The end is nigh! Come this fall and winter, we will be welcoming in a new generation of consoles and saying goodbye to our Wii, 360, and PS3. Both Sony and Microsoft have told us about what their new systems will do, and Nintendo has already shown us their future with the Wii U. As we start to pack our consoles away in order to make room, or earn a little cash, we should look back fondly on this past generation. While, yes, games followed trends of their own. I’m less interested in how the games changed, but more how we changed games. From how we buy them to how we play them, this generation has had a profound impact on gaming that will last for some time.
As of last month, the Wii has sold almost 100 million units worldwide. Of that, 47.5 million units were bought and sold in the Americas. No one dominated the wireless AND motion control market this generation like the Wii. Nintendo managed to put together the perfect amount of innovation, nostalgia, and made sure to make their games easy to pick up and play. This got people who may have never been into gaming having bowling or karaoke tournaments with their friends. And you know what? They probably picked up some of the classic characters’ games in the process.
So, now that the big three got us dancing around and whacking our friends in the face, how else did they change the way we play games? I would argue that perhaps the second most significant aspect after wireless and motion controls is both expanding the downloadable game market and increasing the notoriety of the “indie game.” First off, let’s talk about the online marketplace. Now, Steam has been doing its thing for well over a decade now, and PC gamers have been downloading games for even longer. What I’m interested in talking about is the online marketplaces set up by Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. By creating solid online networks, the big three were able to offer their own unique branding and offer it to consumers who have already bought the current system. By each company offering unique discounts on their own consoles as well as entry for smaller developers (more on that in a bit), a whole new world of easier and cheaper access to games was created on the console. As silly as it is to take this on the face value of “Oh, now we don’t have to interact with a single person,” it is somewhat true. An impulse buy is much easier to gain by a simple button press than it is going to a store. The selection online is generally better than most retailers, as are the waiting times to actually play the game. And that is really what the online market place did for consoles: Gave gamers the power to get easier, cheaper, and faster access to the experiences they want to find. As mentioned above, it also led to the ‘indie explosion’ of the last few years.
Games like Fez, Journey, Flower, Braid, The Walking Dead, and even Minecraft would have been hard pressed to find the same sort of release and reception as they have in the past console generation. With mostly Sony and Microsoft leading the way, smaller developers and publishers have been able to offer new, artsy, experimental, or just fresh experiences that would have been harder to get backed, say, 10 years ago. With smaller price points, I feel more inclined to offer a first-time developer a try when their game is only five or 10 dollars and can be downloaded instantly. I feel the online market place for consoles has allowed those who may have been previously locked onto the PC to spread out to the couch and offer gamers new and exciting experiences that aren’t covered by the top 5 genres. I couldn’t have imagined a Knytt game being as big as they have become now without the online market place for consoles, which in turn boosted the access to indie games.
In my opinion, this past generation has been defined by wireless and motion controls, as well as an expanded online marketplace which also increased access for both developers and consumers. These not only changed the games themselves, but changed how we bought and interacted with them. Sure, yes, things like quick time events and plastic guitars might also be synonymous with the last 7 years, and I do indeed miss the days when I could go out and buy the latest expansion pack over simply downloading some DLC, but it was the new way of controlling our games as well as the new way of accessing our games that really changed this generation. What will the next few years bring? Well, it seems that Nintendo is focusing on offering more acute and dynamic ways of controlling our game. Sony seems to want to increase the level in which we share our games and gaming moments with others, and Microsoft is looking to make their new console the ‘one’ to the dominate our living room with all of our media needs in one place. One thing is for sure, I can’t wait to see what comes next.