With virtual reality poised to shakeup the way we experience games starting next year, now is a good time to take stock of how far we’ve come over the course of the last generation. Most industries will go through their fair share of dramatic changes over the course of a decade, but the gaming industry in particular changes so rapidly in that same span of time that it can be difficult to keep track of everything. A decade ago, we were still doing most of our gaming on consoles such as the PlayStation 2 and still thought that we’d see Half-Life 3 released in a timely manner (seriously Valve, where is it?). While the games industry is still filled with many of the same franchises and big names as it was a decade ago, it looks more different than you may think. There have been a variety of changes both big and small in the last decade, but these 10 are definitely the most significant reasons why gaming in 2015 looks (and plays!) a lot different than it did in 2005.
10. The Slow Death of Split-Screen
Getting friends together in the same room to play games used to be a good way to spend a Friday night, but thanks to the increasing prevalence of online gaming — especially on consoles — in the last decade, this is getting harder and harder to do. While split-screen gaming has never been the ideal way to play a game, it engenders a social atmosphere that just can’t be translated through a headset and stable internet connection. Recently, the developers of Halo 5: Guardians revealed that they had removed split-screen from the game; considering split-screen has been part of the design fabric of the Halo series since its inception, this seems to be the latest indicator that split-screen is quickly going the way of the dodo.
9. Free To Play (And Pay)
As more and more games have flooded the marketplace in recent years, consumers have also become increasingly wary of spending their hard-earned money on all but the best titles. This led to the Free to Play model, which publishers have used to lift the price barrier on their games in order to draw players in, in the hope that they will spend money on other things. While there is nothing inherently wrong with Free to Play games (they can actually be very beneficial to the consumer when done correctly), publishers have unfortunately given the whole enterprise an insidious undertone with downright shameful money-grabbing schemes. Popular games like Candy Crush actively demand payment after players have reached a certain point and some “free” games end up costing more than a full-priced one if players fall for their tricks. The abuse of the Free to Play model is proof that the games industry still needs to find a better overall pricing solution going forward.
8. Digital Storefronts
There used to be a time when hunting down a physical copy from your local retailer was the only option if you wanted to purchase a game. As internet download speeds became faster however, downloading games became the wave of the future, with digital storefronts such as Valve’s Steam becoming the primary way to buy PC games. While consoles have been a little slower on the uptake, it’s now possible to buy every new game release day-and-date with the physical version. To make the pot even sweeter, Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Store all offer frequent sales on games, meaning that driving out to the store to buy a new game is increasingly becoming obsolete.
7. Games Media
A decade ago, you could walk into a local newstand and pick from a variety of gaming magazines on display. Today, print media is dying and most gaming publications that put out monthly printings have either switched to online publication or gone out of business entirely. Putting aside the print side of things, even the way games are covered has changed quite dramatically. Whereas leading games media outlets like IGN and Gamespot used to focus primarily on news and review coverage, now they have become multimedia brands that deliver a variety of text, audio, and video content built around games and other entertainment. While it doesn’t seem likely that games media is going away anytime soon, don’t be surprised if it goes through more dramatic changes over the next 10 years as well.
6. Improved Storytelling
Games created by large teams with big budgets behind them have started to resemble blockbuster movies in recent years thanks to the ever-expanding graphical fidelity offered by new gaming hardware. While some critics have taken issue with games becoming too cinematic, as blurring the line between games and movies can devalue games as an artform if done improperly, imbuing games with cinematic qualities has largely led to improved storytelling overall in the medium. Titles such as Bioshock and The Last of Us tell stories with as much nuance and sophistication as some of the best films out there and also happen to be some of the best games made in the last decade. If those titles are any indication, we should look forward to even better stories as games edge ever closer toward photo-realism in the next decade.
5. Pre-Order Culture
As traditional brick and mortar retailers like Gamestop have seen their influence erode thanks to the convenience of digital store fronts such as Steam on the PC and Microsoft and Sony’s own efforts on their Xbox and PlayStation platforms, the pre-order business has become increasingly more important. While pre-ordering games to secure a copy on release day used to be a practical consideration, retailers such as Gamestop, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy have turned it into a new way to compete for consumers’ dollars. Nowadays, it’s practically impossible to get a “complete” game, as certain bits of pre-order DLC and other features are gated behind retailer exclusives. It’s an anti-consumer practice that unfortunately probably won’t disappear until physical games do as well.
4. MOBAs and eSports
If you asked someone what a MOBA was 10 years ago, they’d probably just give you a slack-jawed look before returning to their next World of Warcraft raid. In 2015 though, MOBA’s (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) are big business and are quickly becoming the most popular genre in gaming, especially as a spectator sport. MOBAs such as League of Legends, DoTA 2, and Heroes of the Storm are helping to legitimize watching eSports as a worthy pastime not unlike watching an NFL game and with recent tournament prize pools reaching a staggering $18 million, eSports are poised to continue gaining in popularity — and lucrativeness — in the next decade.
3. Youtube and Let’s Plays
If you had told us 10 years ago that not only would millions of gamers regularly tune into Youtube and Twitch streams to watch other people play games, or but hat it would become a lucrative business, we would have a) asked what a Twitch stream was and b) said you were crazy. Whether you regularly watch someone like PewDiePie or are as out of touch and mystified of Let’s Play culture as Jimmy Kimmel proved himself to be recently, Youtube and other video platforms have had an enormous impact on gaming culture by fostering dedicated communities around distinct personalities. If you want to be taken seriously as a talent in the games space these days, having a stream or other form of video content is almost a necessity.
2. Indie Games
One of the greatest developments to come out of the last decade of gaming is the increased support given to creators in the indie space. While budgets for titles in the AAA space (think Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed) have skyrocketed with each new console generation, a combination of access to digital distribution networks, easier-to-use and acquire developer tool kits, and the popularity of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have enabled the indie scene to flourish in recent This has essentially filled the void left by sporadic AAA releases throughout the year, allowing gamers to enjoy new titles all year long. Innovative titles such as Braid, Limbo, Bastion, and Gone Home, just to name a few, wouldn’t have been possible if indie gaming hadn’t been allowed to prosper as much as it has in the last decade.
Pretty much everyone now owns a smartphone in 2015, which is definitely a prediction that would have been hard to make back in 2005. This also means that everyone has a sophisticated handheld gaming device in their pocket and this has drastically changed the handheld gaming market. Nintendo used to be the only name in town when it came to gaming on the go, thanks to their ubiquitous Gameboy brand. While the company is still enjoying success with their current handheld gaming device, the 3DS, they are nowhere near as dominant as they once were thanks to the overwhelming success of iOS and Android gaming. Heck, even Nintendo’s poised to start launching games on mobile devices next year, with the just-announced Pokemon Go being a mobile exclusive. Mobile gaming is here to stay and it will largely fall on Nintendo’s shoulders to prove that dedicated handheld gaming machines still have a market in the next few years.