Now that the amazing three day extravaganza that is PAX east is over I have spent some time thinking about what I saw while I was there, and nearly as important, what I didn’t see.
This was my first year attending the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston, and I can tell you without hesitation that it won’t be my last. I brought my wife and children with me and all four of us had a great time walking the floor, checking out the new and exciting world of gaming and nerdiness, but what excited me most was imagining the world of gaming that my two children might see. Everything from hearing people cheer for League of Legends tournaments across the expo floor, to seeing groups of girls who were there as gamers and just as excited as their XY chromosome counterparts, and gamers who were old enough to be my parents all were clear evidence that the face of gaming is changing.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I re-examined my time at PAX and thought about what it was saying about the future of gaming, and where the industry is headed, and where it might be when my kids are old enough to play.
When I started writing this article, I wanted to talk about the announcements that came out of PAX and after a few minutes of looking through my pictures and trying to remember, the majority of what I remembered was PC, or mobile news. I went online and tried to look up anything from the consoles, but besides the announcement of Ducktales and Dungeons & Dragons remakes, there was not much. The three consoles all had a presence, and new games to play, but there was nothing that made me jump into line and wait. In fact one of the biggest announcements was a console game (XCOM: Enemy Unknown) being ported to the iOS ecosystem as a full game.
Before the comments light up, I understand that we are at the strange point where the next generations of consoles has started, but not everyone is in the race just yet. Sony has announced the PS4, but with absolutely nothing to show for it at the expo, you would never know. Microsoft is still playing its cards close to its chest and said nothing beyond developers mentioning that they would be making games for the next generation of consoles. Nintendo, with its head start, did announce that the much loved Deus Ex will be coming to its console, and to their credit had lots of demos out for people to see, but no talk of what was next.
The lack of any “excitement” from the console makers is even worse when you consider what is happening that is outside their control.
The Decline of the Television
According to the Nielson Television Audience Report  the number of television households is dropping, and the number of televisions per household is starting to level out. But the amount of internet connected devices per household is up, and according to a report by Edison Research  it will continue to go up. We as consumers are getting more entertainment than ever, but we are getting less and less of it from the television. I should mention that people are still watching television shows, and movies, but they are watching them on other devices now. The amount of computers per household is going up, and tablets and smartphones are growing even faster. The world of entertainment is changing. I no longer need to go to the living room to watch the television, I can bring it where ever I go. Entertainment centers around me, not the living room.
So when you consider all that, and you look at Sony, and Microsoft still tethered to a television, it makes sense why Nintendo is trying to get away from the living room. As a father I know that if I want to play a game I need to wait until my kids go to bed, my wife is done watching her shows, and the house is quiet before I can bother booting up a system. Then most of the time I just end up going on the computer anyway because I don’t have any games that I want to play on the console anyway. I realize that this isn’t the situation everyone is in, but more and more people from my generation are growing up, and our priorities are different than they used to be. Spending $60 on a game is ridiculous, especially when I can go on my computer and get the same game for half the price and usually expect better graphics. What amazes me is that even though more and more people are arriving at the same conclusions as me, the console makers seem blissfully unaware, and with console sales falling year over year, and television sales slowing down the future of the gaming consoles as we know it, looks grim.
Free to Play as a model
The idea that you would download a game for free, and then pay for extras or enhancements is nothing new. Mobile games have been doing it for a while now, games like Runescape have been doing it since the early 00’s. But it was always looked at negatively by the gaming community. It slowly gained acceptance, and now some of the most successful games are using the free to play model.
When I walked around at PAX the largest and by far the most crowded booth was Riot’s, where they had seemingly non-stop tournaments of League of Legends playing. The game is the shining example of what free to play looks like now. It is a well polished, fun game, that anyone can pick up for absolutely nothing, however by design, players will want to pay for things, and they do. The first person shooter turned hat trading simulator “Team Fortress 2” from Steam also went free, and Steam’s upcoming DotA2 will also be free to play. Even Blizzard announced a free to play game “Hearthstone” at PAX East, so clearly this is not going away, and if anything, it’s gaining popularity.
Competitive gaming goes mainstream
I will admit that until now, competitive gaming seemed silly to me, if I wanted to watch other people play games I would just get on and play them myself. But as I stood at PAX watching teams play each other in League of Legends, I found myself getting just as excited as everyone else. These are players at the top of their game, and it is fun to watch them. I was never one for watching sports like football, or basketball, but I always respected the players for being the best, for achieving a level of skill that most people couldn’t dream of. Watching the players attack and defend and work together in League of Legends made me realize that gaming was no different.
It is impossible to mention competitive gaming without talking about Starcraft and Korea, and I think that in this case it makes sense. To me that was competitive gaming, a foreign place, with foreign people, playing a game I enjoyed but didn’t love. But just like other trends, it needed the right set of ingredients and now with League of Legends, I think we have that. I really believe that over the next few years we will see MLG (Major League Gaming) start getting more and more popular, and names like “Froggen” from the Evil geniuses will be almost as common as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers… okay maybe not.
So what will gaming be like for my children?
I really think that consoles will not die out, but they won’t look the same. The idea of a Steam-box looks more and more viable, where the operating system would require a minimum set of specs, and the user can build their own system. I think that the idea of paying more than $30 for a game will be outrageous to my children, and they will laugh when I tell them how much I used to pay for games. Personal devices will continue to get better and faster, and eventually porting games like XCOM to iOS won’t be big news, it will be like Tomb Raider going to Xbox and PS3.
My children will grow up cheering for their favorite players, and have favorite teams they want to watch (this is already starting with the younger Minecraft generation) and growing up to be a pro gamer will be looked at like wanting to play professional baseball.
Just remember, when we grew up gaming was a niche pass-time. Now its a normal part of an adults life. That alone is worth smiling about.