Console games are in rude health. Get on board or GTFO

Friday, 20 June 2014 12:10 GMT By Matt Martin

We saw the future of video gaming at E3 2014. Get your ticket, lets ride to Console Town. Choo! Choo!

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“Apart from that weird bit in the middle of the PS4 conference where real-life Comic Book Guy went off script, we were slapped around the face constantly by high quality, confident video games.”

I came away from E3 2014 feeling rich. I’d hoped Microsoft and Sony were going to step up and prove that the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 have a viable, fun future. That video gaming as an entertainment medium in the home was capable of living another five years.

I came away more than convinced by Microsoft and Sony’s showing, as well as the other publishers on the show floor. I was even a little surprised by Nintendo stepping back into the arena. If 2013 was a false start, 2014 was proof that the blockbuster console business is back on track. The return of the popular franchises, the debut of new IP, a little sprinkling of indie and the resurrection of old favourites. Console is as strong as it ever was.

Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, Destiny, Advanced Warfare, The Witcher 3, GTA V (again), Uncharted 4, No Man’s Sky, FIFA 15, Bloodborne and much, much more. These are the games that keep the heart of the console industry pumping. The publishers and the console manufacturers are back on their feet after a scrappy couple of years, they’ve recouped and they’re coming out swinging.

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The criticism is that it’s more of the same old thing. Sequels and men with guns and fast cars and goblin-punching and sports and violence and explosions and space exploration. You’re right, it is more of the same. It’s always been this. This is console gaming. There’s quirky titles in there and experiments and cool little apps but no one buys a PS4 for Guacamelee Super Turbo Whatever Edition, or to listen to music or to watch streaming videos. We come for the games and we take all the other stuff as we see fit. This should not be a surprise to anybody.

E3 was almost universally games. Apart from that weird bit in the middle of the PS4 conference where real-life Comic Book Guy went off script, we were slapped around the face constantly by high quality, confident video games. Games that aren’t afraid to be video games and aren’t trying to be something else.

And one of the highlights of the show was the fact that the players who aren’t invited to E3 got a real taste of it. The Battlefield Hardline beta and the Destiny alpha that journalists and the rest of the industry played on the show floor were exactly the same as the ones you downloaded and played on your consoles. Regardless of what you think of them, how’s that for confidence?

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“The Battlefield Hardline beta and the Destiny alpha that journalists played on the show floor were exactly the same as the ones you downloaded and played on your consoles.”

When publishers decided to thin out their portfolios to just a handful of games a couple of years ago, it was the right thing to do. There were less games on the show floor but they were of much higher quality, they were much more memorable. Queues for some of the biggest games were never overwhelmingly massive, likewise meetings never ran too late. Games were being played and business was being done. E3 is much healthy now it’s lost some weight.

You can’t complain that it was dominated by the big boys either. Deep Silver is clearly focused on becoming top tier, and it has a few decent titles with which to punch above its weight in Dead Island and Metro. I’m not so convinced by the return of Home Front, but time will tell.

Devolver Digital is trying to straddle the line between indie cool and mainstream success, but it looks to be courting the console business because it knows where the real money is, which is why its collection of games is perhaps getting too bloaty too quickly. Regardless, it’s a company with some good games and everyone seems to be having a lot of fun.

It turns out you can have fun with video games. Who knew?

Even Nintendo got partly involved this year. It’s first person squirter Splatoon is acknowledgement that – hey! these kids like shooting things! – even if its cute execution will leave it doomed to sell less copies than the PunchOut remake everyone begged for a few years back.

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And how about Zelda? If it’s not a simple hack-n-slash in Hyrule Warriors it’s an open world action role-playing game for Zelda on Wii U. We’ve had hundreds of those in the past but when Nintendo does its own version of Skyrim everyone loses their shit. Good on them, I’ll play it too, it looks hot. And what else did Nintendo push out? Mario Maker. The kind of level editor that’s been available for years, even on console. But this is modern thinking for Nintendo, give it another couple of years and it will have caught up with 2012 trends.

“Publishers aren’t making a game just for you. Feedback through beta tests is important and it does make a difference, but it’s feedback about the game in progress, the one made by the big corporation.”

I might come across as sarcastic (really?) but this is what the console business is built on and I love it. And clearly, the gamers do too.

They keep coming back for it, whether it’s new franchises like Watch Dogs or the return of who’s-your-daddy Master Chief. There’s even newer stuff too, and while I’d expect Sunset Overdrive to live as long in our hearts as Auto Assault, I absolutely applaud Insomniac’s shoot-and-skate mash-up for breathing life into older, seemingly outdated ideas.

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The only fly in the ointment is virtual reality. We’ve only just jettisoned motion controls from games, let’s not get distracted with novelty at a time when everyone should be doubling down on high production values elsewhere. VR has got niche written all over it, and niche doesn’t live long in a living room.

But this is it. For the next three years, if not more. This is the future of the console game business. I roll my eyes at those who roll their eyes at that. What do you want? Publishers aren’t making a game just for you. Feedback through alpha and beta tests is important and it does make a difference, but it’s feedback about the game in progress, the one made by the big corporation. This isn’t Kickstarter, thankfully.

The future of console games is as simple a concept as incredible graphics or something as complex as seamless multiplayer. It’s Destiny, it’s Advanced Warfare, it’s FIFA.

The future of console games is exploration in worlds you’ve not yet seen. It’s The Witcher, it’s No Man’s Sky, it’s Zelda Wii U. The content of video games isn’t going to change. It’s conflict and story and winning and wonder.

Accept and enjoy it for what it is. This is console video gaming.

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