The face of the games industry has changed dramatically over the past generation, no-one can deny that. Publishers, developers, console distributors and the market themselves are all causing the landscape to morph. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Sometimes, it’s just hard to tell. But it pays to be aware of those trends. That’s why we’re going to look at some of the biggest ways that buying and playing games has changed this generation and maybe even take a look at where they’re all going.
Did someone say microtransactions?
Initially, they seemed solely something for the realm of the mobile market, but we’ve been seeing microtransactions crawl into all kinds of games. MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA started, infusing free-to-play models with early access to content that you could otherwise grind your way to in-game. But those micro transactions are even starting to make their way into big budget games. Overwatch’s box gambling system allows you to pay for a chance to win exclusive items, while Ubisoft’s recent big budget (and critically acclaimed) brawler For Honor comes with the opportunity to buy big chunks of that in game currency. Micro transactions look like they’re going to be here to stay for a while yet.
The pre-order world
Pre-order culture is nothing new, of course, but over the past few years, in particular, we might have seen some of the greatest examples of pre-order culture gone wild. Evolve, the now entirely unsupported online team-based shooter, started offering pre-orders and season passes before anyone had even seen a jot of footage from the game. However, there were also big pre-order pushes that saw the market’s reaction do a complete 180-degree turn. While No Man’s Sky might have sold well and will always have its die-hard fans, we can all admit that the confusing marketing messages, missing advertised content, and overall disappointment of the wider gaming audience could be the beginning of pre-order culture taking a backseat.
The early access AAA game
Related to micro transactions, we have to take a look at the ‘games as a service model’ that has popped up in a few recent examples. Most famous of all is Street Fighter V, Capcom’s follow-up to the darling of critics, fighting game aficionados and casual players alike, the Street Fighter IV series. However, Street Fighter V got off to a frosty reception when it became clear how limited the game’s roster was and that a lot of content, like single-player modes and trials, were missing out of the gate. That seemed to put the game squarely in the realm of early access games, a platform that allowed games in development to developer a player base and financial support before it was fully finished. Darkest Dungeon on PC might be the greatest example of early access done well, but Street Fighter V and some other examples are earning a whole new title. Early access AAA, with all the price point and marketing support of a bigger game, but a worrying lack of content to begin with.
It isn’t done when it’s done
Season passes also aren’t entirely new, but they are starting to seemingly pop up in just about every circle. Where they started in FPSes like Battlefield, we saw season passes as a surprise addition to the Dark Souls series. However, the argument has raged once more with the revelation that the revered Legend of Zelda series is getting a season pass for Breath of the Wild. But for many, the season pass marks a whole new opportunity for developers to keep showing support for their game, offering a deeper experience beyond the initial purchase.
PC gaming just keeps growing
Console gaming isn’t the center of the gaming world as it might have once seemed. With fatigue from the past generation building, PC gaming saw more than a revival, but it was launched to new heights. Besides the cost-effectiveness of buying a PC to rival modern consoles from suppliers like Blue Aura Computers, the PC has been the testing ground for a lot of new successful models. With Darkest Dungeon in early access, Pillars of Eternity in crowdfunding, Minecraft in community mod-driven, easy-to-access experiences and League of Legends and Hearthstone as examples. The openness of the platform and the exploration of that openness has led to a market of games that some think consoles simply can’t keep up with.
The revival of the FPS
First-person shooters, for some time, were solely the domain of the grim and the gray. Games like Call of Duty and Battlefield are great games with deserved fan-bases but there is no doubt that other players were starting to clamor for something new. Last year, in particular, saw a very promising start in that direction with the adrenaline pumping, entirely un-serious Doom and the game that started a fandom of scary proportions, Overwatch. Kinetic and frenetic, and fun is coming back in FPSes, and fans couldn’t be more delighted.
A new console cycle
One of the reasons that PCs got a huge head start was because people were getting sick of the PS3 and 360 generation going on so long. Now it looks like console developers are taking cues from the ability to upgrade your PC as you play with releases of the Xbox One S and the PS4 Pro, as well as the upcoming arrival of Project Scorpio. Nintendo went a whole different direction, cutting the lifecycle of the Wii U short and releasing the upcoming console, the Switch, in the same generation and market the Wii U competed in. It’s fair to say that we are looking at a whole new kind of console cycle or maybe the breakdown of the cycle in total.
Some of these changes are scary. But as much opportunity as they bring for publishers to make dodgy deals, we’re seeing some examples of how these trends can be used in the best way. At the end of the day, the models which get the most support from you are what will keep succeeding, so you have to vote (or not vote) with your wallet.