Scott Steinberg: 2010 Trends
Happy New Year, and welcome to 2010 - for both casual and hardcore gamers, it ushers in a decade with limitless possibilities to redefine the very way we play. But as important as it is to look forward, it also pays to spare a glance back at the monumental changes the last ten years have brought.
Consider: At this time in 2000, CD-ROM and rudimentary 3D graphics were state of the art, first-person shooters were just coming into their own as a narrative genre, and the greatest threat the industry faced were (theoretically, at least) "fatal" Y2K bugs. Fast forward to the present, and we've got an industry splintering in so many directions, and evolving at such a rapid clip, that new trends appear and die faster than it takes to wirelessly download a copy of Gravity Crash to your 1080p-ready, Blu-ray drive sporting PS3 Slim.
In the spirit of new beginnings, let's take a look at five of the most important trends which helped mould gaming over the last decade, and five more sure to alter the virtual shape of things to come:
Once upon a time, it seemed amazing just to login and slice up a poor, slavering demon over Battle.net. Now we've got trigger-happy console outings that support up to 256 simultaneous players (MAG), role-playing games with complete online suites (BioShock 2) and co-op friendly excursions (Army of Two: The 40th Day) that pass as the everyday norm. While massively multiplayer games were around in 2000, no one could ever have imagined a title like World of Warcraft growing to become an 11.5 million-subscriber juggernaut either. Or, for that matter, that even basic multiplayer functions would become an essential component of virtually every retail outing made - how's that for forward progress? The bottom line: If it weren't for this trend, we'd never have trash talk, dedicated multiplayer networks, professional gaming and dudes who starve themselves to death trying to grind out just one more level.
Smartphone and Mobile Gaming
We all heard the rhetoric: Billions of cell phones exist, they seldom leave everyone's pocket and as such, they're destined to become the next leading portable console, courtesy of cutting-edge titles like Brady Bunch Kung Fu. And while it all seemed just a pipe dream as late as even early 2007, suddenly, that summer, Apple emerged as an unlikely champion for the cause with its iPhone and iPod touch units, helping sell thousands of thumb-waggling titles to millions of unsuspecting punters who never even considered themselves "gamers" to begin with. Now that the concept's finally gaining traction (and making single-function devices like the DS and PSP seem obsolete), we expect to see even more of a gaming explosion in the smartphone space going forward. So the next time someone asks "is that a portable console in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me," you can finally take your pick of options to answer in the affirmative with.
Thirty years ago, during gaming's primeval dawn, an intrepid band of creatures known as "game developers" first heaved their gooey bulk out of the primordial ooze and began to spread their primitive feelers in all directions. But two decades later, a hobby that had initially thrived on creativity and innovation had moved away from bold experiments made in back bedrooms and sold out of Ziploc baggies to cookie cutter sequels made by imagination-bereft, risk-averse corporations keen on boosting only the bottom line. However, with the rise of the internet and online content delivery platforms, by 2008, the pendulum began to swing back, giving amateur coders the chance to directly connect with a fan base, explore new themes, test original concepts and make a healthy living pushing the very boundaries of gaming all the while. As a result, the future now belongs as much to homebrew hackers as soulless companies, a fact we're confident would make gaming's forefathers proud.
Yeah, yeah, sales are down: There's a recession out there, 120 USD a title isn't exactly cheap and there are only so many huge honking plastic instruments one person needs to have collecting dust in their closet. But in case you doubt the category's future potential, let's try a simple test: Raise your hand if you can name a single person who's never heard an instrument play, hummed a simple tune or listened to the radio? Long story short - you've just discovered the same truth game developers did in the past decade: That music is a universal language that unites us all. So while sales of Guitar Hero and Rock Band may temporarily be stalling out, despite the best efforts of The Beatles, Van Halen and Green Day, realize, the fat lady hasn't sung for the entire genre yet.