The current generation (eighth) may not be over yet, but it is definitely in the second half of its lifespan, and the outstanding Nintendo Switch is arguably a 9th generation platform. We've seen a surprisingly long stay with the 3DS, PS4 dominance, and more questions and concerns regarding both Microsoft and Nintendo's consoles. It has been an amazing time to be a gamer despite a few disappointments, and I want to explore what I think will mark this generation and make it poignant for generations to come.
1. Nintendo's Failure and Ability to Regain the Throne
Nintendo isn't used to succumbing to the word failure, and before the Wii U – the only truly failed console was the infamous Virtual Boy. Sure, the Wii disenfranchised many hardcore gamers, and Nintendo had issues to parse through with every console since the N64, but they still seemed like a pretty safe company that could never really go under. The Wii U was a confusing device that utilized an odd controller scheme that acted as a tablet of sorts and the console lacked third party support (among other issues). The Wii U amounted to a paltry 13.56 million units sold as of September, 2017, a number Nintendo expected the nascent Nintendo Switch to overcome within its first fiscal year.
The third party support never really came, and even Nintendo fans didn't seem to have a lot of faith in the misguided Wii follow up (it's the first Nintendo console I never owned). Nintendo had a surprise announcement in November 2016 when they announced the Nintendo Switch, another unique and risky console, in that it was hybrid and lacked a traditional console design and top of the line hardware.
The Wii U unfortunately never gained traction, and even the best games were overshadowed by Sony and Microsoft's machines. Though the Wii U had a big cult following, the Nintendo Switch was a risk that seemed logical and timely. It would be completely portable and Nintendo gave it a name to seperate it from the Wii series as well as promise better third party support.
If you were like me, the Nintendo Switch still seemed like a massive gamble, and I hadn't seen a Nintendo console truly flourish since the SNES. I assumed the Switch would be a glorified Nintendo exclusive box and that it would just be more of the same, but the Nintendo Switch took off like a rocket. Zelda: Breath of the Wild was GOTY in 2017, and Mario Odyssey was a close second in the eyes of many. Other developers were announcing titles for the console, and suddenly the Switch was the place to be for indie and retro titles. It was a revival that shocked the world and showed that Nintendo could reinvent itself on the dime if the need should arise.
Nintendo's failure won't be forgotten, but many fans are coming back to the Nintendo switch, and their new hybrid console may be an early glance at what the future of gaming may look like. Nintendo is king once again, and it will be interesting to see how Sony and Microsoft respond with their next consoles.
2. Indie Crazy
Indie games didn't start in the eighth generation of gaming, but they exploded this generation like never before. Every year seems to see an increase in the amount of games developed, and almost no topic is more polarizing in the huge and wacky gaming universe. Some people hail indie games for keeping the industry fresh and innovative while others loathe them for releasing a sea of mediocre and half baked titles that would take a millenia to sift through.
Each week and month sees a ton of new indie games added to the digital shops, and some companies even make physical releases for more popular titles. It's been an up and down battle, but games like Stardew Valley, Transistor, Dead Cells, Celeste, Owlboy, Hollow Knight, Cuphead, A Hat in Time, and Shovel Knight etc. really show how beneficial indie games can be and how polished their games can turn out.
The last couple generations also had great indie games, but now we are starting to see certain indie companies become household names and go on to deliver hit after hit. Companies like Supergiant Games, Giant Sparrow, and Thatgamecompany etc. are all well-trusted companies that release highly anticipated games and can compete with AAA developers.
Some people claim the indiepocalypse is coming and there is a lot of uncertainty in the future of indie games and how to deal with the deluge of bad games but if anything, this generation has shown us that indie games can finally stand side by side AAA titles as some of the defining games of that generation. Love them or hate them, indie games have made a huge impact on the eighth generation of gaming and allowed a lot of new players and developers to flourish.
3. The Beginning of the Digital Only Era?
Remember when you had to venture to the store, pick up a physical copy of that shiny new release, and shuffle through the manual before you finally got home to play? Those days have come into question since many physical releases don't even come with a manual anymore and many games have only a digital release. There are online pre-order sales that promote online purchases, and you always need to find out if the game has a physical release or not.
There are many who speculate that the industry is moving towards a digital only medium. Look at music and movies. Outside of collectors, very few people really buy CDs and Blu-rays; should it be any surprise to see the same thing happen with video games? I did some pondering and realized that, outside of maybe vinyls, video games have more staying power than most other physical entertainment releases. There are tons of retro collectors, and people like the idea of being able to play their game years after release. Nobody is quite sure what will happen to a lot of these digital games in decades to come. Will they vanish into the ether after that console dies and you can no longer use the online service? Will there be some sort of cloud system to link games from older consoles?
It's all a mystery, and I for one do not believe that physical releases will truly disappear, but there is no question that there is a threat of a digital only landscape. It's one of the negative but realistic scenarios this generation has catalyzed, and the future should see an even larger margin between physical copies and digital only games.
4. Restoring Faith in all Genres
The seventh generation of gaming saw a massive push towards realistic graphics, and AAA developers seemed obsessed with open world, action oriented games that utilized astounding visuals and cinematic story telling. It was a very Hollywood epoch for video games, and despite the amazing return of the arcade, I was left a little worried about the future of gaming. Genres I loved like JRPGs, SHMUPS, beat em' ups, and platformers seemed to be fighting for their very lives. I loved games like Uncharted 2 and Batman Arkham Asylum, but the PS4 was the absolute breath of fresh air I needed after thinking one of my favorite pasttimes might fade away from me a bit.
The PS4 has has one of the most amazing and vast libraries of games ever seen on a home console, and it has something for everyone. The action oritented fans still have plenty to play, but I am really happy to see a bunch of amazing JRPGs (Tales of Berseria, Persona 5, Grand Kingdom etc.) make a huge comeback and gain features that modernize them more. Many great shmups like Resogun, Ikaruga, Raiden V, and Graceful Explosion Machine have been released or been developed, and indie developers have really done a great job at keeping this genre alive. I just heard that Streets of Rage 4 is on the way, and 2D platformers are experiencing a retro-revival (though where are 3D platformers?).
It isn't just the PS4 either. The Switch has an amazingly diverse library with a lot of old and new games coming to the console, and Steam currently has more games than any other platform. It's truly amazing to be able to own a PC or just one of the consoles and have access to just about every genre–maybe unless you are an Xbox One owner–and the last thing remaining is to regain more of our legacy console titles.
This is a very important development, because it means that developers should have more faith in making niche genre games and that gaming innovation will not remain stagnant. Nobody wants to play one genre of games exclusively (right?). I have had a huge back catalog of games for the last few years compared to last generation where I bought some very second tier titles just to have something new to play.
5. VR is Finally Here
VR isn't a new concept, and the idea has been toyed around with since the 1980s. Sega abandoned a failed VR device, and the Virtual Boy taught us how bad imitations could be, but the days of dreaming about real VR are finally here. The Ocuclus Rift, HTC Vive, and many other VR devices finally released in 2016, and they have shook the gaming–and tech–world to their foundations.
VR games are getting easier to develop, partially thanks to the Unreal Engine tutorial being given to developers, and VR is fairly realistic and immersive, even if still infantile.
The question on everyone's mind is whether or not VR will take over or remain a niche in the gaming world. I for one believe it will remain a popular niche that will go through some huge improvements and changes over the next couple of decades, but it's cool that the VR we dreamed of in the 20th century has truly begun to take shape. The game list is still pretty limited compared to traditional gaming, and the hardware is still pretty expensive for most gamers.
I have only dabbled in VR, but it has left me pretty impressed–and a little queezy–and I am rooting for the industry to grow and develop along traditional PC and console gaming. The launch of the Oculus Rift and true VR is still captivating the world and shan't be forgotten for generations to come.
There are five things I believe may stick around for a long time that this generation of gaming has contributed to the annals of video games. It's hard to choose just five, and I could have talked about stuff like the rise of mobile, end of handheld gaming devices, or a host of other things, but these five seemed most striking to me personally. I have had a lot of fun with the PS4, Switch, and Steam and have gotten back into gaming in a way I never thought possible.
Please join the discussion and let me know if you agree or disagree with these picks and what you think this generation has contributed to the future of gaming.