Introduction / Times are Changing
I've touched on this subject a few times now, but let's get a bit more serious. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has some of the best talent at its finger tips and in my opinion, it is pissed away in low quality, over-priced games.
This isn't the 90s anymore; the gaming industry is thriving and is getting bigger by the month. There are so many platforms to play on, so many developers and corporations who virtually control the industry. They want quick money, and lots of it. If a game doesn't make $100's of millions, or in some cases, billions of dollars, the game is deemed a failure.
Not every game needs to sell 10 million copies to be a success. There are plenty of games that are under $10 that are amazing games to play, different, funny; they have emotion and give you an attachment to the game - it's great. There are also great spectacle games that cost $100, yet only last 6 hours and feel like a beta version of the game.
Back in the day of Sega and Nintendo, did we need Firmware upgrades for our consoles? How about weekly patches and updates to the games? I can understand this on the PC, an ever-changing, ever-evolving platform, but a console that doesn't change its specs (I'm looking at you 360, PS3, Wii) require constant Firmware updates and patches to games.
Don't game developers bug test anymore? Is it because publishers want the games out on the market ASAP to make money? My money is on the latter. Getting the games out onto the market ASAP seems to be the goal of publishers these days - as long as it's there to buy, people will buy it.
Times are changing, get on the train or watch it pass
This needs to change; there needs to be an iTunes-like change to the gaming industry, as iTunes completely changed the music industry. This is where tiered-pricing comes into play. Should an indie game be charged at $60? Should a game made for kids be $60? What about AAA titles?
AAA titles should be charged at higher prices because of their budgets, etc. New games without the backing of the community should have their prices adjusted. Yes, you're not selling $1 billion worth, but you're moving more quantity, getting your name into the homes and most of all, hearts of gamers around the world. Think Minecraft, Super Meat Boy, Angry Birds, etc.
These games sold in the millions of copies, yet were impulse-purchase price territory. If next-gen consoles include a cloud-based purchasing system, you'd already have your credit card details stored in the cloud, which means cheaper games would get impulse bought very easily. AAA titles could be purchased and even tiered in the way that, if you have 100 friends and 20 of them own a game, maybe they (whoever offered the service) could see they'll have more of a chance selling the game to you, if you had said 20 friends who also play it.
They could tell this on the server-side and offer you the game cheaper (say 20% off) which would give an incentive to purchase the game. Just look at Steam's holiday sales - their numbers fly through the roof when specials are on.
The ever-growing size of games / Looking to the Cloud
The ever-growing size of data that games consume
This is one thing that is also holding back games; the Xbox 360 is only capable of accepting an 8.5GB dual-layer DVD. The PlayStation 3 is far superior in this department with the capability of Blu-ray and its 50GB discs.
But, the same argument of scaling games across multiple platforms rises its head in this argument also. You can't make a game with super-high detail, textures, audio and huge levels with the game taking up, let's say, 35GB on disc. How would you put this game on an 8.5GB dual-layer disc for the Xbox 360? Multiple discs? This isn't something gamers wish to do. A quarter the way through the latest AAA title, "please insert disc 2", I don't think so.
Obviously Microsoft would be getting on their knees to ask Sony for access to Blu-ray drives for their next-gen consoles, but this would be admitting defeat. The HD-DVD technology was crushed by Blu-ray and with next-gen consoles having graphics that would far exceed the imaginations of current console games, this is going to be the biggest hurdle.
This is where a cloud-based Steam-like service would be a saving grace. And speaking of that...
Cloud-based gaming would require the assistance and cooperation of ISPs; gaming-orientated ISPs should work together with developers and studios to host the game on their servers and make any connection from a gaming device (iOS/Android/next-gen consoles/Steam) recognise the connection and all data transferred as FREE. This would allow parents to not worry about data caps or expensive internet bills and it would also take the strain off of traditional methods of distributing games to customers.
Free data would allow people to not worry about their cap, purchase the game cheap and get virtually maximum speed, because it's a local connection versus say an international connection. It also lets the ISP have less strain on their international links and keep the data within local networks, being cheaper, faster and most of all, very cost-effective. It's win-win for all involved - this is key, keeping everyone happy.
Advertising could be used like Steam currently offers, the download bar/icon could have an advertisement from whichever ISP is hosting it. They (the ISP) could then on-sell the banner and split it with other marketing/advertisements that wish to have access to potentially 10's of millions of customers.
A company selling gaming hardware like Razer, Logitech or Microsoft could potentially contact these ISPs and sell localised hardware. Delving deeper into this, local IT retailers and suppliers could offer discounts to locally-based gamers, creating a tight-knit community of dedicated gamers who would a) love their new Steam-like environment, b) even though it's cloud-based and on the internet, it would feel "at home" because of the local advertisement, and c) benefit from local advertisement because the local businesses are trying to cut good deals for them.
Socially networked, socially fun gaming
The Facebook-era has been upon us for quite some time. Companies like Zynga have gone from tiny little Facebook games to mega-empires worth hundreds of millions of dollars with hundreds of millions of players playing games.
You don't need to be Infinity Ward or iD Software to pump out quality games that people love, but the social-network aspect of it is a key point in Zynga's success. The next-generation of gaming needs to have this at the heart of it, keeping all of your friends and social networking services at the direct centre of it all.
Facebook could release an update, allowing you to allow access to your console (by signing into Facebook on the console) and then letting your friends join your "gaming" list. As you play a game, your scores could be on your Facebook wall; you could 'share' them, tag friends or start challenges or games directly via Facebook.
Imagine setting up an "event" on Facebook, where it would remind you to join a game on a Friday night at 8PM. Friday night rolls around and you're connected to your mates via the console and Facebook, sledging it out over webcam, etc - with the final results of the game going up to your wall without user-interaction for bragging rights.
The next-gen consoles really need to integrate so many services into one, just like Google do with their services like mail, documents, blogging, reader, photos, translation services, maps, videos, news - it's all cloud-based, yet simple enough to be right at your fingertips, as well as being powerful enough for even a pro to use them and have access to all services, documents and cloud-based storage from any internet-connected device.
Consoles need this ease of use; a one-stop-shop for gaming, social-networking, entertainment, communication and enjoyment.
Upgradeable Hardware for Consoles
Upgradeable hardware - A new way of keeping consoles from ageing
Another way of pushing in a new era of next-gen consoles would be upgradeable hardware. Console makers like Sony and Microsoft now have 10 year life cycles for current-gen consoles, yet technology evolves and leap-frogs so much quicker than this. My previous editorials have covered this already, so I won't delve into it too much, but anyone who knows tech knows 10 years with the same hardware is just far, far too long.
If we had upgradeable hardware - the life would be extended exponentially. Maybe something like a launch of an 8-core, 2GHz CPU with a GTX570 / HD 6970-level GPU, but maybe underclocked. Heck, even if they used AMD's upcoming APU-based products...
Every 6 - 12 months they could slowly increase clock speeds on CPU/GPU, increasing the power - this would allow newer games to have access to better hardware. We could have games on consoles every year looking better and better - where now, some newer games look worse, have shorter levels, or are shorter games in general.
This all relates to lazy developers, expensive games and most of all, hardware constraints. Take away the hardware constraints and give us a new pricing model and gaming would really jump forward.
Imagine sequels to games coming out looking 2 - 3 times as good, bigger levels, better AI, much better graphics and frame rates or 3D; the possibilities are endless. Consoles hit a never-ending brick wall years ago and we still have years left in current-gen consoles. This means games cannot step forward as a medium; we can't have more realistic graphics or fluid 60fps frame rates or anything that makes a new game stand out proud and claim that this is "the best game ever".
Upgraded consoles would push games forward - we would finally get realistic AI, bigger levels, realistic facial expressions, emotions, movement, graphics would jump with new much higher-resolution textures, shadows, lighting systems - again, the possibilities are endless.
Right now, we're limited to such under-powered consoles for today's over-powered gamers. Gamers want more, more, more - yet console gamers are happy with today's generation of hardware. This is only because they have a single option - consoles. Even if they moved to PCs, a console owner who spends ~$600 on a console does not want to spend $1000+ on a PC.
But a person spending $1000+ on a PC expects a better experience. Because development is done on consoles first and ported to PCs, PC gamers suffer. All they get is higher resolutions and sometimes anisotropic filtering options and anti-aliasing.
If consoles had upgradeable hardware we would see changes in not only how games look, but feel. A much deeper level of interactivity with the environment, realistic physics, cloth animation, facial animation, most of the points I touched on above - these are big additions to gaming.
Next-gen Hardware brings truly next-gen Games
Next-generation hardware brings truly next-generation games
At the moment all that games seem to offer are different levels and different bad guys, but the same "feel" to the game. Move here, do this, shoot this person, go here. Games need more physical realism. Shoot a rocket at a brick wall; there should be individual bricks falling/exploding everywhere. Shoot a bad guy in a room and he flies through a glass window. Shoot in a room filled with gas tanks or a room with fuel/something combustible - it would make you think...if I get into a firefight in this room, I could die - I haven't had a save game in 20 minutes.
Making the player think of his surroundings, what does this achieve? Immersion. Immersion in games is everything. If you feel part of the game world and are constantly theorizing what is going to happen if you do something, cause and effect, it will create an entire level of immersion for the player that the developer couldn't do with even a $100 billion budget.
Even things like fuel or batteries in games - it shouldn't apply to all games, but more realism like this would be at least possible with a next-gen console. In the middle of a horror game and you're using a flash light to guide yourself, yet your flash light is running out of batteries - imagine being able to break into a store (or even go and purchase them from a store) and carry spares with you.
Or lighters, bullets, etc - these items you could only carry certain amounts of (if the game were more realistic). You choose either to light your environment and have a few spare clips for your gun, or ditch the light and go with the box of ammo. Yet, you could go to another store or a house and look for a backpack - use the backpack as storage and take it around with you.
It's the things you'd think of in real life, if it were happening to you as a person. We have gotten far too used to it being "just a game". If developers want to step forward and release something that has never been done before - we need next-gen hardware.
Developers need to change, follow DICE's movement with PC development first priority and scale down. Scaling up does not work!
This has been something very close to me, console porting to PC. Development of 99.9-percent of games is on consoles and ported up to PCs. PCs have virtually unlimited power thanks to constantly changing hardware and multi-GPU, multi-screen setups and technologies. Yet, we get games that are developed with 1280x720 resolutions in mind, 512MB of VRAM, slow, old consoles which means we get very limited games in the form of small levels, crappy AI, crappy textures, DX9-level graphics and cut-down everything else.
The first game to be developed on the PC first and then ported down to consoles is Battlefield 3. Do you see how everyone is getting excited for this game? I haven't seen excitement like this for a very long time and the game looks absolutely mind-blowing. This is what PC gaming should be like, excitement. Not seeing the game look great and then playing it to realise the field of view is set for consoles and TVs, the entire game is built for that.
Large text on the screen, large HUDs, it feels like I'm squashed up against my monitor when I'm actually sitting 2 metres away from it. I shouldn't have to change settings for my FOV, mouse, keyboard - anything, but because the game is designed from the ground up for consoles, there's nothing we can do.
You can't make crappy graphics better. But you can make great graphics crappier. Developing on PC first allows all assets (graphics, sound, AI, etc) to be scaled down to meet requirements for lower-powered hardware and systems. Someone with 2, 3 or 4 GPUs can enjoy their super high-end gaming, while someone on a console doesn't feel left out.
Yet, creating a game for a low-end GPU in a console and trying to scale up those textures to a 1920x1080 or higher display, it just doesn't work. It's like putting a VHS movie on a brand new 55-inch LED Full HD display - it would just look craptastic. But put a Blu-ray up on that screen and you've just had an eyegasm.
What we need to happen
In order to continue dominance, upgradeable hardware is required - or else we'll meet the same boundaries of hardware within 1 - 2 years and then suffer for an entire decade before getting the much-needed upgrade.
Developers would spend millions of dollars, hours, sweat and tears into a game like that - but the results would be fantastic. They could keep the assets, which would make future sequels just require polish to the ever-changing graphics engine used and new levels, etc. Feature wise they could expand as the main job as been completed within the first game.
These days, games like Call of Duty require $80 million budgets (and now the latest COD: Modern Warfare 3 with a rumored $200 million budget), yet had worse graphics, sounds, no dedicated servers, and felt "same ol, same ol" when compared to the previous COD titles which leap-frogged each other in terms of features, graphics, sound in every future title.
Do developers throw away the assets and start from scratch? I don't think so. These studios need to realise that gamers come first and without them, they're nothing. Treat your core audience with respect like Valve do and you'll receive never-ending love from your fans, totally loyal and salivating at the mouth with every title you release.
The power of the future of gaming is in the hands of console makers and developers. If console makers can realise the market has changed and a corporately driven market won't sustain the growth we've seen in the last 6 years, then the market will flourish and so will the level of talent, developers, gaming and games themselves. Customers will want the latest, best thing out and if you're constantly giving them this with upgradeable consoles and totally next-gen games, you'll never be out of pocket.