“The King Is Dead, Long Live The King” Syndrome – Why the next big thing in gaming, won’t kill the last one.

The video games industry is going through some big changes at the moment: The AAA £40 console game is having to share the spotlight with mobile and tablet games, micro-transactions and digital download services like Steam. The control pad and keyboard are getting competition from touch and motion controls. More and more products are becoming digital rather than material. And there has been a huge shift to online connectivity and social features.

Now with the next generation of Playstation and Xbox consoles coming, not to mention possible newcomers like Ouya and Steambox. Now is the time for console manufacturers to set the direction for home video games for the next decade that these consoles will be around for and beyond.

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With the announcement of the PS4, we have already seen a glimpse of the future. The Dualshock4 features a share button, touchpad and motion controls

Right now though, the consumer is still very much in the dark as to what will happen. The sentiment amongst gamers should be of excitement and eager anticipation, yet many seem frightened or angry at the thought of what might become of their favourite hobby. And this fear is not abated by developers and journalists making bold predictions about “The next big thing” and how it will replace what came before it.

Out with the old, in with the new

This notion is completely false in video gaming. Yes many new experiences await gamers, but that doesn’t mean we’ll lose the ones we already love. I’ve heard bold statements from various public voices declaring that this feature or product is coming and that the old one is dead, statements like these:

“I think that [single-player] model is finished. Online is where the innovation, and the action, is at.” – Frank Gibeau EA Games

Just look at the history of video games; technology has moved on from pixel graphics and cassette tapes, control methods have become more sophisticated. Yet the popular games of the past are still enjoyed today. New genres play styles come along often, yet people still play and enjoy modern versions of Space Invaders, Breakout or Tetris, platform games are still hugely popular. It seems that as new ways of playing come along, they don’t replace the old, they just add to the abundant library of experiences available. In my lifetime I’ve seen the rise of many popular game types; FPS, sandbox, rhythm action, online multiplayer. Yet developers continue to make games like the ones I enjoyed as a child.

The internet didn’t replace books. Cinema did not herald the end for theater. And video did not kill the radio star. All forms of entertainment media are relevant still today, and though they may diminish in popularity, they are kept alive by the people who love them, and the fact that they all fill a particular niche in our culture. So why should this be untrue of the things we love today about video games.

Single Player is dead. Long live online gaming

Yes it is very plausible, we are moving closer to a time when every console, handheld, tablet and mobile will have an internet connection, whether you are at work, on the train, or orbiting the earth on a commercial space flight. But right now (as the recent Sim CIty debacle has proved), making this a requirement for a game that doesn’t need it will simply annoy a huge section of your audience and cause many to boycott it. As for more games moving focus to multiplayer or social features it’s important to remember that a large part of the gaming community simple don’t care about these at all. Not to mention the fact that multiplayer is not suitable to every game, some games are best as a personal experience or one shared with close friends and family: The big decisions you face in Mass Effect would have no significance if you had to vote with co-op partners about which crew member to save or which dialog option to choose. Playing LEGO Harry Potter with my girlfriend was an excellent shared experience, but if I was to play the same game with a stranger on the internet, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Better graphics are needed to convey emotion

I worry about the spiraling cost of AAA video game development. On the one hand I love the blockbuster experience of games like Assassin’s Creed or Gears of War, but with the highly polished visuals comes added production costs. Now with the next console generation on the way no doubt looking to top each other in performance power, I hope they realise that approaching photo realism and bridging the uncanny valley are not magic ingredients to success. As for those who say they need better graphics in order for gamers to make an emotion connection, they are deluding themselves. There are countless examples of video games with less than perfect, even crude, simplistic or cartoon like visuals, provoking an emotion connection in their players: Walking Dead, Final Fantasy, Swords & Sworcery, Journey, Limbo, the list goes on. Disney has made generations of children cry with nothing more sophisticated than hand animals.

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Photorealistic characters are useless without good writing, depth and an understanding of the human condition. Swords and Sworcery (right) achieved an emotional connection with me despite it’s simple pixel styling.

Controllers are dead. Long live touch/motion controlls

A game designer would be foolish to think this. When making a game, their choices about control schemes should be about what is best for the game, not what is popular. touch and motion controls have their place, and whole new genres have sprung up around them. But they can never achieve the complexity of inputs possible with a control pad or keyboard. Gamers are in not going to suddenly abandon their Call of Duty’s, their Madden’s and start playing Angry Birds instead. Rather complex control pad games will continue to exist along side simpler mobile and tablet games. As for the next generation, it’s easy to look at a two year old playing on his parents iPhone and assume that he’ll carry on with touch controls and touch controls only, but really I think that as these children age, they will naturally broaden their horizons to different things, My generation certainly did

Pay once is dead. Long live micro-transactions

I really feel sorry for the Dead Space series and it’s developers. It really looks to have been a victim of upper management money grabbing. I can just picture the meetings…

Ok Dead Space, you’re an atmospheric horror game. But do you know what the kids love, multiplayer. We want multiplayer in all our games because COD has it and they make lots of money. Also it’s too slow and there’s not enough action, gamers are all morons, if something doesn’t blow up or die or swear every 5 minutes they’ll switch off. Also Farmville makes lots of money through micro-transactions so stick some of those in there.

I don’t think micro-transactions are evil like some people, but they really should only be used one appropriate. Plus asking full price for a retail game then bugging the player to spending more money on small extras in game can just build resentment amongst players, especially if those not using them feel that they aren’t getting the full experience.

Don’t Panic. No one is going to take your games away

New and exciting gaming experiences are coming, but whatever the next fad is, games that were fun today will be fun in years to come. It’s every game developers job to know when to use certain tools, old and new, and when not to.

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