In 2019, we got an early peek at the future of videogames with the arrival of the first mainstream game streaming services. None of them are truly ready yet, of course, and they will need time—2020 and beyond—to mature and expand to ever-bigger groups of customers. So what really did happen in 2019? I guess it depends on where and how you game.
2019 was a stunningly good year for PC gamers. Epic launched its Epic Games Store one year ago, in December 2018, and spent all of 2019 building out the store and giving away free games—with literally no catches—on a regular basis. And then there was Microsoft, whose renewed focus on PC gaming and on interoperability brought ever more titles to its Game Pass for PC and related Game Pass Ultimate offerings. And by the end of the year, we finally saw the triumphant return of the Halo series on PC too.
For those who have not played games on a PC recently, you may be surprised to discover that it is simpler and more error-free than ever before in the past. PC gaming is still problematic from a cost perspective—gaming hardware is typically very expensive—and the PCs themselves can still be complex to maintain, thanks to constant GeForce driver updates and the like. But the payoffs are real, and quite clear: With even a mid-level gaming rig, desktop or mobile, you can achieve a level of graphical quality that is still impossible on consoles, even with the 4K/HDR-enabled PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Plus, it’s not exactly easy carting a console around if you like to game on the go.
Speaking of consoles, there were no major changes in this console generation, and Microsoft and Sony rode out the year with their current products, while Nintendo floated a less expensive version of its Switch hybrid gaming console to attract even more users. The big news in consoles, I think, was the expansion of gaming services with a nod to that future where game streaming will ultimately overtake locally-installed games on most devices.
That said, this is one area where Nintendo lags, and I spent much of 2019 wondering when that company would announce a partnership with Amazon, Google, or Microsoft to expand in this obvious direction. (That made it doubly surprisingly when Sony announced a partnership to use Microsoft’s Azure services in a future gaming service.)
Most people, of course, game on mobile and the web, and the large market of so-called mainstream or casual gamers also got a peek at the future with the arrival of Apple Arcade (on iOS devices and Macs), which is for now incredibly low-priced (and even free for a year if you buy new Apple hardware). Like the Disney+ cord-cutting service, Apple Arcade leans a bit heavily towards family-friendly fare for my tastes, but that’s probably a good mix for its target market. And for those that wish to enjoy AAA shooters and other console-like games on mobile, services like Google Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud are starting to fill the bill, or soon will.
Mixed Reality was in a holding pattern in 2019 as always, but the Half-Life holdouts at Valve shocked us all by finally announcing a new title in the long-ignored series, albeit one that will require virtual reality (VR) hardware. It’s not shipping until next year, and it will likely be a limited experience compared to even the Half-Life 2 Episodes of yesteryear. But any Half-Life is better than no Half-Life. Augmented Reality (AR) was likewise quiet in 2019, with Pokemon Go, a two-year-old title, still ranking at the top of every AR list. But platform innovations continue—witness the incredible field of view improvements in HoloLens, which, yes I know is not for gamers—and perhaps 2020 will see an AR push beyond mobile.
For all this, the biggest trend in 2019, I think, was interoperability. Here, Microsoft excels, in part because its Xbox One family of consoles has performed so badly in the market compared to the PlayStation 4 series and, more recently, the Nintendo Switch. Whatever the reason, the net result is a win for gamers, who can use Xbox Game Pass across PC and console and will soon be able to compete on xCloud on the device(s) of their choice.
Even Sony finally succumbed to the market necessity of interoperability by allowing Minecraft gamers, finally, to play across PS4, Xbox, PC, and mobile. That happened about two years later than it should have, but it did happen. And with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gamers now able to compete not just against owners of different consoles—Xbox One and PS4—but also with PC gamers if desired, gaming interoperability hit new highs in 2019.
That’s a good sign for the future, and for the coming generation of streaming games that will finally shatter the device barrier for good. But we don’t have to look to the future to see a healthy gaming market. 2019 was already a great year for videogames.
Tagged with 2019 Year in Review