As we leap forth into a brand new decade that’s sure to be brimming with lots of gaming goodness, we here at Virtual Bastion thought we’d take a moment to look back on how gaming has evolved over the course of the last decade. From the bells of New Year’s Day 2010 to the final toasty beverage sips of 2019, the game industry forged multiple paths, navigated the lines between new and old, and provided players with an abundance of memorable experiences. While the 2010s in gaming were marked with stratospheric highs and divisive lows, a lot can be said for the amount of innovation and experimentation in gaming that occurred over ten years. Virtual reality became a reality, indie games became just games, and many folks pushed boundaries in attempting to answer the biggest question of all: what is a video game?
There’s lots to discuss as the three of us (Hatmonster, The Duck, and Cary) sit at our proverbial roundtable to reminisce over how games changed throughout the past decade. Join us now as we let the conversation commence!
Cary: When I started thinking about this topic, the first thing that actually came to my mind wasn’t gaming, per se. Instead it was how access to games changed drastically over the decade with the rise of Steam and mobile gaming. When I first joined Steam in 2013, like so many other folks (even though I was late to the party), I was over the moon with having so much gaming content at my fingertips. And so much of it for mere pocket change! Steam was the one that that really got me back into PC gaming for a while. Between it, getting one of those “Steam machines,” and eventually EA’s Origin and Ubisoft’s UPlay, I was golden! This new digital distribution of games let loose a cacophony of titles that I never would have known about. Hence another hallmark of gaming in the 2010s: the rise (and rise) of indie gaming. As for mobile gaming, isn’t Candy Crush now pre-installed on most phones, tablets, etc.? If not, it sure feels like it might as well be.
The Duck: First off, I just checked, and Candy Crush is indeed installed on my Windows 10 laptop! I had no idea! Anyway, you bring up a good point, Cary. Gaming is way more convenient than it used to be, isn’t it? Not only do we have mobile and digital games (not to mention a mobile/console hybrid in the form of the Switch), but consoles themselves have evolved a lot over the years, too. I remember the days when I would play Animal Crossing on the GameCube, and if I wanted to change the time, I had to turn the GameCube off, turn it back on again, hold a button while the console started to access the settings, and change the time. Now consoles are so easy to use. I can be playing a cartridge game on the Switch, go to the menu, play some digital SNES games, then return to the original game right where I left off.
And speaking of SNES games, I was devastated when my Super Nintendo died some time back. My sadness was short-lived when I remembered that I could simply download most of my favorite SNES games onto the Wii and later Wii U. (I’d still really love a digital version of Illusion of Gaia, though….) It’s so easy to play old games these days. Back in the day, when one wanted to play a game for an older console, they were usually out of luck unless they had the console in question and could hunt down a copy of the game that was in decent condition. Now we can download most games onto our modern consoles.
Even though I prefer hard copies of games, I am getting less and less averse to digital games. The Switch eShop had a sale recently, and I downloaded three games for $20!
Hatmonster: Cary, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said access to gaming has probably seen the most change. Steam and other digital storefronts have completely changed how we purchase and consume gaming content. Our perception of how it all should work is changing too. It used to be that physical discs and cartridges were the only way to go. This was still mostly true for console gamers going into the PS4/Xbox One generation too. Digital was there, but we didn’t really engage with it all that much. Now though? Now digital is the go-to method for many people, so much so that retail chains like GameStop are on their way out!
I’m one of those who still prefers physical media if I can get it, but I can’t deny that I find myself making a lot more digital purchases than I used to. This is especially true for smaller, independent titles since most of them don’t get physical releases, but I wonder if that’ll always be the case. See, I’ve been playing a lot of bigger, AAA games through the Xbox Game Pass over the past few months, and I kind of see that becoming more normal over the next ten years. I’m still concerned about ownership of course, and I never want to wake up one day and find that I cannot play something I spent $60 on.
As much I hate to admit it though, it doesn’t worry me as much when I’m only paying $15 a month for access to all the newest stuff. I’ve started thinking that I’ll play games on Game Pass first, then buy them for cheap later on if I want to have them in my permanent library. I don’t know if this necessarily a good mindset to have, but it’s where I am nonetheless.
Cary: Can you guys imagine if a thing like Game Pass existed in 2010?! Speaking for myself and the number of games I was playing per year back then, I think I could have been set for life! Having “games at your fingertips” then really meant that either you had a significant library of them already, or you had time to seek them out (like you mentioned, Duck) and/or rent them. Along those lines, signing up for GameFly really opened up the world of gaming to me back then. I played many games that I probably would have otherwise ignored, like The Last Story and DisHonored. However, I still focused a lot on playing just the small number of games I owned.
It kind of brings up a point about gaming and time. I get that it’s all relative, but seven to ten years ago, I had much more time to game, and as such, I felt like I became really good at the games I loved. For example, take Mass Effect. I sank hundreds of hours into it when it was a new game, and I knew its controls inside and out. Going back to now, while nevertheless an enjoyable game, is always a little problematic at first, because takes me some time to get used to its clunkiness again.
Y’know, the issue of games becoming easier over the past decade or so has been a significant talking point, and it really came to the forefront of my mind when I replayed the Dragon Age series last year. Because, frankly, Dragon Age: Origins isn’t the easiest game to play. Oh, it was for me back when, like with Mass Effect, I had time to master its controls. But nowadays, I far and away prefer the much-improved mechanics of its sequels. It’s not to say that DAII and DA:I are “easy” games, but they are absolutely easier to play. That’s progression. Though there is a case to be made for developers wanting to open their games up to the widest audience possible, and hence, using simpler control schemes.
And then there’s Nintendo. I don’t think Mario’s mechanics have changed much ever since he first saved Princess Peach! His moves have become much flashier, though.
The Duck: Speaking of gaming and time…another change I’ve noticed in more modern games that I really appreciate is how much more convenient saving one’s progress is. I’ve been playing Hollow Knight lately, and the game saves everything you do. You never have to worry about losing progress, and I really love that. When you quit the game, I was also struck by the fact that the game informs you that “your progress will be saved”. Every other time I’ve quit a game, it warns me that “any unsaved progress will be lost”, (a warning that would often make me second guess myself and save again, just to be sure).
I do feel sometimes that modern games have generally become too easy, but I have to admit that older games could be frustratingly difficult…not just because of the challenge, but because the ability to save wasn’t always readily available. And I don’t know why they did that. It’s not as if the technology at the time wasn’t up to the task. Take Super Mario World on the SNES, for example, which only allows you to save after beating certain levels, such as ghost houses and castle. So if you want to save your game any other time, you must redo one of these stages. Then in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, the game saves after every stage…as it should.
When I was a kid, I remember the stress of playing my games before school and rushing to find a save point in time. Ah, the tough decisions my younger self would often have to face…risk losing an hour of progress or take a chance that I’ll be late for school….
Cary: Haha, I feel the exact same way playing Super Metroid today! Only these days it’s more like do I want to get to bed on time OR make it to the next save point?? Decisions, decisions.
I don’t feel overly concerned about the “easiness” of modern games. In fact, to a certain degree, I welcome it, because I’m just not the same gamer I used to be! I can see it and feel it every time I return to a game I know well. My reflexes are slower in combat, and my ability to retain information just isn’t as reliable as it used to be.
However, I also think that the perception of modern games as “easy” may be attributed to the fact that regular players like us, those who have played games over several different console generations, have just become better at playing games generally. We understand game mechanics and how controllers/keyboards/mice are meant to function with and within games. In essence, we (mostly) already know what to expect when we pick up a game. Looking at the past decade in gaming, I think the industry has come to understand that it can’t make a living off the backs of existing players — especially ones like me who tend to replay favorite games rather than buying new ones — it needs to attract new blood, so to speak. And one way they’ve done that is by giving games less complex control schemes. In some cases, much less complex, looking again at mobile games. i.e. you don’t have to have to be great to first-person shooters to play Pokemon Go!.
The Duck: You make a good point about games seeming “easier” to gamers who have been playing a long time. I noticed this when replaying the Metroid Prime Trilogy recently. I played the first two games when I was much younger, and it took me literally years of struggling to beat them because certain bosses were so difficult. When I played Metroid Prime 3 several years later, I had an easier time, leading me to believe it was the easiest in the series.
Then I replayed the whole trilogy recently and learned that Metroid Prime 3 was much harder than I remembered. The reason the third game felt easier was because I had five years more experience with gaming than I did when I played the original game. So the whole idea of modern games being easier than retro ones is probably not quite as accurate as I had once believed. Older games were sometimes just more frustrating, which isn’t quite the same thing as being more challenging.
Hatmonster: Games are generally more customizable too these days aren’t they? I mean choosing a difficulty setting is nothing new, but I feel like it’s become more and more common over the years. Some have even done away with the standard “easy,” “medium,” and “hard” labels in favor of more descriptive names. Take The Witcher 3 for example: it’s settings are “Just the Story,” “Story and Sword,” “Blood and Broken Bones,” and “Death March.” It’s gotten so prevalent in fact that people have been getting upset when games don’t have customizable difficulty settings. The “controversy” around Cuphead, Dark Souls III, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice stand out in particular. People were ragging on these games for not being as accessible as games like Super Mario Odyssey (which also doesn’t have a manual difficulty setting). I think it’s like comparing apples and oranges at that point, but still. Some people were very upset by that. I can’t even imagine that being a complaint ten years ago (back when people were still cool with the idea that not everything has to be for everyone). I suppose that’s just something that’s come about with the increase in more casual players. Speaking of which, it also feels like games are under more scrutiny for non-gameplay related things than ever before, don’t you think?
Questions, questions, so many questions! What are some of your thoughts on how gaming changed over the course of the 2010s? What are your hopes for gaming in the 2020s and beyond? Our conversation could easily go on for ages, so let’s continue chatting in the comments!