Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Future of Gaming

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Now that all of the major players have put their cards on the table, I would like to give my thoughts on what is going to happen. Given the events of the last week, I think we are on the verge of a very different distribution landscape, and I am looking forward to it. Let's start out small.

Mobile gaming isn't going anywhere; it's definitely going to continue to grow. However, we need to get people more used to paying $10 or more for a quality game if we are going to see more than these simple little high-score focused social-oriented free-to-play games that are the bane of our existence. Why is it that Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery is still the only mobile game with a decent story that I have played?

The Ouya tried to encourage those kinds of games to come to Android, but they really dropped the ball. It took them so long to release the darn thing that Nvidia came out with a new version of the processor they were using by the time Kickstarter backers got their hands on the system.

Nintendo is in an interesting position. The Wii U isn't doing very well, but the 3DS is selling like hotcakes. As we have seen over the last decade, Nintendo can do well by simply having a strong first-party title lineup. This is something nobody else can claim, and I don't see them changing their strategy.

Now to the good stuff. This week Valve announced SteamOSSteam Machines, and the Steam Controller. SteamOS is based on Linux, which is really the only way that they could have done this. Yes, Linux doesn't have nearly as many AAA games as Windows at this point, but licensing Windows for all of the Steam Machines would drive their prices up. Valve gets around this by streaming Windows games from your PC over your home network. Because of that, Steam Machines will initially only sell to people who are already into PC gaming. Not to worry, Valve is working on encouraging big publishers to bring their games to Linux. Because there will be a Steam Machine for all occasions, they will be competing directly with everything from the consoles to the Chromecast.
I am much more interested in the controller they unveiled. Having it emulate mouse and keyboard inputs for games that don't support controllers was a brilliant move, and it means that is the one thing they announced this week that I will definitely be getting as soon as it comes out.

There were a couple of interesting stories about Sony and Microsoft this week. Both are looking into streaming their games to devices other than their core consoles. Sony is considering everything from PCs to tablets to TVs. Microsoft of course will probably only make this available on Windows and Windows Phones. If Valve succeeds in getting everyone to support Linux (I really hope they are) then the only reason for PC gamers to stay with Windows (aside from familiarity) would be for Microsoft to make Xbox games available on Windows as well.
Sony seems much more likely to support Linux, as they have no reason to push Windows sales. I like the way that they talk about treating the PlayStation brand as a service rather than just hardware. And think about it for a moment: how does Sony make money? Not by selling consoles, but by selling the games on those consoles. If they can bring their games to more people by offering a streaming service, I think they will.

The piece of hardware that I am most excited for is the Oculus Rift. These headsets are already incredibly popular, and they haven't even released yet. Innovations like this and the Steam Controller are only possible on open platforms, where they can support games that weren't even made with anything but mouse and keyboard in mind.

My dream for the gaming industry for some time has been for the hardware people to focus on making hardware, the software people to focus on making software, and the distributors to bring us services that add to our overall gaming experience, all on top of an open software platform. This has been how most of the PC gaming world has worked for as long as I can remember, and Valve and Sony seem to be the distributors most poised to take advantage of this model.