. In other cases, developers have thrown together some twenty minutes of extra gameplay with some new graphics and expect to throw an eight pound price tag on it.

You can never have enough promotion...

You can never have enough promotion...

Downloadable Content: To Come
I think most can see where we’re headed with downloadable content. Already, in 2010 some of the most anticipated releases are DLC with the likes of Assassin’s Creed 2, Resident Evil 5 and Modern Warfare 2 each offering something for their players. Also, many game developers are stating from the outset that their games will be expanded with DLC, with some offering further DLC at launch, such as Heavy Rain and Mass Effect 2. Even Alan Wake has been mentioned to receive episodic content shortly after it releases in the Spring.

This will continue to be a strong trend in the years to come, and hopefully expanded where console gamers can make use of in-built community tools and make their own concepts within a game’s universe, such as is offered in Little Big Planet.

This will become a crucial element in game sales as most people are on Xbox Live or the Playstation Network and demand that their £30-£40 purchase have its shelf life extended.

It is difficult to ascertain as to whether or not further DLC will be released at retail. In many respects, it would be walking backwards in order for developers to move forwards. However, for the minority not able to access the internet at present, it does give them an opportunity to discover what they are missing and expand their game further. I feel, at the very least, the GOTY editions of games will continue to be released with content packs as it makes for a fantastic bargain package and provides the opportunity for all players an even playing field to experience a product fully-realised.

Hopefully, the issue on pricing will be reviewed and evaluated. Although, we’re already seeing developers lower their prices with Assassin’s Creed’s first piece of DLC being priced at 320 points (around £2.50), and Dragon Age’s content coming in at 400 (around £3.20). I believe we will see more aggressive pricing and marketing in the months and years to come, and this will certainly lure more and more people and convince them that this is as important a revolution in the gaming industry as there has been in the last ten years.

As more people wise up to what developers have been doing with their titles, I feel development of DLC is going to need to be valuable enough for purchase, and not be brought into question by the public that it couldn’t have been included in the normal retail package. In the next few years, developers will need to be cautious that those small content packages for hefty sums are not going to be as valuable and as essential a purchase to a consumer as perhaps they are now. Essentially, development of DLC is going to need to prove itself and be worth the time in expanding the game, instead of just throwing a level together and hoping someone will buy it.

It also seems like development houses will be relying on DLC to end the game for them, meaning that a person buying the retail game and seeing it through to the end, means they won’t actually know how the game ends, unless they buy the DLC. This can serve as an annoyance to people rather than a pleasurable way of expanding a product, and again, developers need to tread carefully!

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