2020 is going to be one of the biggest years in the global games industry. We have seen the beginnings of new console generations before, but this one certainly feels different. Yes, there is the launch of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X to look forward to, both of which will put powerful new hardware into living rooms around the world.
However, 2020 will also see the full consumer launch of Google’s Stadia, plus its expansion to more markets worldwide. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s Switch and Switch Lite continue to blur the lines between what we traditionally called handheld and console gaming, and Apple’s Arcade is creating real maturity in the mobile gaming market.
It’s going to be busy and noisy, but there is one core theme that we see running through 2020, and that is game consistency. In the past, many in the games industry have seen development as being device-centric. That is, the game is built with the device it is running on. For example, Super Smash Bros for Wii U, as opposed to Super Smash Bros for 3DS. This might have been acceptable in the 2010s, but it won’t be in the 2020s. Developers need to achieve a consistent experience and adopt a game-centric approach.
Gamers are increasingly demanding comparable experiences, wherever they play their favourite game. Just look at Fortnite and Minecraft, two of the biggest games in the world right now. Most consumers no longer distinguish between Fortnite for Xbox One, or Fortnite for iOS. They only see them as different ways of accessing the same core Fortnite experience.
This is not an entirely new trend, but 2020 will be the year when developers need to adopt this thinking on a much wider scale, as consistent experiences become the norm. As we well know, this is much easier said than done though. How can you offer similar game mechanics on a low specification Android phone as you do to a bespoke gaming PC, while getting the most out of both?
There are two major areas of technology that are pushing the frontiers of game-centric development forward. The first is the consumer roll-out of cloud-based gaming. Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s XCloud might face teething problems at launch, but they will revolutionise the relationship people have with the games they play. When the same game is being streamed to you whether on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or TV, your relationship is more than ever with the game, and not with the console or device.
The second is the increasing acceptance amongst the biggest games companies of the need for cross-play, so anyone can play with their friends online regardless of the device they are using. Again, this fuels the move to seeing the game you play as a consistent experience that exists no matter how you choose to access it.
This all comes with development challenges. As the number of ways to access games increase, the demand on studios developing the newest and most sought-after games becomes ever greater. Bringing games to more platforms is no drag-and-drop exercise. It takes real expertise and problem solving to know how to make games run consistently across devices, as well as close collaboration between teams.
2020 is going to be another busy year for studios, but one filled with opportunity. Amazing games can now reach larger audiences than ever before. As we move to a world where everyone is a gamer, we want to help studios deliver the best experiences to players, regardless of device.