Gaming is evolving faster than any medium in recent memory. Can we even keep up? With every generation, you only have to look at the pre-redendered cut-scenes to know what the following generation's graphics will realistically look like. We've got games now that are almost at a Toy Story level of graphics – something considered fiction (and was actually promised!) not even six years ago. On the other side of the spectrum, we've got shunted graphical growth, but a radical new method of playing that laughs in the face of almost everything we've taken for granted for a generation.
As gamers, which way is right? Can they both exist? (And is that all we've got…)
Each side is certainly compelling. On the one hand (the PS3 and Xbox 360) are showcasing titles that look like a million bucks, but cost many of those said bucks to create. On the other side (the Wii, and though unproven at this point, the PS3 in terms of control) we've got something that keeps things static, but cost infinitely less and are truly different in both scope and execution. So which one will win?
At timtes, I don't think either one.
Reggie Fils-Aime smartly asked, "Who do you know hasn't played a videogame? I'd suspect all of you!" at the E3 2006 press conference. If you're reading this site, I'd wager you consider yourself a gamer, in which case, what I propose to be the true disruptor will likely piss you off. I think that you and I, the gamers, will ultimately have no impact on the future of gaming. It's the casual market that's the one to watch for the next few years if you want to see the next big thing in gaming.
It's incredibly fledgling, but also incredibly burgeoning. They're worth millions upon millions of dollars. You'll see puzzle games, hunt-and-peck "Where's Waldo?" style game and derivatives of "Diner Dash." But let's face the truth: the "gamer" population isn't growing much. It's worth more money because those of us who grew up playing games paid for by our parents are now buying our own, and the numbers show it.
But what about Aunt Doris, who always seems to have an extra $20 to slip you whenever you see her? What about her money? She's the one playing online Scrabble, or another version of Tetris, or even Bridge. It's her dollars that we, as gamers, should be thinking about.
So what the hell does this have to do with the evolution of gaming that I started out with? We're seeing a major schism in gaming, and it's going into three camps – not the two that was previously thought:
1) Amazing production value, high-gloss titles
2) Quirky new contol methods
3) Short and simple but sweet
Each of the big three companies seems to straddle two of the three of these. The 360, with Xbox Live Arcade, has a good handle of camps 1 and 3. The Wii, naturally, seems to gravitate towards points 2 and 3. The PS3, interestingly, is trying to cater to all three, though it remains to be see if it can realistically be in camps 2 and 3; we've already seen it handle 1 quite well. It's definitely too soon to tell. Then there's the PC, the platform that refuses to roll over and die. Believe it or not, those little casual games are enormous over there, and once we leave our little pre-conceived gamer bubble, it's shocking how much money and startling innovation can be found there.
Where will games end up? It's been quite the rollercoaster ride to get to where we are in the first place. This generation will be one of the most remarkable, and one of the most decisive. Gaming is at a crossroads, and it's hard to predict which way it will go. I've made my decision: I'll sit back and let evolution take its course.