Last month Ken Levine shocked the gaming world when he announced that he would essentially be dismantling his award winning studio, Irrational Games. Levine stated that he wanted to refocus his efforts and create games that would allow him to have a more direct relationship players. In order to make this transition possible Levine will reportedly be laying off around 90% of the studio's employees in favor of a drastically smaller team. The news is especially shocking considering the recent financial success the studio has had with the release of their critically praised games, Bioshock and Bioshock: Infinite. Although this move has been deemed by Levine as a “return to how we started”, the decision was certainly influenced by his open distaste for developing AAA titles. During his time at the helm of Irrational Games, Levine wasn't shy about voicing his opinions in regards to the creative constraints placed on developers by their publishers.
Unfortunately for the industry, Irrational isn't the only studio we've seen turn its back on console based games in favor of mobile and “indie” development. Nowadays the popularity of indie games has almost surpassed traditional disc based releases. Not only has Steam redefined what it means to be a “developer”, but the accessibility of gaming on tablets and phones has also expanded the industry further. Instead of lengthy production cycles and huge staffs, now teams of three, or even as few as one, are able to publish their own content. Games can now be built out of homes on personal PCs instead of huge studios with start of the art equipment. With low operating costs and a new potential fan base that literally includes everyone with a phone, the choice for some developers is obvious. Titles like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies are two notorious examples of games that have yielded huge profits with low development costs. But with similar games flooding marketplaces on iOS, Android, and Steam, what does it mean for consoles?
Wisely, Microsoft and Sony have also capitalized on the indie game craze through their own respective marketplaces, but disc based game may be another story. In recent years the debate about the longevity of disc based games has grown due to the increasing popularity of Steam and resurgence of PC gaming in the mainstream. Now with mobile games fighting for their place in the spotlight, is appears disc based games may be more at risk. Despite the competition, the recent release of the PS4 and Xbox One, indicates that it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing console games going anywhere soon. Both media giants have also unsurprisingly revealed plans to continue building new hardware for future releases. Even as PC games have edged their way to the forefront of the pack, the technology of the nextgen consoles now surpasses even the best gaming rigs. And for the price, consoles are still the best option for enjoying the incredible graphics of the next wave of gaming.
However, that doesn't mean that console games aren't on the verge of being dethroned. Cross-platform releases have become the standard these days, spanning across consoles and PC. Developing for multiple platforms ensures higher sales for studios and publishers so we’re starting to see fewer titles solely available on consoles. In fact, the majority of the games that are console only these days are because they’re console specific. Microsoft and Sony have employed their own studios to develop content specific to their systems in order to compete with one another. This strategy has been great for boosting sales for the various consoles in the past, but it has isolated players in some respect. Many gamers aren't willing to drop the large chunk of change required to purchase both systems so they have to decide which bandwagon to jump on. Fans that decide to congregate under Sony’s banner are treated to franchises like Uncharted and inFAMOUS, while Microsoft’s followers get to bask in Halo and Titanfall.
While the divide gives birth to “fanboys” and feudal disputes over which console offers better games, it also turns some players into the embracing arms of PCs and their wide range of content. In a perfect world all content would be available to all players, but seeing as how the video game industry is the most lucrative entertainment outlet in the world, it seems that the all mighty dollar will continue to drive the decisions made by most developers and their publishers. But as the popularity of PC gaming and Steam continues to grow, I wouldn't be surprised to see somewhat of an alliance form between Sony and Microsoft. In the future, it’s entirely possible that the two media juggernauts will have to combine forces to fight back against the surging PC wave. Maybe then, instead of seeing “PlayStation Exclusive” branded on titles, we’d see a collaborative effort between the two that would give way to all content being available on all consoles. Until that day comes though, gamers will have to continue to watch helplessly as exclusive content hits the various systems with the hopes that one day we’ll get to play in a truly encompassing, multi-platform world.