2021 is probably not going to be remembered as a banner year for the gaming industry. Thanks to the combined efforts of the pandemic, labour shortages and general economic unrest, the year was beset by supply chain issues. The lack of gaming components we once took for granted meant that even over a year after launch, it was still almost impossible to find brand new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles on store shelves last Christmas.
But pessimism is a beast and it can be all too easy to feed. While it's still thought that many chips will still be in short supply in 2022 (and even 2023), for gamers and gaming enthusiasts 2022 promises to be the year that 2021 could have been.
Yes, we saw some pretty exceptional releases last year (Deathloop, Forza Horizon 5, Metroid Dread and Psychonauts 2 being my personal picks) but nothing groundbreaking. Indeed, it could even be argued that the VR headwind which seemed primed to tackle the mainstream head-on in 2020 died a death this year, as only the Oculus Quest 2 really kept that candle burning outside of the hobbyist and simulation space.
But let's look ahead with a little more optimism and highlight a couple of the exciting trends that might give us all something to feel better about this year. Because we could all use a little more positivity right now.
While the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles have been undeniably popular (perhaps too popular, in many respects) the Nintendo Switch is arguably the real success story of the ninth console generation. Since its launch in early 2017, the Switch has sold over 91 million units and with the newest OLED model, it could still be early days for Nintendo's portable wonder.
It's perhaps the success of the Switch that inspired PC gaming overlords Valve to unveil their own portable gaming PC, the Steam Deck. It's a monstrously powerful unit that was due to be released December last year but has been pushed back to early February due to the aforementioned supply issues.
Ostensibly a gaming PC in a handheld form, the Steam Deck sold out of its pre-order bundles in mere hours and is expected to herald in a new age of "mobile PC gaming" next year. While it might not be powerful enough to give your PS5 or desktop rig any cause for concern, it's apparently capable of playing "almost every game available on Steam." Given there are currently over 50,000 games on Steam, that's a pretty exciting prospect.
News of the Steam Deck appears to have given rise to a boom in portable gaming hype. Microsoft's Cloud gaming platform (more on that later) can be comfortably played on a typical smartphone and fringe companies like GPD and ONE X PLAYER have already thrown their hats in the portable PC ring.
Given the open-source nature of the Steam Deck platform, it's also only a matter of time before developers and smaller indie companies across the globe start to build their own more affordable or perhaps even more powerful Steam Decks. Personally, I can't wait for the wish.com Steam Deck... can you even imagine?
Cloud gaming and real-time streaming were always seen as the "next logical step" in gaming and have been touted as a reality for almost a decade now. However, it's only in recent years that we've started to see cloud gaming really make sense from a practical perspective.
Few people will remember the "On Live" cloud gaming company from over a decade ago. This was the first game streaming service of its kind and had some very impressive ideas behind it. But they were a little ahead of their time and ended up being bought out by Sony, whom many argued squandered the company's groundbreaking tech.
The real leading lights of cloud gaming right now are Microsoft, whose GamePass service is the closest thing we have right now to a "Netflix of gaming." Yes, Sony has PlayStation Now and there's always Google Stadia to throw into the equation, but GamePass is the first platform to make the idea of games as a service seem desirable.
The reality is that high-speed internet wasn't as ubiquitous even five years ago as it is now. With 5G starting to roll out and the average broadband speed in the UK sitting at around 50Mbps, we're finally at a place where game streaming can start to be taken seriously.
Microsoft is far from alone in the ring either. Samsung recently announced a cloud gaming service that will utilise their smart TVs, and Apple surely can't be far behind. Netflix themselves have even made their intentions in the gaming sector clear. So it's quite possible that Netflix could end up being the Netflix of gaming. Sony has even (unsurprisingly) declared their intention to create their own version of GamePass, though reliable news on that is quite thin on the ground right now.
The gaming machines of tomorrow might just be streaming boxes the size of credit cards, with massive gaming rigs taking the brunt of the work in server farms across the globe. The technology already exists and the infrastructure is already laid out. All we need now is for casual and hardcore gamers alike to cast aside their allegiances to specific companies and their hangups about "not really owning their games."
Of course, while (literally) mobile gaming and streaming might be the biggest potential trends of the year ahead, there are still a few other notable trends we couldn't ignore - Sequels.
Everybody loves a good sequel and 2022 has a few absolute barnstorming sequels in the pipeline. We've got everything from Breath of the Wild 2, to God of War 2 and everything in-between. While some might argue that sequels are where fresh ideas go to die, we'd counter that gaming is one of the few mediums where the follow-up is almost always creatively superior to the original.
And then there's VR making a comeback. Every year since 2015 has been heralded as the "year of VR," but in 2021, the technology took a backseat. With the 2nd generation PSVR technology and Facebook's Oculus Quest (now Meta Quest) brand going from strength to strength, there could definitely be a resurgence over the course of 2022. VR gaming already has its killer app in Half Life: Alyx. All we need now is an affordable mainstream platform that can actually handle it.
Of course, we can never be sure exactly what's around the corner, particularly in such a fast-moving sector. But two things are certain - we've never needed gaming more than we do right now, and there has never been a better time to be a gamer.
Posted in Gaming and esports
Published on 19 Jan 2022
Last updated on 19 Jan 2022