While the world tries to solve the whole coronavirus situation, governments put in and cancel different measures trying to reduce the effects of the world pandemic the gaming industry is standing in the shadows and silently cheering. You might think I am too cynical but it is true.
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The majority of games nowadays are sold digitally so quarantines do not affect the gaming industry much. People who are forced to sit at home are desperate for entertainment and digital content – which obviously includes video games that are perfect for this. Even the development of games isn't affected as much as other industries. A vast majority of people in the gaming industry can easily do their job from home and while they need to discuss about what to do with their games – that can be easily done over a video-call.
Let's face the facts – the gaming industry is safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why many gaming companies are actively participating in support of measures against it. Plus, we just got information about the Playstation 5 and the new Xbox or how Epic is becoming a publisher. Even the big gaming events that would seemingly be affected such as E3 are just gonna be replaced with streams and most people will not give a damn. So, while society at large might feel like we are coming to the next dark age – the gaming industry lives and evolves. Well, unless the Internet and electricity shuts down.
Coronavirus Era Gaming Industry
Everybody is sitting at home, watching their favorite movies and series but otherwise doing nothing… right? No. Surveys tell us that the reservations many gaming companies had against people working from their homes was a flawed position. There really hadn't been any big-name studios saying their games are going to be postponed.
The opposite seems to be the case, the majority of gaming studios say how they moved their employees home – including the hardware – to allow them to continue working. And it seems to be working. When and if it will work like this for a few months... maybe then things will be different but so far everyone seems to be figuring out that they really do not need to be in their offices. Maybe it isn't fair – other industries are certainly suffering – but some industries just seem to be better suited for a global pandemic.
Obviously, not everything is just rosy. We already mentioned the canceled conventions and conferences and that is sad. Personal contact is the best especially when it comes to making contacts among developers, marketers, publishers, and the public. But even then the current situation is only forcing the gaming industry to figure out new ways and formats that will make it evolve further. For example, many of the big guys of the industry are now planning to do big streams such as Nintendo does with its Direct. And yes, these things have been common for years now, but now they will become mainstream not only for the public but even the press will have to do just with digital access to news.
This could potentially change the gaming media towards even small YouTubers and Streamers having more of an impact as now they do not have to compete against the big guys who have the added benefit of having people on site who can provide direct interviews with the developers, publishers, etc. etc. We will have to wait and see whether it will impact the gaming media and if it will then how much.
Sony and Microsoft finally announced the specs for their upcoming consoles – the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X. Both companies decided to go for the same type of CPU – the AMD Zen 2 and for the same type of GPU – AMD RNDA 2 just at different clocks and slightly different architectures. But both companies claim their solutions are custom made for their needs. But even a similar type of RAMs and disks are used. Just the sizes are different here. It almost feels like someone at AMD managed to sell the same thing to both of them and now is getting a huge bonus.
But let's stop teasing. Yes, both the new Xbox and the new Playstation are coming this year. But, something is very different compared to previous new console generations. Previously, whenever a new console generation came out it was a true game-changer. But because both Sony and Microsoft decided to adopt the x86 architecture this is no longer the case. So, instead of a revolution, we will be getting more of an evolution.
And this is good! It means we do not have deal with strange things as old games do not work on new hardware just because the core architecture is different. It also means that games should mostly be easily ported between PCs, Playstations, and Xboxes.
But if that is the case, what exactly is the selling point of the new consoles? Well, probably price to performance ratio probably. So far, it seems the new Xbox will be a smidge more powerful than the Playstation 5 but without having both consoles in hand that doesn't really mean anything. Until we get to see, hear and mostly play the first games purposely built for these consoles, games that fully utilize their capabilities it is all just speculation.
EPIC Returns To Its Roots
The Last Guardian, Limbo, Control… what is the common thread among these games? Seemingly nothing – the first is an action-adventure game from genDesign – a studio that previously made games exclusively for Sony consoles. Limbo is a puzzle-platformer from Playdead that kept itself independent. And Control is an action-adventure game from Remedy who were really closely tied to Microsoft. But all three of these studios (and likely many more that weren't announced publicly yet) is now connected to Epic Games.
Epic Games… this truly immortal gaming company that exists since the days of shareware and that made its marks in gaming with the Unreal engine or for the younger ones among you – Fortnite has recently taken a different path. This path lies in the Epic Games Store which is the newest attempt at changing the core paradigm of the PC gaming digital distribution. And so far, it seems they are doing well. They launched their attack with exclusive games and even free games for anyone. So far, there are still in red numbers but who knows, maybe they will be the ones who will take the reigns that were (and are) held by Valve and its Steam for so long.
Epic Games has thus entered the world of publishing games. Now, Epic will no longer only develop, sell, and run its own games. They are also going to be publishing games for other developers. If they like the game idea you came up with, they will literally pay for its development, testing, marketing, and sales. And not only on the Epic Games Store. Also on Steam, on the Playstation Network, on the Switch… everywhere.
Right now, the way Epic is presenting this actually sounds decent. Once, the sales of the game pay for the development and marketing then 50 % of the profit goes to the creators of the game. If you know a bit about the industry, this may sound worse than the deal you get on Steam where Valve takes 30 % of the profit. But remember, on Steam you paid for the development while on the Epic Story you got paid to make the game. This is an awesome way for new game creators that have the ideas and skills but do not have the money. But there is a catch to this. Epic will in exchange for publishing the game take the rights to your game.
Everything sounds great right now, but now Epic is a new contender on the field of digital distribution of games. They want to grow and thus are promising the world to potential partners. But if they get big enough things will likely change. More ways of monetizing your games will be forced into them. Less profits going to the creators. These and likely more things will change in the future as Epic will grow from mostly a game creating studio into almost exclusively a game publishing company.
Warranty Doesnt Mean Warranty
Here in Europe you automatically have 14 days to return stuff you bought online but you figured out you do not want. Just send it back undamaged in the original packaging. Plus, again automatically, you have 1 or 2 years of warranty on the vast majority of goods if they break without you causing it. But all that only works for physical goods.
So, what do you do with digital goods that are broken or do not provide the functions claimed it would provide? Here we get on thin ice. Especially when it comes to digital media. Yes, there is the obvious technical stuff where the game might not even run or be so broken that it is literally unplayable. Here even digital warranty is an easy decision. But there is also the “artsy” part of games. What if the game promised it would look amazing and you do not like it? What if the game promised amazing music and you find it disgusting? What if you are just bored with a game because you expected something different? That is much a harder egg to crack.
Valve took a pretty decent road. Some years back Valve introduced the option to return a game if you haven't played more than two hours of it and it has been less than 14 days since you bought it. And people seem to be okay with it. So, Epic copied it. While especially small indie studios were initially afraid of this – as their games are often very short – the system seems to be working and very few people try to abuse it. But now (or more precisely very recently) GOG.com came with an incredible 30 days no-questions-asked warranty. It doesn't matter whether you downloaded the game. Whether you played it. Or even whether you finished it. If you put in a request you get your money back. All with just a plea from GOG that its users please do not abuse it.
This seriously turned heads. Developers, especially the independent ones who often do publish on GOG were and are scared. And rightfully so. These developers weren't informed about this – GOG just one day came out and told the whole world. And what will gamers do in the situation when they can download game that has no digital copyright protection and play it and just request their money back is a big question. Will gamers prove to be ethical and only do it when something is truly bad with the game? Or will they on mass just buy and “return” games? Only time will tell.
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