We’ve just taken another step into a bold new era of gaming. With Google revealing Stadia last night, the message is clear: Video games aren’t just mainstream, they’re for everyone. And while that’s a terrific message to spread across the industry, it’s also a sign of how the scene is shaping itself to go beyond the traditional boundaries that have held it back for so many years.
That’s both encouraging…and a touch scary.
Go back to the 1990s, when video games were really hitting their stride after barely surviving a collapse brought about in 1983. Nintendo and SEGA were fighting each other with the SNES and Megadrive consoles, numerous other brands had attempted to carve out their own fiefdom within that field and PlayStation was getting ready to make their own mark amongst audiences with revolutionary technology and games that appealed to the masses.
The setup then, was clear: A TV, a console and physical storage for the games themselves. For decades, that status quo has been intact and will continue to be a major player for years to come, but as Bob Dylan once crooned, the times they are a changing. Digital sales of games are on the rise, the very idea of actually owning a title is now being questioned and subscription models are coming into play.
You don’t have to look far to see these ideas in action: Xbox Game Pass has proven itself and continues to do so, EA’s Access vault dangles early access as a carrot on a stick and physical ownership died out many many years ago on PC when Steam rocked up to upset that apple cart. There’s a resistance to all of this of course, as fans are hesitant to the idea of change and usually argue that ownership of a game will be the first loss in this transition.
News flash: You’re already living in that world. Take a look at your entertainment library right now. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve got a Netflix, Showmax or a Spotify subscription. That’s entertainment anywhere on the go, without you needing to haul a wagon of DVDs and CDs with you. All of those series and albums that you consume? You don’t own that. You never did and I’ve seen few people complain about this evolution in how they consume their media.
For video games, it’s a natural step forward. I personally don’t believe that the loss of a physical library is that bad at all. Sure, the loss of being able to sell a game secondhand might sting, but if we’re moving towards a subscription-based model of gaming then I can easily live without discs in favour of the sheer convenience of having a library at my fingertips.
Hell, I haven’t bought an actual physical game disc in years now. I’m happy to wait for a special, buy what I want and do an overnight download. Again, convenience trumps the pros of physically owning a game in my mind’s eye. And even then, I don’t see modern AAA gaming existing for much longer. If anything, Stadia is proof that the future of video games lies in streaming.
Heck, video games don’t even need to be completed to be made available, just look at titles such as Anthem for proof of this or anything in Steam’s Early Access line-up. With patches, new content and season passes promising a full experience eventually, video games don’t need to be finished to be sold. That brings with it a whole new set of hang-ups, but the idea is there and it is solid.
The point is, is that video games are becoming more than just the hardware that they were locked behind. Accessibility, 24/7 coverage and mainstream appeal are the new highlights of tomorrow as brands seek to break free from the limits that they imposed upon themselves. Google is aiming at launching Stadia on anything that has a screen, Nintendo wants gaming to be mobile and Xbox is more concerned with evolving their brand on to as many platforms as possible as they are on promoting the hardware to play their games on.
For better or for worse, exciting times lie ahead of us. It’s a brave new world out there for video games and for many of us, we didn’t even see it sneak up on us.
Last Updated: March 20, 2019