Right now in the games industry everyone is looking for the next big thing, but no one really knows what it will be. Microsoft has completely dismantled the traditional console business model, making all of its proprietary games compatible with the PC and ensuring instant uptime on the Game Pass streaming service. The rise of the Battle Royale genre, along with the massive popularization of Twitch streaming has resulted in entertainment experiences that cross boundaries between different machines, and between interactive and viewing entertainment.
Is Fortnite a game, a playground, a concert hall or a TV? When do open world games end? Do they ever do it, really? Outside of the console industry, both Apple and Google are experimenting with subscription-based gaming services, while Chinese mega-bodies are leading tens of millions of smartphone owners into an era of crypto-augmented ‘play to win’ games. -currency, blockchain and NFT Elements – watched by Western publishers such as Electronic Arts with dollar signs flashing in their eyes.
Cut to Silicon Valley. Facebook and its myriad satellite industries, techbro rivals, and budding startups are now obsessed with the concept of the metaverse, in which discrete gaming and viewing experiences dissolve into global, platform-independent, and web-independent virtual worlds. whole world – part Fortnite, part Second Life, part Ready Player One.
All of these future potentials for the games industry are currently viable, they may coexist. Nobody knows. But the very concept of video games has become malleable and uncertain, old structures and conventions are crumbling. It’s no coincidence that there are so many time loop games out there right now: the developers themselves are starting to question the meaning and structure of games as we’ve known them for decades. All the old certainties are fading. It’s like Hollywood at the dawn of the era of synchronized sound – years of established conventions have collapsed and new genres and formats of entertainment have exploded.
We’ve been here before, sort of …
Is this period of uncertainty unprecedented? No. What we’re going through right now – this giant existential crisis over what games are and what they’re becoming – isn’t new to the gaming industry. It’s already arrived. In 1993, a number of new technologies converged to completely disrupt the gaming industry.
In the previous 15 years, the industry had been divided between home computer makers, console builders, and powerful players. The likes of Atari, Commodore, Nintendo, and Sega had existed throughout modern industry, subdividing the industry among themselves into a controlled series of product rivalries. But the 1990s saw two major disruptive new technologies: CD-Rom and mass public access to the Internet. CD-Roms offered huge amounts of storage space and, for the first time, let developers think about adding real video and audio to interactive experiences.
For a while in the early 1990s, it seemed like this could lead to a new, highly cinematic form of gaming, freed from the “unrealism” of bulky graphics, and therefore more appealing to a larger audience. The result was the FMV or “interactive film” genre – titles such as Night Trap, 7th Guest and Voyeur, which combined the conventions of cinema and game design into a new form of combined entertainment. We see this period as a kind of joke, a dead end, but it certainly wasn’t at the time. TV and film production companies have garnered great interest, with Warner, Fox and Disney all setting up interactive entertainment divisions and action film makers such as Demolition Man and Johnny Mnemonic taking the time to film du additional content for use in related interactive movie games.
The CD-Rom era has also brought new machines and new drives to the console industry. Electronics giant Philips tried to start the multimedia phenomenon with its CDi machine, EA Trip founder Hawkins launched 3DO, Commodore launched the Amiga 32 – all had different angles on what a CD console. And it has become legendary how Sony’s initial entry into the gaming business was via a canceled CD-Rom add-on for the SNES.
The announcement of the PlayStation in October 1993 opened up another potential future for the gaming industry: real-time 3D visuals. With its dedicated 32-bit graphics processing unit and Geometry Transformation Engine coprocessor, the machine has been tailor-made to draw and manipulate textured polygons in a way that no mainstream gaming machine has ever been before. Sony – thanks to the vision of its chief engineer Ken Kuturagi – saw a new demographic of gamers in their twenties who would be enticed by the techno-futurism of 3D graphics combined with CD-quality sound. The future he saw was more aligned with the dynamics of anime, pop culture, and computer-generated imagery than it was with the traditional film industry. A new battle front opened.
Widen the field of play
The PlayStation era has also dramatically disrupted the conventional relationship between the arcade and the home console. In the past, the best games first came out as coins, and then inferior versions appeared on home machines about a year later. However, with the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Neo Geo, the games appeared almost immediately – developed by the same teams and only involving a subtle scaling down of advanced visuals and poly count. Titles like Tekken, Sega Rally and Daytona USA have slipped imperceptibly between home and arcade platforms, with the two companies now marketing each other effectively. To further blur the status quo, Namco’s System 11 and Sega’s ST-V arcade cards were both based on home console hardware – the former on PlayStation, the latter on Saturn – this turned the tide. technology and made possible a new generation of inexpensive experimental consoles. arcade experiences.
Cross to the home computer business, and the situation was also volatile. After years on the periphery, the IBM PC established itself as a gaming platform from the early to mid-1990s, thanks to 386 and then 486 processors, inexpensive CD players, improved sound cards, and arrival of the 3D graphics accelerator. cards. At the same time, there has been the growth of the local area network and online gaming, spurred by the release of CERN’s WWW software into the public domain in April 1993. Suddenly, players had access to a global community of participants, with Titles such as Air Warrior and Shadow of Yserbius introduce a generation to graphical multiplayer entertainment.
Indeed, the tumultuous changes that hit the industry in 1993 were not that different from what we see now – it was the decline of traditional markets, disruptive new technologies expanding the reach of gaming experiences and games. players themselves changing their own relationship with games and what they expect from them. And what 1993 tells us about 2023 is that there won’t be a winner – there won’t be a single way out of the current chaos. The future is not about blockchain games, multiverse games, or games delivered to the cloud. These aspects will all be combined, they will evolve, and they will be used by creative people in a way that Mark Zuckerberg or Bobby Kotick or the Tencent board will never see coming.
What 1993 told us is that the future of games almost never comes from above and is never evenly distributed – it comes from everywhere at once, it comes from developers in garages. in Texas and studios in Liverpool and workshops in Shibuya or Zhongguancun, and usually you don’t see it until it’s too late and you’re already playing.
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