2010. Twenty-ten. Two-thousand ten. Zweitausendundzehn. No matter how you say it, it is the capstone on the greatest decade in video game history. This decade saw the advent of “next-gen” systems that pushed the depth, complexity and beauty of games to a level that would have been considered science fiction in 1999. Now, we must look forward to the next decade, the decade beginning with 2010.
While Ginia resolves to finish more what she starts, this author prefers instead to don one of his many hats, this time the hat of the prophet, oracle, sayer of sooths and speaker of dooms. He has reached into the stormy mists that swirl around the great Eye of Time, and divined for the viewing public several truths about the coming year and what it means for video games.
3. Downloadable Content Goes From Extras To The Standard
With the popularity of online-connected gaming systems, from portables to consoles, “downloadable content” or DLC has become a buzzword. Once the sole domain of PC gamers that combed websites and fora for obscure things like “patches” or “fan-created levels,” DLC has become the standard way by which we expand our gaming horizons. The popularity of services like Direct2Drive and Steam on the PC platform has proven that gamers are willing to forgo large and cumbersome boxes, fragile optical media and the exquisite experience of the helpful
pawn-store operators Gamestop clerks in order to buy their games online and download them.
As bandwidth increases and network speeds approach faster and faster down and up times, the popularity of downloadable games, movies and music will also increase, to the detriment of the “brick and mortar” crowd. While some may bemoan this loss of capitalist glee (usually, the corporate owners of Gamestop and Best Buy), this reviewer cannot help but see this model as ultimately more efficient and space-saving in terms of both design and delivery.
2. MMOs Embrace the Free-to-Play/Microtransaction Scheme
Undoubtedly, Blizzard will continue is unholy reign of terror in the MMO genre, with this reviewer as its trusted lieutenant. With the emergence of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, only one game stands poised to truly topple WoW from its skull-encrusted throne: BioWare’s Star Wars MMO. While Final Fantasy XIV has promise to be revolutionary, the general inscrutability of Japanese-designed games to a Western audience and the attendant problems of game balance inherent in trying something truly groundbreaking will be off-putting to a large number of players.
The end result will be that non-big-studio MMOs (leaving out only The Old Republic, WoW, EVE, and LOTRO) will switch to a non-subscription model, supplemented with microtransactions. The relative success of DDO‘s model is enticing, and has turned a game with an interesting premise and neat gameplay into a real contender. The continuing problem (as evidenced by the failures of AoC and Warhammer) is that games must continually strike a balance between casual-focused single and group player, and the hardcore play. WoW was fortunately the first on the scene to attempt this balance and has been able to set the tone; other games must find ways to learn these lessons and improve upon them. Most studios do not have the financial wherewithal to bankroll that kind of experimentation, which is where the F2P model will help them succeed.
1. Platforms Open Up
One of the advantages of the equalization of hardware between PCs and consoles is that gaming cross-platform is much more of a reality. The idea of console lock-down is going away. As platforms open up, as gaming consoles become more like mini-PCs in their own right, the coming systems indeed will be highly-specialized gaming PCs, not unlike Dell’s Alienware line or even the more expensive top-flight gaming PCs from FalconNW or similar retailers. What this means is that console UIs will slowly (but surely) become more and more like PC UIs. PC gaming will “leave the basement,” so to speak, and gain the sort of notoriety associated with console gaming. What was once a beloved speciality hobby will get the financial backing and support it deserves. And that is a good thing.