Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A history of computer games, part three: 2000s

Halo from Bungie and Microsoft
And so we reach the 2000s and the sixth and seventh generation of video game consoles. The first release of the generation was the Dreamcast which had limited success and was quickly superseded by the hugely anticipated Playstation 2. Nintendo followed a year later with the GameCube, their first disc based console. While the GameCube did well it was hindered by its lack of third-part games and reputation for being a 'kids console' lacking the mature games the market wanted. 2002 saw the release of the Xbox and Microsoft's entry into the console market. In order to get a hold on the market Microsoft sold the console at a loss and concentrated drawing profit from game development and publishing. Shortly after it's release Halo was launched on the Xbox, instantly becoming its driving point and later becoming one of the most successful console shooter series's of all time.

Throughout the early 2000s console gaming largely continued the established trend towards increasingly complex and adult orientated game play. Most of the successful games of the time were aimed towards more mature players, including many now classic gaming franchises like Halo and Resident Evil. Even Nintendo, which had mainly been aimed at a younger audience, began publishing more mature games, with Capcom's Resident Evil 4 being a good example.

Other noteworthy changes in the industry during the early 2000s was the rise of online and mobile gaming. As affordable broadband spread many game publishers turned to online gaming as a way of advancing. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) featured mainly on the PC and included hugely successful games such as; World of Warcraft (which I've spent far to many hours of my life on ¬.¬), Everquest and Ultima Online. Every console since the Dreamcast has had the ability to support an Internet connection or has had the option available as an add-on. Microsoft's Xbox also had its own online gaming service called Xbox Live which has been and still is a huge success today. With huge advancements in Mobile phone technology, mobile gaming had been able to develop quickly and has a massive market with game apps making up more than half of sales through Apple's app store!

Mobile Gaming on the Iphone

And now we reach the big 3....The consoles most of us will own, play and love and the moment right now, the PS3, 360 and Wii.
The console war

Microsoft were first to enter the shinny new seventh generation of consoles with the Xbox 360 in 2005. Sony followed in 2007 with their black monster, the Playstation 3! The launch of the consoles brought a whole new standard of technology and stunning graphics. Both consoles featured high definition graphics, large hard disc storage, integrated networking and an online gameplay and sales platform. At launch the new consoles were the first of their kind to challenge PCs in power, but for a significantly lower price tag.
Nintendo released their next console, the Wii, shortly after the PS3 and it put Nintendo back into the console race. While the Wii had a lower technical spec than its competitors it was cheaper and was based around a new and novel gaming experience using motion control to play. Many gamers, publishers, and analysts initially dismissed the Wii as an underpowered curiosity, but were surprised as the console sold out through the 2006 Christmas season, and remained so through the next 18 months, becoming the fastest selling game console in most of the world's gaming markets.

Wii's take on motion control gaming, at first shunned by many gamers, suddenly changed the way we interact with games and was later picked up by both Microsoft and Sony who later made Kinect and Playstation Move. This forever impacted the way games can be played and allows players to become much more involved with games., leading to a rise in sports/fitness games.
With technology standards rising the quality of games went with it and expectations for visuals within games rocketed. Our games were becoming increasingly complicated and visually stunning but all this meant development costs for developers increased massively.  While many game studios saw their Xbox 360 projects pay off, the unexpected weakness of PS3 sales resulted in heavy losses for some developers, and many publishers broke previously arranged PS3 exclusivity arrangements or cancelled PS3 game projects entirely in order to cut losses. Game development on a seventh generation console needs a budget of around $10 million or more and it was estimated in 2005 that around only 80 games a year make a profit.

What does this mean? Huge losses for companies in the gaming industry. Even big companies like Sony and THQ are losing money by the bucket load because it just costs too much to develop games and too many don't do as well as they should. This isn't great news for us budding game artists, the companies we might one day hope to work for and steadily going down the drain, unless something changes. The industry has reached somewhat of a stalemate. It has constantly been changing and improving for decades, but it has reached a point where it can't afford to go any further and is on the cusp of becoming completely unsustainable. Improvement is no longer on the menu,so what is?
Despite hardships most companies are still in the mood for hiring people,thankfully, and maybe, just maybe the gaming industry will still be here in a few years when we're all going to be looking for a job in it.
Companies are going to want the best of us, because they won't be able to afford just anyone.
They won't employ just anyone.
I won't become just anyone.
The industry and games really excite me and I'm going to make sure that if its hiring when I finish my degree I'm going to get my place in it.

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