Issue 001: State of The Industry
By: Casey Ayers
We stand on the precipice of a golden age of gaming.
That may be a bold statement in an environment where we see developers and publishers going bust or laying off industry professionals in large numbers. It seems especially bold in light of the fact that industry sales numbers are struggling to keep pace with the records set in the past decade and given the number of people questioning whether, even so late into a console generation, if a new suite of systems are really necessary.
Consider these facts:
• Gaming has never been a more prevalent part of mainstream culture, nor more equally in demand by male and female audiences.
• Gaming has never been more affordable, with free and cheap games on platforms like iPod Touch putting entertaining experiences in the hands of kids by the dozens when they might otherwise have had a shot at one or two games for their birthday or Christmastime each year.
• Gaming has never been more ubiquitous, with myriad pocketable devices and tablets offering play experiences that can increasingly rival a console experience.
• The competitive environment for independent developers has never been more equitable. Access to the PC market is now reasonable and profitable through platforms like Steam, allowing an end run around the traditional retail channel and offering a legitimate avenue that’s actually more convenient than piracy.
• The App Store has opened more than 100 million devices to anyone with a hundred bucks and a secondhand MacBook, casting aside a decades-old class system, where barriers like licensing fees and development kits with astronomical costs put developing for handhelds and consoles out of reach of an artist with a dream.
• Widespread communication has been liberated through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, allowing unique ideas to find a global audience organically in hours and days instead of weeks and months, if at all.
• Players and developers both reap the benefits of sites like Humble Bundle, where customers can set their own prices individually and by their actions as a group. Kickstarter provides the unprecedented ability for gamers to back projects before they even enter development, dramatically reducing the risk independent developers face in presenting a new idea while empowering gamers to make the kind of direct impact typically reserved for billion-dollar publishers.
• New consoles are on the horizon that, if their manufacturers act with wisdom, will begin to make access to players on consoles as simple for developers as it is on a phone or tablet. If they don’t, it seems inevitable that someone else will, such as Apple or upstart Ouya (a Kickstarter success in its own right).
Revolutions are always messy, and gaming is doubtless in the middle of one. But it’s unwise to mistake upheaval for apocalypse. Development costs have skyrocketed for the big names in gaming this generation, a trend that will get worse as new consoles push the envelope graphically. Meanwhile, the market’s tolerance for high prices has been spoiled by free and more affordable games on mobile platforms and Steam. These two factors are on a crash course, and no one knows precisely what the result of their reconciliation will be. Will blockbuster game status be reserved purely for Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed sequels as big publishers rely exclusively on the tried and true to survive? Will new consoles be able to carve out their place in a changing market? The answer to these questions will shape gaming’s future, and soon.
Are we due for an Atari-like crash, where a house of cards built on expensive hardware and retread games comes tumbling down? Perhaps. But from the rubble of those early days, the NES and the future of gaming emerged.
Today’s game developers are more readily able to bring their ideas to life than ever before. It may be cliched, but gaming’s Lucas, Spielberg and Copolla are somewhere working away at projects right now. When external barriers are small, only the important one remains: quality.
I believe, as Walt Disney was fond of saying, “Quality will out.” If he was right, the time to come should bring games large and small, delightful and scary, thought-provoking and tear-jerking. We will enter the renaissance of this medium we love, and each will have the opportunity to benefit. The golden age is here, if only we each do what we can to bring it forth.
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