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00's and 10's: Looking Back/Looking Forward Pt. 1

Why do I love retrospectives of years past? Maybe knowing our history puts us in touch with who we are. It places us in the wide Universe. This is part 1/2 of my look at the past decade. Next post is 2010-2020.

Alan Youngblood, Blogger

December 28, 2009

6 Min Read

Games Industry in Review: Looking Back/Looking Forward 00's to the 10's

It's been a huge decade for games.  Take a look at the technology for instance, we went from super low poly low res Playstation to PS3's hi def lush lavish detail.  I've seen talk on the web and I agree that next year, and next decade will be a huge defining and changing time for the industry.  Let's take a look at some trends.  If you like, I'm not restricting this to my own observations so please add yours in the comments below.

Looking Back at the 00's Trends:

Games became polarized into one of two 'extremes': Casual or Core.  Like it or not, everyone and their mother (literally now, thanks to Wii) now groups games within these two broad categories.  There's lots of implications, but this isn't where I'll get into that debate.

AAA titles become prohibitively expensive to produce.  This hasn't stopped people but going from PS2 to PS3, or Xbox to 360, modern PC titles the workload has quadrupled.  That means in many ways that the cost has quadrupled too.  Only the big boys with lots of money and established franchises can afford to make AAA games.  Very few people can now startup from the ground and produce at this level.  Only startups that are almost entirely comprised of top ranking industry vets have a chance.  For those who continue to make these games the costs are huge, so failure is no longer an option.  That means more sequels/rehashes and less innovation.  The payout may now be larger than ever, so it's certainly financially worth the extra effort.

This brings me to the transition of Modders to Indies.  The beginning of the decade started out with the great boom of modders who worked primarily with Unreal Engine's earlier iterations, Half-Life's engine, Quake's engine, or Doom's earlier engine.  Counter-Strike is such a huge phenomenon in the gaming community that it has surpassed many other titles for name recognition, popularity and play.  Even fringe people know it.  With great tools, large active communities and relatively low barrier to entry great mods cropped up everywhere.  Now there's relatively few big name mods going on.  There's a reason for that.  Like I said above AAA titles are prohibitively expensive to make, which means investing some free time is simply not enough to make a game.  On top of that, the few developers that make a mod that quality level want to be financially compensated for it.  Which brings us right to my point that indie developers are the new modders.

Next let's elaborate more on the indie boom of the late 00's, because it will certainly trend into the 10's.

Since triple AAA titles can no longer afford to innovate (at least that's their perception of it), the innovation void has been happily filled by indies.  Indie games innovate because it gets good attention and sales particularly when you lack big publisher sized marketing budgets.  People are falling in love with indie games more and more.  They aren't all everyone's cup of tea, but many are charming and a new type of joy to play.  Also, they are almost always beloved projects of their creators.  Venues like PSN store, Steam, Impulse, WiiWare, XBLA, among others are making an unprecedented easy way for indie developers to reach a good audience.  I predict that more and more people will buy reasonably priced indie games that are potentially more fun, and usually more fresh as time continues.  Despite yea-sayers claims that the economy in the US and world will improve, I'm almost certain it will not, not yet.  The problem still needs to be fixed.  In the interim, people continue to spend their little amounts of money on games, but they'll want a smaller price tag and a higher bang/buck ratio.

Segueing into digital distribution, that's a trend that is starting now and will continue in the 10's.  With broadband connections permeating more homes and WiFi hotspots popping up all over the place we are at the place where the tech allows digital distribution.  Combine that with Apple's iTunes popularity and you have customers that are already willing to spend on online shops for virtual goods.  Brick and mortar stores are on the decline (as transportation becomes more expensive to everyday people, digital distribution also becomes sexier).  Retail box stores will not close completely, they'll just consolidate into fewer locations and only one of two companies: Gamestop and Walmart.  Others may continue as well, but won't make a significant business out of it.  Call it more of a wish than a prediction, but I hope that in the 10's we will wise up as producers and release via digital distribution and save the customer the cost we save in publishing.  There's a trend in many businesses now to eliminate or reduce costs and keep charging the customer the same, or worse, charge more in the for of “convenience fees.”  An example of this is if I buy a ticket online for an event (concert, movie, etc) I have saved acme tix co. the price of paying a real live employee to stand or sit in a both and make a transaction of money and help me get the ticket I requested.  Acme Tix co. is so nice that they charge me a $3 fee for the convenience of having it online and I have to print the ticket myself (another cost they save on).  Companies that keep consumer costs the same while reducing business costs should be persuaded to help benefit the customer.  Companies that charge extra while reducing costs should be shot.  In the face.

Another point of the late part of this decade is the natural monopoly of the Unreal 3 Engine.  Early problems with support weren't enough to keep this engine from catching on like wildfire.  Very many games that are made for the AAA core market use the engine and/or look like they do.  For better or worse this generation belongs to Epic Games in many ways.  I'll let you sort out the meaning of it for yourselves.

The death of JRPG's in the West.  I can't get through 00's without mentioning this one.  Everyone should be aware of it.  I honestly can't name one stellar JRPG of the decade.  Chrono Cross, The World Ends With You, and FF12 were pretty darn good IMO.  A) That's a short list for a decade B) Western RPGs like Mass Effect, Fallout 3 were better quality and have way more appeal to us in the West.  Anyone who remembers the 90's will agree that it is a genre that must not die.  Between greats like Chrono Trigger, FF4&6-9, Xenogears, Suikoden I & II, Persona, Zelda Ocarina of Time, Zelda: Link to the Past, Super Mario RPG, Secret of Mana, Breath of Fire 1&2, Earthbound we see a trend within a genre: some of the best d#&n games ever.  What's left to do then?  Figure out why JRPG's died off in the West this decade and revive them in the 10's.


Read more and a better assessment here: Last days of JRPGs? by Jeffrey Fleming


Stay tuned for my Looking Forward: 2010-2020 post in the upcoming days.

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