Aleks Krotoski
The Guardian
Wednesday 2 September 2009

I have, in effect, been living under a videogames rock for the past three months. My self-imposed exile at the hands of a looming PhD thesis submission date and the subsequent two weeks in a recovery position has rendered my bleeding-edge knowledge of computer gaming obsolete. When confronted with the headlines announcing trends, new releases and banal news, I feel like an OAP outpaced by the young whippersnappers who’ve staked out their turf in my neighbourhood: “Get offa my patch you little devils!” I want to shout, while shaking a gnarled PlayStation 1 controller at them. “Whateva, grandma,” they’d throw back, casually cool with their Wiimotes and iPhones. Harumph.

But out of the cacophony I have been able to glean that gaming news doesn’t move nearly as fast as the headlines would have you believe.

For example, a review of the news since mid-June indicates the industry has continued to descend to hell in a handbasket. Even though gamers are playing more than ever, economically we’re spiralling towards virtual Armageddon, on a pathway to a digital implosion that could render the worldwide development community obsolete.

There are a couple of familiar indicators: the month-on-month downward arrows on the graphs that dominate analysts’ blog posts and research reports, and publishers’ interminable reliance on sequels, copycats and licences. The only new trend I sense is resignation – even from more optimistic markets such as the USA and Canada – and a booming secondhand market.

The past three months have also continued to usher in the leftfield approaches to play that started after Nintendo announced the Wiimote several years ago. Innovations such as augmented reality, a gimmick-gone-good that imports 3D objects into physical space using technological smoke and mirrors, and the integration of social networking into traditional console products extend engagement to different levels with new players while keeping the older, core gamers happy.

The downloadable game business model has remained bullish, with storming results from Valve over the summer and announcements of more publishers willing to try it out.

So it seems in the three months I’ve been pondering theory rather than pounding the controller, not a lot has changed. Thank goodness. It’s reassuring to know eye-grabbing headlines are designed to do only that, and that they don’t belie any seismic shifts. Perhaps, realising the slowness of this fast-paced industry is an indicator that I’m getting older. I’m happy to leave the hysteria to the kiddies. If it means I can take more holidays, they are welcome to it.

Originally published on The Guardian