Access to upcoming games has been around for years in the form of alpha/beta access and preview builds, but recent years have brought about an extended and formalized version in the form of paid early access. From the Xbox with its Game Preview program to Steam Early Access, game retail and distribution platforms are increasing gamer access to in-progress games by enabling developers to sell their games during active development. Providing early builds and input in exchange (plus a healthy amount of pride in supporting passion products as early as possible), the ability to purchase games over a year before planned release has upended the video game industry.
This model allows developers to design and publish a single title in multiple iterations: preview, beta and release builds are each discrete versions that make up part of the overall experience in the game from conception to publication. The ability to make sales earlier than ever also allows independent developers the ability to acquire funds sooner and use the early access offer as a promotional tool to garner interest without having to engage in crowdfunding. While launching campaigns on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Fig have worked for some projects, they can also be a significant drain to market successfully and fulfill rewards for.
Buzzworthy projects like The Long Dark and We Happy Few have recently used the early access model with substantial success. As the game development industry continues its explosive growth in release volume, early access is an important distribution model to garner attention, raise funds and engage players in the games that choose this innovative method.
3D gaming is still on the cutting edge of new technology, but the combination of stable hardware in the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for high end consumers and the Samsung Gear VR along with Google Cardboard for entry level users has brought VR to mainstream audiences.
On the other hand, 4D is starting to make its way into professional as well as experimental consumer level setups as the growing adaption rate of VR headsets paves the way for body vibration, scent and other sensory based augmentation to work its way into game development. Theatres have started implementing technologies such as D-BOX rumbling seats and 4DX for fog, wind, motion, moisture and other effects that build on the revolutionary Terminator 2 3-D show at Universal Studios.
These evolutions of the sensory simulation experience for gamers create an elevated sense of immersion, simulating touch and smell in a way that games haven’t attempted since the short lived CES attempts at Smell-O-Vision from cartridge loaded emitters. I thought about this after experiencing a vivid demo of FATED: The Silent Oath at PAX East 2016 on a custom rig with PC connected horse reins (!), fans, a mist machine and a rumble pack synchronized to the game. On a show floor packed with splashy booths and elaborate stages, FATED’s immersion really helped the game stand out and attract audience buzz with the uniqueness of its 4D setup.
4D peripherals and deluxe editions of games are valuable sources of income for game creators, and the extended sensory experiences are also exciting new ways to participate in games and interactive experiences.
Console gaming has historically been an isolated environment, keeping gamers contained within a specific ecosystem not just by console brand but also generation This long standing paradigm is gradually changing as Microsoft adds cross play between Xbox One and Windows 10 to selected games, backwards compatibility to the Xbox One at an aggressive pace after launching in 2013 without it and now publicly exploring the possibility of opening up their online network to connect with competitors such as the PlayStation Network.
The latest effort has been described by ID@Xbox director Chris Charla in a lengthy GDC post, suggesting that PlayStation 4 gamers may soon be able to play online with friends on an Xbox One and vice versa. This is an exciting possibility that may integrate the fragmented player bases for online games that have formed since the emergence of online console gaming, which only further splintered as the Xbox One launched in 2013 under a cloud of already reversed but still publicly disliked attempts at persistent connectivity authentication and limitations on used games.
It also opens the door to non-Microsoft exclusives to use services such as the Azure cloud computing that powers Titanfall, the Forza Motorsport series since 6 and the upcoming Crackdown 3. As a huge fan of Respawn’s shooter, the possibility of the multi platform Titanfall 2 retaining Azure hosted online matches and ping times below 40ms across Xbox Live and PSN is thrilling.
Cross platform multiplayer efforts such as Shadowrun have met with limited success or stalled out in the past, but the prevalence of cloud computing and immensely popular battle arena games like Rocket League may be the push that lasts for modern online gaming.
ID@Xbox program update: news.xbox.com/2016/03/14/let… (spoiler: cross-network play is coming to Xbox Live!)—
ID@Xbox (@ID_Xbox) March 14, 2016
Rocket League (@RocketLeague) March 14, 2016