VR is still alive, Gaming-as-a-service is a thing, diversity in games and synchronized gaming is the future

On day two, gamescom traditionally open its doors to the consumers, who streamed into the expo to finally try out new games and gaming hardware. A new record of over 500.000 visitors – all unmoved by the legendary long queues at the demo stations – is expected for this year.

Here’s the second edition of NEXT LEVEL – the gamescom daily news:

Gamescom 2018: Titelbild

gamescom awards 2018 – the expo’s big winners

Every year, the prestigious gamescom awards honor the best games in various categories. More than 100 entries were received by the award office for the Foundation for Digital Games Culture (Stiftung Digitale Spielekultur). Following the opening ceremony featuring several world premieres, the gamescom awards were presented this year in a total of eleven genre and five platform categories.

Notable recipients include Microsoft with awards in three categories, including Best Racing Game (“Forza Horizon 4“), as well as Activision whose title “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” was awarded Best Action Game. “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” received the award as Best Social/Online Game and “Destiny 2: Forsaken” as Best Add-on/DLC. Two awards each went to Koch Media (Best Casual Game: “Team Sonic Racing” and Best Strategy: “Game Total War: Three Kingdoms”) and Nintendo (Best Family Game: “Super Mario Party” and Best Console Game: “Nintendo Switch Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”).

Trends and topics at gamescom 2018 – Day two

VR – there’s still life in it

Two years ago HTC and Oculus launched two different virtual reality headsets for the consumer market. This marked the return of VR to the PC and, with the launch of the PlayStation VR, the return of VR to console markets, sparking the dream of a complete revolution of the gaming experience for consumers. However, gauging VR’s success past those first launches has been difficult, to the point where some argue that high-end VR based on PCs is essentially dead. It certainly can be said that VR is still waiting for its breakthrough: according to a recent BITKOM study, only 16 percent of people in Germany have tried out a VR headset.

Yet, while VR is not a focus topic at this year’s gamescom, some announcements might give hope to the industry that the technology will soon make a comeback.

  • HTC announced the launch of a radio adapter for VR glasses for the end of September. The wireless adapter frees HTC’s VR headsets Vive and Vive Pro from cable connections to a PC, enabling an easier and more immersive experience.
  • Dell also announced a new range of products in their Alienware brand designed for VR experiences and video games.
  • Ubisoft and SpectreVision, actor Elijah Woods’ production studio, revealed the VR project “Transference”, a new kind of experience for consumers with video game and movie elements.
  • With the project “Bergwerk 360° VR”, German public-broadcasting institution WDR sends visitors 1,200 meters below ground via virtual reality to experience the Prosper-Haniel coal mine in Bottrop, the last German hard coal mine still in operation. The simulation includes a VR headset, controllers as well as externals stimuli like vibrations and even heat.

Everything’s moving to the cloud

Cloud technology has changed industries from retail and healthcare to manufacturing – and it has the potential to transform the gaming industry as well. Getting into gaming usually requires a substantial investment. Cloud Gaming – or Gaming as a Service (GaaS) – eliminates the need for a console or a heavy tower PC to play the latest games. Instead, a virtual computer is assembled in the data center every time the user logs on, which does all the demanding computing while the player only streams the moving image to their device. At gamescom, French company Blade showed their cloud gaming service “Shadow” and successfully demonstrated that the recent and performance-intensive title “Far Cry 5” can run on a low-end notebook – provided, of course, you have a fast internet connection.

Going mobile

Gamers are no longer confined to their homes in front of their console or PC – even when they want to play more than just traditional mobile games. According to a recent survey by BITKOM, 79 percent of gamers play on their smartphone, and synchronized gaming – for example by beginning a game on your laptop at home and continuing to play on the Go with your smartphone – is becoming more and more popular. Successful titles like Fortnite, PUBG or Elder Scrolls are available on smartphones in their original form or an adapted mobile version, and standard smartphones with quality graphic cards, memory and CPUs allow for gaming without a big loss of quality. And for those expecting an even higher performance, several manufacturers presented smartphones specifically designed for gaming at gamescom, such as the ASUS ROG Phone or Huawei’s Honor Play.

Diversity wins – but we still have a long way to go

Yesterday’s remarks by Felix Falk, Managing Director of the German Video Games Industry Association, on diversity in the gaming industry sparked some debate over how diverse the community actually is and how it faces problems such as hateful and sexist language in online communities or discrimination against female developers. A recent study by the German digital association BITKOM concluded that while two out of five women in Germany enjoy playing video games at least occasionally, seven out of ten women who play find the depiction of female characters in games “inappropriate and outdated” – an opinion shared by almost half of men. However, the ongoing discussion on diversity in the industry is already bringing some change, albeit slowly – seen at gamescom, for example, in heroines of upcoming games of popular franchises, such as Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft or Claire Redfield in a remake of Resident Evil 2.

What might be seen as a step backwards in terms of diversity came just a few weeks before gamescom: Germany lifted the ban on Nazi symbols in video games, which has caused problems in games where Nazis are often the opponents. German rating body USK announced that the rules will now be applied to video games in the same way they are used for films. While some criticized the decision and warned of trivializing these symbols, others argue that games will now be given the same consideration as movies or art when determining allowable content, further establishing them as a cultural asset. At gamescom, Paintbucket Games presented “Through the Darkest of Times”, the first game ever showing a swastika to receive a USK 12 rating. “Through the Darkest of Times” is a historical strategy game set in Berlin during the 3rd Reich in which gamers take on the role of members of the resistance.