Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.
We’ve been seeing video games appear on platforms outside of consoles and dedicated handhelds lately. Tablet devices have access to games via apps, as do iPhones and similar tools. Graphically, there’s little difference between the power of consoles and PCs now, and Adobe Flash 11 can run the Unreal Engine. In light of all that, here’s this week’s question:
Where do you see video games going in the future technology-wise?
Mohamed Al Saadoon: I take offense at the statement saying, “there is little difference in the power of consoles and PCs now.”
For the past few years, PCs have by far outstripped the power of consoles, but they’re being held back by the need to release multiplatform titles to recoup the massive costs of game development. A good example of this is Battlefield 3. The game supports 64-player multiplayer on PC but only 24 players on consoles as well as smaller maps to accommodate the aging tech in the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Even at the past E3, the Unreal 4 engine tech demo was running on an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680, a decent graphics card. Compared to the PS3’s RSX and Xbox’s Xenos GPUs, it’s light years ahead in terms of tech. Ubisoft’s highly anticipated Watch_Dogs was running that impressive demo on a high-end PC, and I’d be surprised if the amazing “Agni’s Philosophy” demo for Square Enix’s Luminous Studio engine wasn’t running on a PC.
PCs will continue to be graphically the superior option and the console peasants will continue to dumb down our games, but I think the future and the rising costs of game development will cause technology to slow down as developers think of ways to cut costs. Even the announcement of Unreal Engine 4 demonstrates this: UE2 debuted in 2002, and then just two years later, the first screenshots of UE3 were shown and the first game, Gears of War, was launched in 2006. It’s taken four years to jump between the second and third editions of the Unreal Engine, but it’s been six years now and we still don’t have any development other than tech demos on UE4. Even Epic Games predicts that Unreal Engine 3 will be used long into the future alongside their new baby.
The sad state of affairs is, technology won’t be much different than it is today. But the silver lining could mean that developers will try to focus on visual styles to make their games pop rather than strive for sheer horsepower, which could lead to more games like Okami and less brown-and-gray shooters.
Nathan Wood: I have to say that I expect the next generation of consoles to be the last, and I don’t say that with any sense of happiness. Anyway, each console has seen it become that much closer to a PC, except it becomes obsolete within a few years and left behind by the high-end PC crowd. It would just seems that the industry is leaning toward phasing out the console crowd entirely, leaving only the PC and handheld audiences. Prices are already astronomical for developing titles for these consoles, and they don’t seem to be going down anytime soon. I think this will lead to a PC-dominant industry. That’s not necessarily a popular opinion, and it’s one that I honestly hope I’m wrong about. Very wrong.
The day that the industry becomes PC-only is the day I’ll probably step away from gaming. It’s nothing against PCs, but I’ve never been able to sit at a desk and play so close to a screen. I like being comfortable at a decent distance away from the screen, and I’m incredibly more proficient and comfortable with a PS3 or Xbox controller. Although I’m aware I could connect my PC to my TV, it seems impractical. I believe eventually that I’ll find myself wanting to own separate PCs, and unless I’m rolling around in money a là Scrooge McDuck (read: if my spring selling business really takes off), I don’t see it happening. Again, I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong, and chances are that I will be. I haven’t exactly made a career out of making predictions, and frankly, it’s not in my job description.
I think handhelds will remain, but the line between being a dedicated game console and a phone will continue to blur. It’s a market that isn’t going to go away, and devices that are similar in power to our current home consoles isn’t a stretch to see in consumers hands in the next five or so years. I mean, just look at some of the games on the Vita now and try to tell me that it’s light years away.
But if the future holds similar tech to what we have now, what with its assortment of handhelds, home consoles, PCs, and continued growth of cloud gaming, you wouldn’t hear a complaint from me. Hell, it’s what I want.
Connor Horn: I don’t see gaming going anywhere, in the sense that it’s leaving one place and going to another. Instead, I see gaming expanding. Video games aren’t being designed just for people who like video games anymore; there’s a whole section of the industry designed to entice casual technology users with such time diversions as Angry Birds and word games. Because of the advent of new items like the tablet, there’s an increased demand for large-audience games that are easy to use and enjoy, and I can only see this demand growing in the future.
However, I don’t feel that it’ll occur at the detriment of other, more traditional video game markets. PC gaming is thriving with the advent of digital distribution, and games like Wasteland 2 can still pull in ludicrous amounts of money with an unabashedly hardcore game before they’re even launched. The recent revival of e-sports has put even greater emphasis on competitive multiplayer games that have high skill ceilings and require a good amount of dedication. It’s clear that these parts of the industry are healthy and fine even though they’re not your typical vision of a mainstream, technology-growing future.
Does that mean that everything’s always going to stay the same? Of course not. Consoles are constantly evolving to interact with the user in ways that extend beyond the old static controller paradigm, and the lifecycle of games have altered considerably with the increased focus on post-release support and DLC. The face of gaming is always changing. However, I think it might be a little to drastic to say that the industry as a whole will abandon certain markets for other markets. I mean, look at it: we still have new point-and-click adventure games released every year, a genre that was supposedly abandoned a decade ago. Even text adventures still have their own active niche scene that is possibly even growing to some degree. As long as enough people want something and have money in their pockets, then somewhere out there in the great land of Capitalism, someone will take them up on the offer.
Crystal Steltenpohl: To be honest, I don’t particularly care about where the gaming industry is going as far as technology goes. I don’t really need anything fancy to enjoy my games. I don’t play them for the shiny graphics or whatever special feature you can play it with (e.g. motion sensor, 3D), especially since that kind of gimmicky stuff adds to the cost for gamers. This isn’t to say that stuff isn’t neat, but I don’t actively look forward to those developments. I play for the game itself. Does it have adequate writing? Are the characters fleshed out? Does the story make sense? Is the game fully functional out of the box? Do I need to be online to play the game?
I’d like better writers to continue to come into the industry and to create characters that aren’t stereotypes or tropes; and if they are tropes, I’d like them to be interesting ones, not just straight-out-of-the-book cookie cutouts. Those types of characters bore me. I’d like to see storylines that move me and make sense; I don’t want to sit there going, Wait, why are we doing this? I want to see even more creativity come out of the future’s writers. I think we’re already doing okay in this area for the most part, but there’s always room for improvement.
I’d like to see publishers give their developers a bit more time to play test their games and fix bugs before the game comes out so that they don’t have to rush to fix some game-breaking bug on the day of release. I’d like to see them step away from limiting DRM schemes that only hurt the gamer. These two things are a bit more idealistic than the first, but they’re still things I’d like to see.
I don’t really care if we can continue to play the game we were playing on a console in the bathroom or with special 3D effects or surround sound or with some kind of motion sensor. I don’t care if they have the most up-to-date graphics engine or 100% voice acting, though I admit that’s always kind of nice. I don’t care if the console can also “utilize” Internet Explorer. I don’t care about these things because, to me, that’s extra stuff. In the end, what matters is that you make a quality product that people can enjoy. If your game sucks, no amount of look what this can do! is going to help you.
Christopher Bowen: Everything is cyclical.
I remember a recent time when PC gaming was considered dead. The new consoles had similar graphics that would never need to be upgraded, their own infrastructures, and a heavy lack of piracy or resulting DRM. While it could’ve been argued that consoles with ever-updating firmwares are their own DRM, at least they didn’t turn your entire PC into a wormhole. At the time, it was broadcast that there was no real reason to turn to the PC for gaming, and the software reflected it: it consisted mostly of console ports released months later and came with shoddy support.
Steam provided enough support for publishers that the threat of piracy, while not eliminated, was at least heavily cut down. Consoles continued to age and the games continued to atrophy while PC games have become divergent. It’s not the wild west that it used to be from a piracy standpoint, nor is it the wild west in the way the Apple and Google Play stores have become, and services like Steam and Desura have made finding good games easy. Meanwhile, the console makers have tried keeping up with Nintendo, with diminishing results. They can throw money and exclusivity at the problem to force gamers onto Kinect, Move, and Vita, but that’s becoming a losing proposition.
I think it’s going to be much less about hardware than it is about software in the near future. The days of the massively powerful console blowing away console gamers is becoming a fantasy. Sony and Microsoft’s reported specs on their new systems will be comparatively less powerful than the bleeding edge tech they released with the PS3 and 360 when compared to their respective years of release, and I agree that this will be the last of the dedicated console generation. To borrow from James Carville, “It’s the games, stupid.” Those games will be good whether they’re on big hardware or a cellphone or tablet. Due to this, I expect graphical slam-dances to become more rare, but with development costs continuing to skyrocket, is that such a bad thing? And is it such a bad thing to have to force developers to think about what games they make? No one’s truly “excited” about Call of Duty Whatever, but people practically shat themselves over Fez and Braid, neither of which is a powerful game.
If the games are good enough, the gamers will come, and the cost of entry will be noticeably lower, especially as desktop PCs continue to evolve away from power and more towards ease of use.