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Has the industry reverse engineered itself

by arne neumann on 04/06/20 10:32:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Today I’d like to entertain a thought experiment that’s completely based on intuition on my part, with no hard data to confirm or deny the concept.

To begin deconstructing and restructuring the reasoning behind above perceived notion a small leap back in time, at least virtually, will occur, with emphasis on the notion that no archival claim of a historians status is made by the writer and no underlying structure of including personal historic references into every post is in place. 

Video games initially entered the households of consumers as dedicated gaming machines like the Atari 2600. Objects that were serving the sole purpose of entertainment, with no productivity tools built in, sort of like the inverse of early PC’s that would often include games like Solitaire or Chess. With the increase of the capabilities of home computers a renaissance of home entertainment systems coincided with the conversion of a massive amount of personal computers into gaming stations that would run classics such as DOOM, Jedi Knight or Monkey Island. 

The internet, still barely past its infancy, facilitated the inclusion of barebones online multiplayer that would allow players to play together without being limited by the constraints of the length of cables and the space available in someones basement during Local Area Network parties or sessions on a couch.

Ultima Online let players interact in a persistent world without requiring the fastest possible connection at the time and the Valve Corporation facilitated large scale online multiplayer in real time, by distributing the Half Life mod Counter Strike through its newly created online platform Steam, DSL connection recommended. 

By 2005 the Nokia N-Gage had been released and Palm was producing PDA’s, an essential new age yuppie tool, a device that had a physical keyboard and could run some versions of Snake.

In 2007 Steve Jobs changed the entire landscape of pocket computers, by introducing the iPhone, a touch device with a lot less buttons. Initial criticism and typing speed speculations set aside, we now have somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world and even more retired devices than users. 

Modern smartphones are incredibly easy to access in terms of financial entry barriers and provide  higher quality experiences than anyone could have predicted in a detailed fashion 20 years ago. They also all look like variations of one another.

Internet speeds are approaching the 5G age, currently suppressed by political and other global events, but the technology for widespread distribution exists. Games can be downloaded in seconds to phones and soon, any local storage of game data won’t be necessary. The amount of games, whereas that term in some cases remains questionable, available for download on the 2 prevailing platforms quite certainly has surpassed the million mark.

On the other hand, all versions of technologically cutting edge home consoles and gaming PC’s since 1995 again look like variations of their previous iterations, with Nintendo excluding itself from that general roster, cleverly implementing interactive alternatives to the mainstream traditional input methods and reliance on numbers relating to hardware performance and universally accepted marketing jargon to emphasize the superior qualities of a new product, like the currently utilized term and definition of a technological advancement called ray tracing.

To sum up: in 2020 we live in a world where everyone and their aunt are likely to receive a smartphone at a relatively young age, touch being the primary and in most cases only input method, with an average screen size likely somewhere between 4 and 6 inches. The million titles in the market optimize for those conditions. Ports of popular games from other platforms to smartphones often include tightly packed and cluttered overlays of button mappings onto the touch screens to allow for a console like experience and aren’t generally considered big money makers, specifically not in the age of auto chess.

Future gamers will receive their initial device for free at a young age with the parental intent of being connected and available for social networking. Gaming comes as a natural, free and easy option available on those devices. A certain percentage of those with smartphones will spend money on games, almost certainly primarily through microtransactions. Those serious about gaming will try to upgrade their experience, willingness to spend 60 bucks on a high quality experience in one transaction as a prerequisite. Enter consoles and gaming PC’s. 

VR is still a thing. But VR has already been a thing when this gamer attended an entertainment convention in 1995 and considered purchasing a handmade silver necklace depicting an axe with a leather strap or investing good money in stuff that wasn’t Magic cards. 

 


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