May 22, 2022

The Eighth Generation – More Revolutionary Than You Thought?

Was this last generation just a slight improvement or something more revolutionary?

The Eighth Generation of consoles is coming to a close with the PS5 & Xbox Series X/S. So we ask – was it more revolutionary than you thought? Have you heard someone say what’s the point of the next generation? It’s just a few graphical upgrades. Nothing ground-breaking. Nothing has really changed. If that’s you, then this article is here to tell you why you are WRONG.

The times they are a changing, according to Bob Dylan but he is getting on and is no double shielding in a nice big house. In his absence, we are going to give you an overview of some of the momentous and more importantly, positive things that have happened this generation. This isn’t to ignore the shenaningans that have crept into the biz in the last 7 years – the monetization, gambling mechanics, EA, exclusivity deals and all that. Maybe we’ll write these up at a later date.

Instead, we are here to argue that rather than just offering up a few graphical tweaks and sexier speeds, this generation has seen some revolutionary changes in the gaming landscape. Perhaps enough to make this generation one of the biggest leaps in gaming history. Don’t believe us? Check out the below:

Virtual Reality

Ok, we know that VR is not for everyone. There are a few barriers to entry. It is expensive. Some people get motion sickness from it. Developers are still learning what does and doesn’t work. If, and we stress this is a big if, you can get past these teething issues, it is hard to refute that VR hasn’t broadened the gaming landscape.

Speaking as someone who tried early 1990’s relics like the Virtual Boy and the old VR arcades, VR was always a dream that never quite materialised. Until now. In this generation, console and PC players were offered VR gaming experiences that actually worked.

There are some truly excellent gaming experiences on VR. I mean, the Vive has a new Half Life Game in Alyx. What else? Beat Saber, SuperHot VR, Tetris Effect, Robo Recall are all great games. There have been some successful VR conversions like Borderlands 2, Skyrim and Fallout 4. Sony have also done an admirable job with some investment in games such as Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Resident Evil 7 VR mode and Blood and Truth.

We aren’t of the mindset that VR, at least in the immediate future, will replace traditional gaming. It is still very niche and gosh darned expensive. With that said, the first time we tried a VR headset and got stuck into a game, it felt like an entirely new way to play and… well we haven’t felt that way since shot our mates up the arse in Goldeneye.

VR is real, and with prices coming down all the time, increasingly affordable for the average gamer. More importantly, this is a brand-new gaming experience. If you can handle it, we’d recommend trying it.

Indie Explosion

BUT wait, indie games have been around for years. They aren’t just an 8th generation phenomenon you cretin! What about Super Meat Boy? Braid? Fez? All those other games from Indie Game: The Movie? Well, yes. Indie games are nothing new. If you want to go far enough back, indie games have a proud history going back to the 80’s on home computers.

We agree. Only now, indie has edged towards the gaming mainstream. It’s hard to find good stats on the indie market, given the various platforms and so on but indie games have dominated many Game of the Year awards, streamer content and become huge platforms in and of themselves.

Some people look down on indie games still, lamenting their lower budget or style. But for many they represent a refreshing change from the norm. An independent game can take more risks, can target smaller markets and demographics and ultimately not need to appeal to the masses in quite the same way as a AAA game.

Everybody loves Hades

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t blockbuster indie games out there. Rocket League, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Stardew Valley, Hollow Knight, Dead Cells have all sold by the bucketload in comparison to their respective budgets. 2020 has been dominated by Fall Guys and Among Us. There are a lot of critical darlings too. We’d put money on Hades becoming this years GOTY come December. In fact, we might make that bet now.

Ultimately, we can see the position of indie games becoming an increasing part of the gaming landscape. Need proof? Both Microsoft and Sony featured independent games on their new console launch announcements. Nintendo regularly hosts a pre-recorded ‘Nindies’ video on upcoming independent games on the Switch. Independent Game Festivals are becoming larger and more popular (when they aren’t cancelled due to a global pandemic).

Yes, with indie games come shovelware and asset flips, yes being indie doesn’t mean good. As Steam and the Nintendo E-Shop can attest too, maybe the market is becoming a little TOO saturated. Even with that, independent games have become a more dominant part of the gaming landscape. As they say, variety is the splice of rice. Or something.

A generation of hardware innovation?

With the PS1 and N64 it was 3D landscapes. With the PS2 it was bigger + better (and DVD players). In the 7th Generation it was motion controls. It is safe to say that every generation has something, but the 8th generation has seen some serious innovation in the hardware space.

Let’s talk Nintendo Switch. Portable gaming is nothing new. Nintendo have been the king for years (honourable mention to Sony for the successful PSP and criminally let down Vita) but the Switch changed things up. A console that could was strong enough to play Nintendo style AAA games on the big telly and then be taken portably.

Like all good ideas, it seems so simple now, but wow does it work. There was something truly special about playing Skyrim for the 400th time in my bed while the wife was snoring next to me. The little console lacks horsepower but it has some cracking titles and was pitched at an affordable price point. Again, Nintendo manages to give something new to the gaming space.

Sexy Upgrades

This was the generation of iterative consoles as well. PC players (rightfully) have lamented the limitations of console generations for many a year. That hasn’t necessarily changed but both Sony and Microsoft took some note. The PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S and X each provided hardware updates mid generation to take advantage of slightly beefier consoles.

Yes, all games were designed to work on base models, but for those wanting near 4K and HDR, this was more than just a slimmed down or colour change. Players could get better performance if they upgraded. The move was controversial when announced in 2016 – many gamers were worried they would be locked out, but Microsoft and Sony managed to produce beefier consoles that sold well to a niche of players.

What does this mean for the future? Well it seems mid generation updates are now going to be the norm. Microsoft seem to be pivoting to more iterative console updates, like an iPhone rather than long leaps. Even Sony, still dedicated to generations, are likely to push a Pro version of the PS5. Heck Nintendo are rumoured to be releasing an upgrade to the Switch in the coming year. For those wanting cutting edge performance on a console, it seems you aren’t just locked to a generation anymore.

Cloud Gaming

We know this is going to be controversial. We aren’t even saying it is a good thing for consumers. Cloud gaming might also be on our list of not so good things to come out of the 8th generation but… [shrugs]. The promise of gaming in the cloud, meaning you don’t need a big ole computer box has been a dream for some time.

Services like OnLive and Gaikai tried late last generation to make cloud gaming work and Sony and Nvidia were first out of the gate with PS Now and GeForce Now but were met with initial tepid response. That is changing. Google Stadia and Microsoft Xcloud (now part of Gamepass) have launched and work.

Lagging…

They need a good internet connection. There is some lag. Most mobile/cell data plans will be eaten in seconds if you try and stream games. All pales into insignificance when you can now be playing a game on your Xbox One, attach a controller to the phone and carry on playing anywhere you can get good signal.

Obviously, publishers/platform holders want players playing digitally as they control rights etc. (as said, not all of it is good) but really, we are at the precipice of hardware becoming less of an issue as we move forward. We are a long way from cloud taking over but when it does, it started here folks! Another eighth generation revolution!

Free To Play

When I was a wee lad, I got two or maybe three games a year. One for birthday, Christmas and possibly from the Toys R Us bargain bin (Timelord on NES, looking straight at ya). The point is, games can be expensive. Enter the free to play model and subscription services. Again, free to play existing on mobile before the start of this generation but it was this gen that established it as a viable release strategy. Proof? Fortnite made $1.8 billion in 2019 ALONE. Seriously though, Warframe, Fortnite, Apex Legends, COD: Warzone… all huge industry games, all have a zero-cost barrier to entry.

That’s right – a kid with no money and a half decent PC or console can join in these games and get hours and hours of entertainment for free. Yes, there is monetization and they make a ton of money. It could be argued they are also predatory in how they earn that money. It can’t be argued that their pricing model is not the main reason why these games top the most played games lists each month. What a change from having to shell out $60 for a base game.

Subscription services

Time to also mention subscription services. Netflix. Amazon Prime Video, Spotify etc. all shook up the media landscape in the last ten years and publishers/platform holders have taken note. Sony and Microsoft have subscription services running with PS Now and Gamepass for several years now. Apple has launched a gaming service. EA has too, plus other smaller services, like Humble on PC. This is attractive to those running it – a monthly subscription is guaranteed revenue, better equipped to withstand a flop or bad game than traditional releases.

For the consumer, it represents a lot of new games regularly for an affordable price. Microsoft has now based their entire strategy on pushing their Gamepass platform. We have concerns about choice and game ownership of course, but it is hard to argue that Gamepass does not offer great value for money and has really changed the gaming landscape.

The days of traditional game ownership and distribution are going the way of the dodo.

Gaming is about more than playing games.

Twitch launched in 2011 but it was really with the 8th generation that game streaming became mainstream in a way that couldn’t be imagined when it launched. There are superstar streamers that pull in more global viewers than most TV shows. https://www.theloadout.com/streamers/biggest-streamers As well as play games, people want to engage in communities and watch others play. Anyone can do it and get an audience. Marketers now seek streamers to promote their games rather than traditional means of promotion. Among Us, a game released in 2018 has hit top player lists because it became popular with streamers.

On top of streaming, E-Sports has also been expanding steadily in both size and value to the industry. A pre Covid assessment of E-Sports value place it at nearly $1.1 billion dollars revenue for 2020 with a nearly yearly rise of 15.7%. Games are now becoming more and more established as sports and they can draw as large an audience as some mainstream sports.

Politicians get in on it…

As streaming and E-Sports grow, we can see gaming really break out into the larger world in a way never before seen. Gaming and the games industry regularly feature in the mainstream press and media like never before. US Politician and House of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines when she went on Twitch to stream her playing Among Us with other streamers and even drop ins from other Democrat politicians. Can you imagine a politician jumping on Street Fighter 2 for election purposes back in the day?

Gaming over the last generation has expanded – in the UK the industry revenue accounts to half of all entertainment revenue made. Grand Theft Auto V, a video game, is the most profitable entertainment product EVER. This generation, with the proliferation of streaming, sports and an expansion of the industry has seen video games become possibly the most culturally significant entertainment medium globally.

Did we also mention that Any Button Gaming do Twitch streams? Check us out every Monday and Weds!

Talk about a revolution…

Like it or loath it, gaming has changed incredibly over the last generation. If you argue that the games themselves just get prettier graphics or slight incremental updates to gameplay then you are missing the scope of what gaming has become. We have new ways to play, be it in VR or with updating hardware. For the first time, technology is here that can fulfil the promise of playing anywhere. The games industry is expanding and producing more unique titles. Access to those games has become easier and cheaper for a lot of people.

When people look back at video games history, the eighth generation will be seen as revolutionary. For all its problems, it is an exciting time to be a gamer. How do you feel about the changes in the industry? Will the eight generation be held up as a time of monumental change or sink quicker than the Ouja? Let us know below!


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