Welcome to the second part of my feature on the outlook of the gaming industry. If you have not yet read it, in part 1 I discussed why I felt that the gaming industry is heading towards another crash. Here in part 2, I aim to discuss the alternatives gamers will look towards should a crash occur.
A quick summary of what was covered previously:
The original gaming industry crash of 1983 was down to several factors that I believe are currently repeating; the fact of the matter is, we are on the verge of having far too many platforms for the industry to support; competition from mobile games is a serious threat and is already making a difference in Japan; development costs are beginning to spiral out of control; publishers currently have far too much influence and are too money-driven; massive franchises are experiencing a weakening in their support base due to poor performances of recent titles.
The gaming industry will undoubtedly recover from any crash but in the event of which, where are gamers going for their kicks? A crash would signal huge barren spells of AAA and big-name titles; mobile gaming could be an answer although I want to purely focus on console gaming for the time being. So for the purpose of the argument, are Indies and Retro Gaming the answer?
Indie games are becoming serious contenders with a movie already made depicting the ups and downs of the Indie scene.
Let us suppose that my previous prediction came true and that a gaming crash occurred at the end of this current generation (8th) or even at the beginning of a 9th generation with the NextBox and Playstation 5. What could salvage those consoles for the early adopters or more specifically, what could keep those consoles relevant until the industry recovered. A big nod here goes to the good work of Independent Developers, Indies have been around for decades although back in the day they went under the name of ‘Homebrews’.
The Indie explosion on consoles is in no small part to the credit of Microsoft and the Xbox 360 although that mantle has been taken over somewhat by the Playstation 4 Indies Campaign rather than ID@Xbox. The 360 provided a launchpad for Indie developers (albeit not without its flaws) and brought Indie games like Minecraft, Trials, Limbo and many more to the forefront of gamers’ attention. The rearrangement of gamers’ thinking processes into what was previously considered (and still is to some degree) a niche or hipster market has prompted the likes of Xbox’s Phil Harrison to claim that ‘Indies can be system sellers’.
Like it or not, Indies are here to stay and are becoming far more complex and relevant by the day. It would be far too arrogant to underestimate the power of Indie developers; their creativity and freedom from the clutches of publishers allows them to express themselves in ways unimaginable in the AAA world, their titles far more diverse and interesting than some of the mediocre rehashing being released in recent times. Of course Indies will have a host of terrible titles but their relatively low cost of purchase and cost of development are advantages to the industry.
Divekick is an example of ‘It’s so bad that it’s good’, low costs meant that Divekick was easily accessible and allowed for a cult following.
The jibe often made towards the PS4 was the ‘Indiestation’ referring to the large amount of Indie support on the console (over 1000 developers and counting). The thought process behind having a large Indie support is to fill in the gaps between AAA releases to keep gamers gaming. At least a plan is in operation should a crash occur, Microsoft would be wise to drop their Indie Parity Policy and upgrade on their 250 Indie backing.
The questions are therefore, can an Indie game be a system seller? And could Indies cover years of gaming famine? I put forward the case of the DayZ standalone which is heavily expected to be making a console debut. A game like DayZ would be an unquestionable system seller; the game is an online multiplayer extravaganza, the depth of it is terrifying, the learning curve horrifying, but DayZ’s greatest quality is that every game will be a different story for the player. It is a game of tremendous replay value which will keep gamers coming back with excellent developmental support. The success story of DayZ on PC is well publicised with over 1 million purchases in 4 weeks for the Early Access version alone.
I would gladly build a gaming PC to play DayZ let alone buy a new console.
We’ll always have Minecraft but other Indies I’m really excited for are No Man’s Sky and Jonathan Blow’s The Witness. I would consider them to have system-selling potential; in fact I actually purchased my PS4 console partially in anticipation for The Witness whilst I found No Man’s Sky to be equally impressive. Both games mentioned there have an art-style that deviates from the AAA mess of washed out black and grey shooters; they are refreshing and play with tremendous depth and complexity according to reports.
It is arguable that Indies can be system sellers but would they be able to maintain a consistent quality for years? The answer actually lies with PC gaming. The great thing about new console hardware and future hardware is that they are/will be essentially closed system gaming PCs. Both the Xbox One and the PS4 have the same x86 architecture as PCs and mostly utilise off-the-shelf PC components. The advantage that brings is that porting from PC to console has never been easier, we have already seen this in action with an increasing number of PC titles being ported to consoles compared to the previous generation.
Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut is the latest PC to console port.
As long as PC gaming exists, console gaming should have a lifeline. The consensus is that the original gaming industry crash of ’83 did not affect the personal computer side of things because of its inherent nature that it is a single platform. Steam is currently home to thousands of games, a significant number of them being Indie titles. I am confident in the feasibility of Indies keeping a console on life support although the practicality of it is up in the air; it would most likely boil down to whether developers see any advantage in porting a title for a console that might not have a large user base.
First and foremost, I need to define what I consider as ‘Retro’. In my opinion, any console that has ceased production can be considered retro; in essence every console (and actually including the Wii) from the 6th generation and back are now retro. I feel that retro games offer even more than Indies purely because of the scale of some gaming libraries and that the most of the best games in their respective genres have not really been bettered since.
In terms of scale, there’s no question who’s the king. The Playstation 2 library boasts nearly 4000 titles, many of which have stood the test of time so far with games like Okami and Final Fantasy X (which actually holds up well compared to the recent HD re-release). There has been a lot of talk in the current resolution wars about how graphics do not matter as long as the gameplay is there; so nobody should have a problem with older games.
The recent resurgent of retro gaming is to the credit of software like PCSX2 offering high-quality emulation with 1080p upscaling; hardware such as the highly-anticipated Retron 5 console which can play a host of retro cartridges with no region locking, and mods such as the new HDMI converter for the Nintendo 64. Now if only somebody can stop the Dreamcast from being a ticking time bomb then I’ll be sorted.
The Retron 5 is set to solve a lot of retro gaming problems, introducing region bypass and save states.
Retro gaming has always been around but I feel the recent surge towards the good old days is down to the current state of the industry being increasingly anti-consumerist. There are simply too many companies trying to squeeze pennies out of gamers who by-in-large are people who do not have that much money. Microtransactions, nickel and dime policies, and rushed releases will be the death of the industry. This is where retro gaming excels, most games are relatively cheap; they are pretty much all offline and encourages local co-op, and no on-disc DLC or constant patching because the game was created to the best it can be.
There is recent speculation that the PS4 will soon introduce an update that will allow for previous generation discs to be playable on new hardware, in the instance of an industry crash I can see the PS4 being able to weather the storm. The update is said to provide ‘local’ software emulation with 1080p upscaling on certain titles; whether local emulation is in reference to discs or digital remains to be seen. If discs are enabled however, it would make Sony’s latest offering the ultimate all-round gaming machine and the potential to be the greatest console of all time.
So the libraries are there and the hardware is capable what about the games themselves? I believe that while games in the PS360 generation have been fantastic, they have not come close to eclipsing past greats. Modern games on the whole have not been able to displace games in specific genres because there has been a significant shift towards quick and easy gaming. Games are simply far too short because the attention span of the new gamer has decreased over time. It is not a coincidence that shooters and sports titles are in abundance and are the only categories in which modern games trumps retro. Please keep in mind these are console game comparisons only while genres are also console-orientated; Simulation and RTS categories are left out because they are closely associated to PC gaming.
In the Action/Adventure category, the award goes to retro. Whilst the Uncharted series is approaching legendary status it is unable to compete with games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; and to a lesser degree, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
Beat ’em Ups are rare these days so retro really wins by default with titles like Turtles in Time, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and Final Fight. If we were to compare it to a modern day counterpart then the closest I would suggest is the Hack ‘n Slash genre where Bayonetta, No More Heroes and the God of War series would provide decent competition but would not win out unfortunately.
Turtles in Time is the best Beat ’em Up title I have ever played.
In the Fighters category, retro wins out again. Marvel vs Capcom 2 is widely considered to be the greatest fighting game of all time whilst Tekken 3, Soul Calibur and Street Fighter III: Third Strike holds up brilliantly against modern heavyweights such as the Street Fighter IV series, Blazblue, and Marvel vs Capcom 3.
Platformers are also another rare breed but nothing comes close to retro titles such as the Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter series whilst arguably the greatest platformer of all time is also the retro Super Mario 64. Compared to modern platformers like recent Mario titles or the Sly Cooper series, retro wins easy.
RPGs is my favourite genre and as much as I love modern RPGs like Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, the bugs and glitches in those titles detract from the overall experience whilst their stories do not captivate me as much as it did with retro titles such as: Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, and the older Pokemon titles.
Chrono Trigger is widely considered as the greatest RPG of all time and one of the greatest games of all time.
Shooters are a rare victory for the modern camp where I view Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare to be the greatest console shooter of all time. The only retro offering I can think of is Halo: Combat Evolved, although that is a borderline retro title. For a fully retro game, I would offer Goldeneye which has not aged well at all to challenge CoD4.
Sports titles are also a victory for modern games although it is based more on improvements in hardware more than anything. For sports titles, it is more about realism than gameplay and despite my issues with Fifa, I still feel that modern-day Fifa titles are far superior to games such as Fifa 98: Road to World Cup and arguably Pro Evolution Soccer 6. Away from Football, I also feel games such as MLB 14: The Show is pushing the boundaries of Sports titles in a way never imagined possible.
In conclusion then, I think gamers are in good hands if the industry goes down the drain, there are still plenty of games left to play whether it be Indies or Retro. It can be argued that Indies are able to hold their own although it may be dependent on developers but I believe as long as PC gaming exists (which it always will) then console gaming will have a chance as much as console gamers hate to admit. There is definite system-selling potential in Indie titles and it is a matter of time when a truly spectacular Indie title turns everything upside down; my view is that a DayZ standalone for consoles will be the first game to break the mold.
In terms of retro gaming, I have only listed a handful of retro titles that I feel are above and beyond recent offerings, there are so many titles omitted that can easily go toe-to-toe with games like Mass Effect or Grand Theft Auto V; now that is not a slight on modern games, it should be expected that retro has an advantage because of the combined libraries of all retro consoles compared to 4 or 5. However, it is a worry that within the last decade, modern games have not provided a title that can be heralded as undoubtedly the greatest game of all time. It is a slight indication of a shift in the gaming industry, a shift for the worse in my opinion; and the longer companies forget what games are all about the quicker a crash is going to happen. Thanks for reading.