Video games are all about progression. Whether it’s the progression through a game, the building of a particular skillset within a particular gaming world, or the progression of the games themselves, moving forward is always high on the agenda.
And so, I came into this latest generation expecting to see the next leap. The progression. But I found little to shout about. We are now over a year in, and still, my jaw has yet to be dropped by anything happening on screen. I had previously felt the forward momentum stalled during the time of PS4 and Xbox One, and early indicators for PS5 and the Xbox Series of consoles did nothing to change my mind. Until they did.
It turned out there was progression and it had happened right under my nose, I had simply been looking in the wrong place.
The momentum didn’t happen on the screen. It happened in the way we console gamers had allowed the waves of digital downloads to gently wash over us until we became completely immersed in this initially abhorrent way to acquire our console games. It was suddenly the norm. A new dawn had risen and I hadn’t even truly noticed. Perhaps I was so dazzled by what Xbox Game Pass and PS Now could offer that I didn’t even think about the fact it had been a cool year or more since I was last in a store considering purchasing a physical copy of a game. But that is the truth of it.
There had been progression, perhaps more so in the last two years than at any time ever before.
This wasn’t just a graphical leap, this was a momentous stealth attack that had taken me entirely by surprise. I gasped in 2006 when I jumped over the wall into the graveyard in Call of Duty 3 on the Xbox 360. The next time I became floored in a similar way was when I looked in disbelief at the content being offered by Sony and Microsoft in their respective packages. And all for what amounts price-wise to purchasing a handful of physical games over the course of twelve months. It’s staggering.
There has been a huge shift in the landscape for console gamers. On-demand games and disc-free action make the cogs in this new world turn. And the subscription services rule it.
Three years ago I was a fully-fledged sceptic where digital games were concerned.
How can I not hold a physical copy in my hands? Not see them lined neatly on the bookshelves? Not inhale the new game manual scent? But now here I am, and without even realising, my whole outlook on games purchases has been altered in much the same way Spotify changed my music listening habits.
I wonder on occasion how it all impacts the studios, the artists and creators?
Do they struggle to stay afloat in these uncharted waters? And I ponder am I now part of the problem when another studio goes to the wall? I probably didn’t purchase their game, I likely played it on a subscription to Xbox or PlayStation. And I also wonder if games suffer from impatience in the player when they haven’t shelled out for it and so many more games are sitting in wait ready to step into the limelight for a few minutes? Not every game is immediately vital. But on Game Pass and PS Now if the game isn’t getting the juices flowing in the opening few minutes, what the hell, shut it down and boot up another. It’s not like I spent on it. How many gems have I missed because of my own desire to play something else and the sheer number of games being offered? These are weird times.
Why are Xbox Game Pass and PS Now so popular anyway?
I honestly think this is down to a combination of ‘cult of the new’ and quantity ruling quality. To go on a mini-tangent momentarily, I am a big fan of board games. Stay with me. I had amassed a collection that sat north of 200 games when I had to admit to myself that in some respects the joy of getting something new and building a collection had overtaken the actual playing of the things.
I believe this is the same fuel that powers Game Pass and PS Now. We amass an instant collection of games and we are gifted new stuff on a regular basis. Back when a game purchase required some due diligence and research before any cold hard cash changed hands we would forever seek the quality. Now, we drop our sub money every month and get showered with stuff that ticks the boxes of ‘cult of the new’ and the cult of collecting. Quality? Hey, that’s just an added bonus that has stopped meaning what it once did.
It’s a great time to be a gamer. And from some perspectives, an awful one. We gained a lot when these packages launched, but we also began to lose something. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t embracing all that Game Pass offers, but as I mentioned, it tips its hat to two cults I’ve already been a part of, and know deep down will always remain a part of. I can understand those who love physical products, but then maybe that’s another cult? Who knows?
All I do know is that the whole thing points towards an interesting future for console gaming. Right now, if MS or Sony were to deliver me a Netflix style on-demand service that guaranteed smooth connection I might not buy another game ever again. And that’s pretty sad. But, perhaps it is also inevitable.