Itís easy to get jaded about the future of gaming. From an outsiderís perspective, a few corporate giants lord over the medium. Public opinion regarding the most successful publishers is at an all-time low, but this hasnít stopped them from releasing tired sequels and watering down once fan favorite IP in an effort to broaden their appeal. This week Electronic Arts ďwonĒ the Consumeristís yearly poll for Worst Company in America for the second straight year following their mishandling of the SimCity launch. Microsoft has been in news as the apprehension surrounding the possibility of their upcoming console requiring an online connection hit boiling point with a Microsoft Studios employee stirring the pot on Twitter. Anti-consumer attitudes have taken hold with the powers that be and less blockbuster titles are released every year because letís face it, AAA games are expensive. If a publisher already has a proven IP, chances are it will sell on its second, third, or sixth iteration so thereís no incentive for them to invest in a new property that may miss expectations.
It can be hard not to be cynical about this years prospects as you read gaming news, or while watching a preview for the next Assassinís Creed while the previous installment sits on your shelf still in its shrink wrap. But if you look closer, beyond the blockbuster laden surface of the gaming industry, you can see a revolution is in its infancy. Independent developers and underground studios are simmering with talent and alternative technology is catching up to the console makers.
Mobile gaming has a bad rap with core gamers. Mobile is all about time wasting, throw away games; something you can play for five minutes and put down. I wrote a blog
a while back about the media hype surrounding Angry Birds and social media gaming with Zynga. At the time many were signaling the death of traditional consoles in favor of mobile simply because millions of casual gamers liked Angry Birds and Words with Friends. Farmville was a runaway success. The thing is, they were right about mobile, just for all the wrong reasons. Android and to a lesser extent, iOS, have amazing potential as platforms. Until recently this potential has been limited by the devices these systems run on being largely smart phones and tablets. Nobody wants an extended gaming session on their 5Ē smart phone. Iím not looking to play a 3rd person action adventure on my tablet. But thatís all about to change.
This year sees the launch of Kickstarter heroes Ouya and GameStick. But these systems, along with other Android focused products like the Nvidia Shield arenít turning my head with the games theyíre going to offer. After release theyíre likely to be overrun with ports of ancient titles and half-baked knockoffs while sporting a truly amazing innovative indie only on occasion. The Ouya has been receiving middling reviews by early backers, and I havenít seen many glowing previews of GameStick, but thatís to be expected. The execution of these systems and the games theyíre going to offer is almost secondary to the goal of bringing an open platform into the living room.
For years the blockbuster system has worked because of the immense cost of creating and distributing games on the major platforms. Sure, both X-Box Live and the Playstation Store have nurtured their fair share of Indies but you only need hear stories from Team Meat or Uber Entertainment to see how many hang-ups there are in developing for the big boys. But for many, it's a small price to pay if you want your game in someones living room. Sony and Microsoft have in recent years taken to approaching gaming as simply a part of their platform as theyíve focused on other entertainment experiences in their consoles instead of spurring innovation or opening easier paths for developers to offer games on their respective storefronts.
The introduction of true open platform console alternatives while the established names are doubling down on closed systems is going to be an interesting story to see play out over the next few years. The releases of Ouya and GameStick will challenge the concept of what kinds of games should be produced on a mobile operating system. While I don't feel like these offerings will be successful, the sale of their concept is what's important and interesting. As the technology these open platforms are based on improves and gets closer to offering what gamers desire in a console, it will increasingly be on developers to take to the front lines and offer a break out game to lead the charge in whatever follows up on the promise of Ouya and those like it. Between Sony and Microsoft releasing new consoles, Valve quietly working on Steambox, and upstarts taking a mobile platform into the living room to see what happens, I canít see where the future lies for gamersÖ and thatís exciting.