With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S now out, it's time to say goodbye to the eighth generation consoles that have been sitting in our living rooms for almost a decade.
It's safe to say it's been a busy one. Last time, we took a look at the biggest controversies of the generation, but that isn't all that's been going on. The 2010s were full of innovation, introducing aspects of games we now take for granted. Here's all the trends that took off in the eighth generation of gaming.
It may be an absolute novelty, but come on, we've had a lot of fun with this. Despite being a fairly new addition, photo mode has fit perfectly into titles such as Kingdom Hearts III and Marvel's Spider-Man. It's literally just the option to have your character take a selfie, but with social media integration kicking off, players got creative and shared dozens of pics, especially ones depicting their companions fighting for their lives while they goof around. It was a great way to get us to pay attention to the intricate details around the world, or just have a laugh, so hopefully devs can think of some lore-friendly ways to put it in more games.
Games as a Service
You knew this one was coming. In the eighth generation, studios saw where the money was at, and it wasn't in a $50 price tag. In fact, it was in a free-to-play model, where players can continuously fork over cash as they play. This is done through the controversial loot box, in which items such as cosmetics and characters are put inside boxes players can pay to open. Other money-making methods include micro currencies—think V Bucks and FIFA Points—or Battle Passes, a pass you have to buy, which then allows you to unlock cosmetics through gameplay.
But this isn’t the only characteristic of a live-service games. As the name implies, it is always “live,” meaning constantly receiving updates in the form of story events and characters being added.
With popular hits such as Overwatch, Fortnite, and Destiny, it’s almost impossible that you haven’t played one yet. And of course, with any gaming trend, others tried to get in on the action... to less success. The traditionally single-player-focused studios BioWare and Bethesda tried, and failed critically, with Anthem and Fallout 76. Even Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled had live-service elements to it while being updated.
This goes hand-in-hand with games as a service, but deserves its own spot nevertheless. The battle-royale boom reached parody levels of desperation in the second half of the generation, with all the major studios wanting to jump on the gravy train first driven by PUBG, then dominated by Fortnite. Since then, Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone have made great strides in the genre. Aside from those, the stand-outs of the genre were those which managed to our their own spin on it, such as Fall Guys or even Tetris 99, which are more fun than they have any right to be.
Hey, remember when we complained about day-one patches?
It used to be a joke that the actual finished game was put in through an early patch that fixed dozens of bugs discovered after the game had gone gold, but the industry completely dropped the act, and doubled down... at least in some high-profile instances. A "road map" is a timeline of when updates will drop, and what content they will add. This was famously used, and ignored, with Fallout 76 and Anthem. In the former's case, they even had "adding NPCs" on the road map, only for that to be delayed further until the Wastelanders update.
Negativity aside, these have been used for good in many instances. Perhaps none more so than with indie titles in Steam Early Access. Through this, a road map can be full of milestones to hit before the game is ready for its full release, and keeps the Early Access players coming back to test the new features out—a very mutually beneficial relationship.
But even in the mainstream scene, road maps can be used for good. Less post-launch content is hidden behind a pay wall, such as with No Man's Sky and Fallout 76, which gave all players massive, game changing updates.
“Don’t you guys have phones?” This seemed to be the prevailing mindset in boardrooms this generation, as more and more franchises got mobile ports and spinoffs. Some were cute little teasers for upcoming games, such as Fallout Shelter, but towards the end we got more more console/PC like titles, such as PUBG and Fortnite.
This mostly ties into the earlier point on games as service—this is a market filled to the brim with microtransactions, so everyone wants to jump on that bandwagon. It doesn’t always work out, however, most infamously with Dungeon Keeper Mobile, which saw a much-loved series turned into a cash grab. That's not even to mention the disastrous announcement of Diablo Immortal, in which a fan asked if it was an April Fools joke.
Alright, sure, this has been a thing for a while, but the eighth generation of gaming truly took it to new heights, and set it as a standard. Naughty Dog continued to do what they do best: the cinema-quality animations and voice work in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and The Last of Us Part II. But the real show-stealer this gen was Death Stranding, which was essentially a Smash Bros-tier crossover featuring all of Hideo Kojima’s famous pals. This trend looks set to continue as studios realize that celebrities tend to generate hype, especially if that celebrity is Keanu Reeves.
It’s been a slow burn, but VR finally found its footing in the eight generation. In the past few years, VR titles have hit the mainstream, with Beat Saber making its way into many a living room, and Half Life: Alyx leading to VR headsets selling out in early 2020. A ton of older games also saw VR re-releases, such as Fallout 4, Skyrim, and Minecraft. Some games are now coming with a VR version from launch, like Star Wars: Squadrons, so the future does look bright for this gimmick.
What do these trends mean for the future?
Most entries on this list have a common theme: the future of gaming is always online. But looking forward, it looks like there's a conflict between games being a product (the recent push towards game streaming) or games being a service to buy products (e.g. games as a service).
With Microsoft investing heavily in an extensive library for its Game Pass service, they seem confident in the way we’re heading, but with games like Fortnite still pulling in billions, the eighth generation could go down as the beginning of the end for how we used to view gaming.