Throughout time, the rise of great empires has always coincided with a creative renaissance in art, architecture or technology. What has that got to do with contemporary gaming? Bear with me, I will get to that in a minute.
Looking back at 2012, I think it is fair to say that it was one of the most unremarkable gaming years in recent history. At the same time, 2012 may also prove a pivotal year for an industry that has in recent years been dominated by consoles. PC gaming is stronger than ever before and several developments contribute to what may be a bright future for our favorite platform.
The industry appears to be holding its breath, waiting to exhale only when Sony and Microsoft finally release their new consoles. Nintendo’s WiiU failed to spark the console industry’s fire as core gamers largely ignored it. And who can blame them after having been neglected by Nintendo for so long? Trust, as they say, comes by foot and leaves by horse. Nintendo has a long way to go before gamers will flock to their console offerings again. On the handheld side, things do not look particularly positive either. While the 3DS appears to be fairly healthy, strong competition from mobile devices and a not-too-rosy economy have resulted in a less than stellar launch for the Playstation Vita. It is too early to call the platform a failure, but Sony will have to call all hands if they want to turn the tide.
There is sufficient evidence and hype that leads one to believe that Sony and Microsoft will succeed with their upcoming consoles. However, I do subscribe to the increasingly popular idea that the next console round may well prove to be the last - at least for core gaming. Consoles are destined to become ‘Living Room Entertainment Devices’ without any special focus on gaming. You can ask Nintendo what happens when you lose focus on core gamers and go casual instead.
In the meantime, things are looking up on the PC side of gaming. Over the last year, even the staunchest console veterans in the industry have made remarks along the lines of “there’s a lot of creativity in PC gaming”, and they are right. Services like Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight have given Indie developers new ways to fund and market their games and we have seen some real gems come out of that corner of the gaming industry.
But perhaps an even more interesting development for PC gaming is that some of the biggest names in the industry are prying themselves loose from the grasps of the big publishers. They are using crowd funding to fuel the games that - they - want to make, rather than the ones that their publishers would like them to make. Even better, some of the ‘presumed lost’ gaming celebrities are returning for similar reasons. Obsidian Entertainment Kickstarted their party-based RPG with a cool four million in funding. Chris Roberts, of Wing Commander fame, returned to gaming with two million in his pocket to make a new space epic. David Braben is finally making a sequel to Elite. Peter Molyneux is going back to his roots making the God game he has been aching to make for years.
Interestingly, all of these projects revolve around genres that the big publishers deem unworthy. When is the last time you saw a space trading/combat simulator coming out of Electronic Arts? And when was the last time you played a God game? Catch my drift?
I still remember 2K Games saying that the decision to make the new XCOM a shooter was because “turn-based strategy games aren’t contemporary”. I am sure they are regretting those words now that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is selling like hotcakes on Steam and is likely to feature prominently in every game of the year award, including our own. The XCOM shooter, in the mean time, shows every sign of being vaporware. If anything, XCOM: Enemy Unknown shows that digital distribution is the great equalizer, providing an eco-system where genres that the big publishers won’t give the light of day with a place to thrive.
To get back to my opening line, the great empires of old stimulated creativity across the board, funding scientists, artists and architects to do things no one had done before. It would seem to me that we - the crowd - are the empire that is funding gaming’s greatest minds to excel and to innovate in gaming, and PC gaming in particular. The PC gaming renaissance may seem to be in full swing, but it has only just begun.
Sergio Brinkhuis, Editor in Chief