How Gaming Has Changed Over The Past Two Decades

With virtual reality and the metaverse changing the way we play games, it’s a good moment to reflect on how far we’ve gone in the previous generation. Most sectors will see substantial changes over the course of two decades, but the gaming industry, in particular, moves so quickly that it may be impossible to keep up with the pace of everything. There have been many changes, both major and minor, in gaming during the previous two decades, but these are some of the most noteworthy.

The death of split-screen

Getting friends together in the same room to play games used to be a fun way to spend a Friday night, but with the rise of online gaming — particularly on consoles — in the last decade, this is becoming increasingly difficult. While split-screen gaming isn’t always the best method to play a game, it can foster a social environment that can’t be replicated with a headset and a solid internet connection.

Free To Play

As more games have saturated the market in recent years, customers have become increasingly hesitant of spending their money on anything other than the top titles. This resulted in the Free to Play model, which publishers have utilized to lower the price barrier on their games in the expectation that people will spend money on other items.

While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Free to Play games (in fact, when done correctly, they can be quite useful to the user), publishers have sadly given the entire endeavor a nefarious undertone with plain despicable money-grabbing techniques.

Digital Storefronts

There was a time when getting a physical copy from your local shop was your only choice if you wanted to buy a game. However, as internet download rates increased, downloading games became the norm, with digital shops such as Valve’s Steam being the major means to purchase PC games.

While consoles have been slower to catch up, it is now feasible to acquire any new game released on the same day as the physical edition. To sweeten the deal, Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Store all have frequent deals on games, alongside the growth of cloud gaming, which means that going to the store to acquire a new game is becoming increasingly redundant.

Gaming Media

A decade ago, you could stroll into a neighborhood newsstand and choose from a selection of gaming publications. Publish media is fading nowadays, and the majority of gaming journals that print monthly have either shifted to online publication or gone out of business completely. Aside from the paper side of things, the way games are covered has altered tremendously.

Whereas top games media sources like IGN and Gamespot used to focus exclusively on news and review coverage, they have evolved into multimedia brands that provide a variety of text, audio, and video material centered on games and other forms of entertainment. While it does not appear that games media will disappear very soon, don’t be shocked if it undergoes more drastic changes in the next ten years.

Better Storytelling

Games developed by huge teams with significant budgets have begun to resemble blockbuster movies in recent years, due to the ever-increasing graphical fidelity provided by new gaming hardware. While some critics have argued that games becoming excessively cinematic might devalue games as an art form if done incorrectly, imbuing games with cinematic aspects has mostly contributed to stronger storytelling overall in the industry.

Bioshock and The Last of Us present storylines with the complexity and sophistication of some of the finest films out there, while simultaneously being some of the best games released in the last decade. If those titles are any indication, we may expect even greater tales as games move closer to photo-realism over the coming decade.

Pre-Order Culture

As conventional brick-and-mortar stores such as Gamestop’s impact has dwindled due to the ease of digital storefronts like Steam on the PC and Microsoft and Sony’s own efforts on their Xbox and PlayStation platforms, the pre-order market has grown in importance. Pre-ordering games to get a copy on release day was once a practical factor, but merchants such as Gamestop, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy have converted it into a new strategy to compete for consumers’ wallets.

Nowadays, getting a “full” game is nearly difficult, as some pre-order DLC and other features are locked behind retailer exclusives. It’s an anti-consumer behavior that, regrettably, won’t go away until physical games do.

MOBAs and eSports

If you asked someone 10 years ago what a MOBA was, they’d most likely give you a slack-jawed stare before returning to their next World of Warcraft raid. MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) are huge business in 2015, and they are swiftly becoming the most popular genre in gaming, particularly as a spectator sport.

MOBAs like League of Legends, DoTA 2, and Heroes of the Storm are helping to legitimize watching eSports as a worthy pastime, similar to watching an NFL game, and with recent tournament prize pools reaching a staggering $18 million, eSports are poised to grow in popularity — and profitability — over the next decade.

Streaming and Let’s Plays

If you had told us 20 years ago that millions of gamers would routinely tune into Youtube and Twitch broadcasts to watch other people play games, or that it would become a viable business, we would have firstly wondered what a Twitch stream is, and then laughed at you.

Whether you follow someone like PewDiePie on a daily basis or are as out of touch and perplexed by Let’s Play culture as Jimmy Kimmel was a few years back, Youtube and other video platforms have had a massive influence on gaming culture by developing dedicated communities around distinct personalities. Having a stream or other sort of video material is practically a need these days if you want to be taken seriously as a talent in the gaming world.

Independent games

One of the most significant trends in gaming over the last decade has been the rising support for indie producers. While budgets for AAA titles (think Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed) have skyrocketed with each new console generation, access to digital distribution networks, easier-to-use and acquire developer tool kits, and the popularity of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have allowed the indie scene to thrive in recent years.

This has effectively filled the hole left by irregular AAA releases throughout the year, allowing gamers to experience the new titles of the year. Innovative games like Braid, Limbo, Bastion, and Gone Home, to mention a few, would not have been conceivable if the indie gaming industry had not been allowed to flourish as much as it has over the previous decade.

Mobile Gaming Industry

In today’s world, almost everyone possesses a smartphone, which would have been a difficult prediction to make in, say, 2005. This also implies that everyone has a sophisticated portable gaming gadget in their pocket, which has significantly altered the handheld gaming business. Nintendo was once the only name in town when it came to portable gaming, due to the omnipresent Gameboy brand.

While the company’s latest portable gaming device, the Switch, is still a success, it is no longer as dominating as it once was due to the tremendous popularity of iOS and Android gaming.

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