Since the beginning of this gaming generation in 2011, playing video games has changed and evolved in ways that no one could have predicted. From the advent of virtual reality to the mobile gaming explosion to the more piecemeal way we are asked to experience our favorite games, the way we, as consumers interact with and enjoy video games has changed dramatically in a very short amount of time. And its this rapid shifting on what were once solid gaming conventions that got us thinking, what would gaming be like next-generation? What kinds of games will we be playing? And more important – how will we play them?
First of all, let’s address why I chose 2022 as the year to set this article in. The current generation (8th) began in 2011 with the launch of the Nintendo 3DS and has recently seen nearly every major platform get a mid-generation refresh with the PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X and Nintendo Switch (which replaces the failed Wii U) all leading the charge but still using technology and standards set by their predecessors. Even the 3DS got an upgrade in the form of the New Nintendo 3DS. This set of systems (let’s call them gen 8.5) are all relatively new on the market and are nowhere near having reached their full potential, making it likely that they will be supported for years to come. And while the 9th generation may come before 2022, its likely that by that date every major player will have something new on the market.
But who will these players be? It’s a safe bet that the ‘big three’ will still be around and kicking in the 9th generation. Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the current console market leader and has shown no sign of slowing down and its practically a guarantee that the PlayStation brand will continue on with a 5th console in the not-so distant future. Nintendo is also likely to still be a major force as the Switch has helped revitalize their hardware division and the force of their IPs will definitely continue to serve them well for years to come. And Microsoft, who many see as the ‘other’ console maker right now despite having the most powerful console on the market will very likely still be forging along although possibly all while releasing their games on Sony and Nintendo devices in addition to their own as was hinted earlier this week.
But would those three companies be the only ones with their hands in the gaming pot? We already know that Atari wants to get their hat back in the ring but what we’ve seen so far from the Ataribox has not filled us with confidence that it will stay around for a while. So who else can jump into the ring? Sega is a perennial favorite but realistically it doesn’t seem likely. So if I had to guess at which firms would enter the gaming arena I would put my money on American tech giants like Google, Apple & Amazon as well as Disney as the most likely candidates. Google and Apple are relatively obvious choices since they are both experienced in both hardware manufacturing as well as the gaming world, managing the iOS and Google Play stores for their mobile devices. Amazon, while not as much recognized for their hardware efforts have proven they can develop a robust online infrastructure thanks to not only their ubiquitous storefront but their Kindle and Amazon Video services and would be the perfect bet to create a Steam competitor. And then there’s Disney whose almost universally recognize (and growing) stable of franchises could easily support a gaming system or service as it established itself against the other players in the industry.
This also brings up a whole new question though – what will a gaming ‘console’ be like next generation? We are on the cusp of entering an era where internet connectivity and download/upload speeds are so advanced and prevalent that the prospect of a digital-only system or platform can make a lot of sense. Steam has already taken the lead in this regard as 100% of its titles are digital games but you still need hardware to actually run these games, a pretty big barrier for some. But what if a platform took the Netflix route and offered all the games you could want through a streaming service? We’ve seen some attempts at this already but these early services (like OnLive) failed due to a lack of brand recognition and an uninteresting lineup of games. But if let’s say a Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony or someone else were to go this route you can bet that folks would be singing up in droves and all you would need (in theory) is a controller and dongle that can connect to the service.
While the way we interact and purchase video games will likely evolve to include more digital platforms the games themselves that we enjoy will definitely continue to change. Over the past few years we’ve seen the erosion of what many see as the traditional genres of the industry. Now every game seems to need to incorporate many different elements into its base gameplay in order to be eye-catching. RPG elements are the biggest one but we’ve seen more and more action pieces enter into what would have traditionally been slower paced titles and story elements permeating into what were mostly gameplay focused series before. This mix and matching of genres is likely to keep coming further re-defining our understanding of what game genres actually are.
But what’s more important is also how we pay for our games. In recent years publishers have gotten into the habit of infusing our favorite games with things like DLC, post-launch content, expansion passes, loot boxes, episodic content and all manner of ways to extract more money out of you after your initial purchase. And i really don’t foresee that going away anytime soon. However there is a silver lining, since, if games are going to cost more in the long run we might actually see a reduction in the upfront cost of a game, especially if publishers start selling titles as ‘debut’ editions with the expectation that more content (that you need to buy) is coming later. Sure that means if you want to get all of the content in a game, you’ll be paying more but it also means that if you don’t like a particular title you’re not going to be paying too much upfront.
We are only a few years away from the turn of the decade and despite this generation getting refresh half-way through, it seems like the future of gaming as a whole is just around the corner. But what will this future look like? Will game console be a thing of the past? Will new companies throw their hats into the ring to try to become the next ‘Nintendo’ or ‘Sony’? And how will we, not only interact with our favorite games but pay for them and how far are publishers willing to go to constantly up-sell these experiences? These are all important questions, and we’ll be getting the answers sooner than you might believe as the world we live and play in is changing at a pace we’ve never seen before.