Roundtable: What Will Be This Generation's Biggest Disruption?

With new consoles on the market, the GamesIndustry International staff looks at what could define this generation in the years ahead

With both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 now on the market, we can officially say that the next generation has arrived. But for some odd reason, it still doesn't quite feel like it. Sure, both camps have sold a million systems apiece, but perhaps it's because the graphical leap just isn't what it used to be, or maybe it's because we've yet to witness anything truly jaw dropping on either new console, or that there are so many good games still being published for the last-gen machines. Or maybe it's that we're being distracted by other technologies in the form of mobile, tablets, VR and micro consoles.

While the last generation yielded all sorts of innovation and market disruption - motion controls, guitar playing, second screen interactions, fitness titles, digital distribution, DLC, achievements, etc. - it's not yet clear what this new generation will bring that's bold, different and disruptive. As Nick Button-Brown, general manager at Crytek told us recently, "We talk to publishers a lot, and one of the most painful questions is, 'Tell me what next gen gameplay is gonna be?' It's not something you can define."

Indeed, we'd be lying to our audience if we said we knew what will really disrupt the current generation of gaming, but in this roundtable the GamesIndustry International staff does its best to predict the future.

Brendan Sinclair

It's strange, but I think the biggest advances facilitated by this new hardware have nothing to do with the hardware itself. It's just that a new generation of systems is an ideal time for companies to reassess their policies, to shake up their strategy, to upend the table. The disruption I expect to see will be made possible only by the chaos of the generational transition, and the opportunity it affords for some non-traditional thinking to find purchase in a market desperate for new ideas.

This prediction might be based on my hopes more than any rational argument, but the biggest change I see coming this generation is in the way the public perceives the core gaming market. As much as Wii Sports, Guitar Hero, Brain Age, and Bejeweled extended the medium's reach beyond the young male crowd, they haven't really moved the needle on what people think of gamers. They were enjoyed as novelties or trifles, pursuits that weren't considered games because they were so different from everything people had come to expect from games. There were no controllers, just plastic proxies and touch screens. They were different from the perception of games in both form and function, so the masses' opinion of them was irrelevant to their opinion of games.


I believe this generation will showcase games in their traditional form--on the couch, controller in hand--but with a vastly expanded function. Instead of being used to tell stories of violence and war, they will be used to tell heart-wrenching stories of children with terminal cancer, of empathy for adolescent agonies, of undercover cephalopods posing as human fathers. Because these stories will be told through a form people still recognize as games, because the console makers new and old are pushing to host these games on their systems, they will receive the attention they deserve, and in so doing they will change the way people think about games.

Steve Peterson

The improved graphics of next-gen consoles are nice, but not a disruptive innovation on the order of the shift from 2D to 3D. The real disruption with next-gen consoles will come from things like changing business models, massively multiplayer gaming, design innovation, cloud computing, social gaming and second-screen integration. We're already seeing hints of these things, as free-to-play and virtual goods are becoming increasingly part of console games.

More and more content will be sold digitally, and this will lead to rethinking game designs to both reduce development costs and increase engagement. The increased social integration of next-gen consoles, with built-in streaming, easy match-making, and the way you can more easily game with friends are going to have a big impact.

"Companies need to be more cognizant about how they present their titles... Any misstep in presentation is shared with thousands instantly"

Mike Williams

Designers have just begun to realize the possibilities of cloud computing in games, using massive network resources to handle AI problems and make games more fun. Machine Zone's real-time translation in their mobile title Game of War: Fire Age lets gamers connect across language barriers - we should see this on consoles, too. Games like Bungie's Destiny point the way towards massively multiplayer console gaming that works seamlessly and lets you engage to the degree you want - that promises to be truly disruptive if it works well. Ubisoft's The Division shows a fascinating way to bring a tablet into console gaming, where everyone will want a tablet user on their squad. Many games are integrating mobile platforms into the console experience in a variety of ways, and this holds the potential of making console games even more engaging and varied.

The challenge for Sony and Microsoft is to keep pushing on system-level improvements to enable these sorts of innovative designs, and to continue to reduce their bureaucracy and barriers to get more games on their platforms. Next-gen consoles need to take advantage of all the things the modern connected world has to offer and integrate that into a gaming-centric environment where there are no barriers to fun. Next-gen consoles have the potential to take the best of other platforms and connect it to gamers - let's hope they make that happen.

Mike Williams

Will new systems bring new paradigms? I'm not quite sure yet, because everything I've seen is an extension of things we already have. If anything, I think companies will use the console transition as a chance to see if consumers will try some old business models and ideas in a new configuration.

The Xbox One lineup is just one example of what I'm talking about. Microsoft Studios' entire slate is either free-to-play or a full $60 game rife with microtransactions. Killer Instinct is on the former path, while Ryse, Forza Motorsport 5, and Dead Rising 3 are on the latter side. Killer Instinct seems to be well received, but Forza's already suffering some backlash for its car prices. It's fine if Microsoft wants to try out these models, but it remains to be seen if consumers will warm to the idea at all. Microsoft is just hoping that consumers assume this is part-and-parcel of a new system and shrug their shoulders.


One major game changer will be the ability to effortlessly share gameplay and screenshots via Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, and SkyDrive. Not only does it change how fans are interacting with each other, but I can see it changing how fans interact with developers and publishers. These systems are always recording, so any bug is saved on a video or screenshot and sent out to the world. Companies need to be more cognizant about how they present their titles. One fan receives NBA Live 14 a bit early and the resulting Twitch stream might be responsible for lost sales. Any misstep in presentation is shared with thousands instantly. Sure, these were tools that were always available to PC players, but now they're available to a much wider audience.

"That's the next disruptor... gamers that expect to be listened to and to play an active part in the industry they love, and companies that will figure out that it's worth their time to do so"

Rachel Weber

Rachel Weber

The biggest disruption that will face this generation? Unless evolution decides to suddenly change the shape of human hands it won't be another controller, and anything on the business side of things will just be a further blending of the pay upfront/free-to-play model. The biggest disruptor will be the gamers.

Think about it, in this generation, more than any others, console manufacturers and publishers are painfully aware of what the gamers are demanding, and they're demanding it so loudly that you can't help but listen. They're on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, they're emailing and messaging, they're letting you know when you've done wrong and holding on to their cash until you do right. Or at least threatening too, which in these recession hit times is just as powerful if your investors get wind of it.

Sounds crazy? Look at what happened between that initial Xbox One launch and the product you've got underneath your television right now. All the backtracking came about because gamers shouted about. As games journalists we like to think we make an impact with our editorials and our cutting roundtable discussion, but it's the customer that's always right. It's happening in smaller ways too. Kickstarter has made development a collaborative process for a lot of developers, with backers offering real help and feedback from the moment the first piece of concept art hits the internet. Indie developers are tailoring their work for their fanbase in a way they couldn't before, because they can talk to them everyday.

And think that you're not a disruption because you only tweet about pigs in wellington boots and use Facebook for pictures of your baking? Your data is still talking to big companies. How long you spent on that Candy Crush level, how long you looked at that horse armour DLC before deciding not to buy, or your entire PSN download history, your Netflix stats - they know you've watched The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills more than is healthy.

So that's the next disruptor, the big change that will shape this generation more than a new processor or headset - gamers that expect to be listened to and to play an active part in the industry they love, and companies that will figure out that it's worth their time to do so. Don't agree? Tweet it.

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Latest comments (27)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
You know... A human being who has been raised in an environment of constant disruption soon begins to distrust the very ground he stands on.

All this "creative disruption" might just turn our world into a mess.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 26th November 2013 6:03pm

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Jordan Lund Columnist 8 years ago
I think the most disruptive element this generation is going to be a surprising focus on actual gaming. Last gen, the Wii turned gaming upside down by bringing in non-gamers. When they left the hobby that caused a drop in sales and a corresponding number of doom and gloom articles from industry types who didn't realize what happened... Nintendo brought in a bunch of non-gamers then were surprised when they didn't, you know, buy games or the next Nintendo console.

This generation, we're going to see a return to gaming. In fact, we're already seeing it. The Wii U is perceived as a kids toy at best and a gimmick at worst. The Xbox One was openly mocked for it's emphasis on TV, TV, TV, TV, Sports, TV, TV, TV.

This generation's most disruptive element will be gamers reclaiming the hobby from dis-interested former Wii owners and people who are more interested in running Netflix.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments8 years ago
I don't think people need to "reclaim" gaming from anyone - the customers the wii attracted didn't detract from more traditional gaming experiences any more than Buzz or the eye toy did.
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Show all comments (27)
Paul James Editor and Co-Founder, Road to VR8 years ago
I have absolute faith that the 2 year build of interest from both developers and gamers alike will reach fruition with the release of the consumer Oculus Rift. OculusVR have worked tirelessly to ensure not only that they bring the right hardware to market, but that developers are feverishly working on content to support that hardware.

Further, Sony have shown and hinted heavily that not only do they have numerous Oculus Development kits and seem to be taking the momentum gathered by OculusVR seriously. And let's not forget Valve. With their forthcoming Steam Box platform, they offer not only a compelling alternative to the Sony and Microsoft Ecosystem, they've been an enthusiastic and integral backer of Oculus and VR in general for year. In the new year, they've devoted a significant chunk of their speaker time to Virtual Reality and how to develop for it - showing their own VR headset to demonstrate the potential.

Post Oculus Kickstarter, the release of PS4 and XBone have highlighted the perils of fighting for gaming the middle ground. A fact highlighted by the media's endless attempts to differentiate between them with tedious update after update about whether Skype will available at launch and whose machine has the most RAM. The run up to launch for this new generation of consoles has been a depressing reminder that they're in no way actively encouraging bold leaps forward in the development of the gaming industry, more that they seek to cultivate and evolve within the safety of the environments set up by their predecessors.

Has VR got a tough job on it's road to the consumer's living room? Absolutely. There are myriad difficulties you must overcome when immersing your mind completely in another world. Could the dream re-built from the wreckage of 90s nostalgia implode at any moment? Quite possibly. But I personally believe Virtual Reality has the potential to be the most disruptive technology, not just of this generation, but of all those before it.

That's what I think, predictable as it may be coming from a VR Blogger. Let's revisit in a year and see if any of it comes to pass.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
@ Paul: Any word on when OR is actually going to be released to the public? I was really hyped about it, but right now the long wait is taking its toll.

As for the disruption this generation - I think it will be the rise of indie. Not that there will be more money in indie than in the next COD, but indie will become a force to reckon with, instead of a sideshow. Even on consoles.
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Tosin Balogun Studying International Business, Anglia Ruskin University8 years ago
Absolutely agree with that Indie force. I will not be suprised if tripple A studios partition their team to accomodate a small man group focused on smaller Indie type games too
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I agree with many people here. I see the first 2 big changes in the industry being
1) The oculus rift being released as it will set a whole new standard for gaming.
2) UGC, such as Project Spark and others, will bring a whole new level of interdependence between developer and consumer
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Paul James Editor and Co-Founder, Road to VR8 years ago
Current thinking is Q3 2014 - but by all accounts they're making rapid progress, especially now that John Carmack is on board full time.
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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
This generation's biggest disruption may come from studios who succeed in reaching larger, more diverse and more profitable audiences by rejecting the core development community's outdated concept of what constitutes a "real game."
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
@ David: So, basically you are saying that the answer is "non-games" like Farmville, Fart applications or Slot machines for real money sold to people who typically don't play games and turn as many of them as possible into whales?

No, thank you. That's not a disruption. That's apocalypse.
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance8 years ago
I think the largest disruption with this console generation is one that has been building for some time.

As the tech in consoles increase, development time and cost increase, particularly in AAA games. I think this console generation could be a breaking point for many companies which focus on AAA games being either very successful or not at all. Square Enix (and it's missed targets with Tomb Raider and Sleeping Dogs) is probably the best example of this. Even though both those games were excellent in their own right and had sales which other games would be envious of, they didn't meet their sales goals. Some of that can be laid on unrealistic expectations and (in the case of Tomb Raider) brand fatigue. But it's also indicative of the industry as a whole - the thriving indie genre (sub-genre), largely fueled by former AAA developers who left the grind behind, is also an indicator of this trend.

It would be true irony if this new technology broke the backs of a number of AAA game companies and forced a regression toward more reasonably costing development. At that point, is the label "indie" even applicable anymore? Wouldn't it just be "normal"?
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
(1) Occulus Rift
(2) Valve creating a console style operating system while leaving it to hardware manufacturers to go after the consoles themselves
(3) Self publishing studios converting gamers who formerly bought two giant time consuming AA titles per year into players who like the taste of small experiences with great variety.
(4) Legislation having a close look which types of business models target minors these days.
(5) User opinions getting stronger, better organized and increasingly more credible than press and PR.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
Here are a few:
1) Forget VR. It will be a niche. 3D all over again.
2) Son of Unity will make the development process a lot less labour intensive.
3) There will be a flowering of creativity because of digital distribution.
4) There will be far more "publishers" because of digital distribution.
5) There will be far more products that are not true games but still provide leisure content.
6) Specialist press becoming increasingly less relevant. MSM becoming more relevant.
7) Games going massively cross platform. Mobile, console, tablet, social media etc
8) Community engagement rising to new heights.
9) Broadening demographic to include all ages, income levels etc.
10) Increase internationalisation. Many more countries becoming gamers.
11) More emotional engagement.
12) More adult content.
13) Movement away from current narrow niches.
14) Commercial success of non AAA games. Some will make lots of money.
15) Big expansion of monetisation and business models. The genie is out of the bottle.
16) More old school publishers and developers in trouble.
17) Gamification for many different markets.
18) A lot more gaming celebrities. Now it really is the new rock and roll.
19) High street retail shrivelling away.
20) Major changes in the big global publisher pecking order.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
I think the liberation of indie developers on traditionally closed platforms is one of the most exciting things. The most rigid companies have completely relaxed many of their former restrictions to enable tiny studios to release games for the living room.

It was inevitable. The rise of mobile app stores, digital distribution on the PC booming, plus the momentum and excitement platforms like the OUYA have generated. Console technology is more sophisticated but also more flexible on both a hardware and software level, lending itself to these digital approaches to distribution and publishing.

Already, many of indie titles releasing across a number of platforms are great and to think there's only going to be more and more as time goes on...
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Not to sound like a stuck record, but the biggest disruption is from tablets. These are already getting stupid powerful and that can continue to improve, whilst consoles are stuck as they are now for the next decade.

Until near the end, the last console generation was the only game in town for meaty game. But nowadays there are viable competitors for all but the most hardcore players that think a game is shit simply because there aren't 100,000 polys in the dice. Mobile and handheld are sucking up a lot of the playerbase. Also the PC seems to be coming back into favour, too.

I'm not saying they'll take over, but they are taking a big slice already and I can only see this moving in one direction in future. And this at a time when console dev budgets are set to increase from their already ridiculous numbers.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Paul Actually tablets can't continue to improve for much longer. They'll hit the wall of size vs power within 5 years, and even at that point will be far less powerful than consoles.

PC never went out of favor (companies just didn't realize how big the userbase was), and while I agree there's a big market for tablets it's not going to kill off consoles (though it will likely necessitate better management of budgets). A single device future is unlikely to ever be a reality.

As for what's actually disruptive, so far as I can see nothing is. Not yet anyway. iPads and Androids keep on trucking along, with lots of FTL updates (faster, thinner, lighter). Consoles have some nice social features built in now and online will be stronger than ever, but none of those features will affect game development much. Microsoft's bank on cable is a horrible one, as that medium will be pretty much dead in 5 years. Second screen gameplay is nice, but the DS did it almost 10 years ago. VR will be cool, but also niche. So I don't really see a disruption at all.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
@ Paul Actually tablets can't continue to improve for much longer. They'll hit the wall of size vs power within 5 years, and even at that point will be far less powerful than consoles.
What wall is this? No end to Moore's Law is in sight.
The energy density of batteries is about to double or more with Lithium Air.
OLED displays are developing at immense speed. And use far less power.
Wi Fi and mobile getting faster and faster. 4G is a huge jump.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
In all these discussions about whether or not mobiles can match consoles in power, I think people are losing sight of what really matters.

If we're talking about using mobiles and tablets as future plug-in console devices for the TV, I don't think they need to be as powerful as the next gen consoles anyway (though chipsets should reach and exceed WiiU this generation).

They just need to provide robust game experiences, peripherals and a strong ecosystem. The first one is the most difficult when competing with expensive productions on consoles, but it may not matter as much to a number of people.
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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
@Jakub Mikyska

That's not what I said or implied. I was simply pointing out the core development community cannot have their cake and eat it too.

If the stated goal for the next gen. is to grow the market; i.e. to become larger or greater over a period of time, then the development focus must change. Not to appeal to my 68 year old mother who loves Bejeweled or my 20 year old niece who plays social games... but to provide the majority of the core audience with a tangible reason to stay in the core market. Because I've been playing console games for 30 years and over the past several years the development focus has become so narrow and misaligned with my motivations for playing (and my skill set) that now I can't rationalize buying "real games" for more than bargain bin prices. And this is not just my personal opinion. In 2011 Jason Rohrer told a Montreal International Games Summit audience "It's gotten so bad that outside of my friends in the industry, nobody that I know plays video games anymore. The medium is losing its best, most thoughtful players."

So the biggest source of disruption in the next gen. could very well come from games specifically targeted at core players who's needs are not addressed or served by hardcore multiplayer, action - shooter and sports games. Because beyond appealing to the majority of the core audience, those alternatives could, and probably would also appeal to players in other segments of the games market.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 28th November 2013 10:35pm

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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development8 years ago
No end to Moore's Law is in sight.
Not to sound like a stuck record, but the biggest disruption is from tablets. These are already getting stupid powerful and that can continue to improve, whilst consoles are stuck as they are now for the next decade.
Don't be fooled by the illusion. My tablet improves as much as I upgrade it. The shorter cycles look good but are relatively irrelevant for the consumer's overall experience, apart from the short lived wow factor.

Tablets will kill off consoles like the Gameboy, and DS line did!

At best tablets can only affect the handheld market, and thus far the sub par offering has failed to have any real effect.

My guess is that they will all co exist. Tablets will cut into the expenditure on additional consoles and handheld devices so it will take a small portion at least. Unless we are at that point where handheld devices make consoles totally obsolete.
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Carlos Bordeu Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder, ACE Team8 years ago
"They just need to provide robust game experiences, peripherals and a strong ecosystem. The first one is the most difficult when competing with expensive productions on consoles, but it may not matter as much to a number of people."

I've said it here before and I still think you're second point is mobile's greatest limitation (in the context of competing with consoles for core gamers). People will not move away from core games designed to be played with controllers to "equivalent" experiences on touch devices. The touch devices need a very solid installed base of peripherals (gamepads) in order to get developers making core games for them. Cpu/gpu performance and Moore's law is irrelevant if you are expecting people to play Gears of War 5 on a touch pad. There might be billions of tablets and smart phones, but not even a drop of those numbers is made out of devices with peripherals. Casual games are obviously and unquestionably doing amazing on smartphones and tablets, but taking away the core gamers from their consoles or PCs requires a lot more than processing power or expensive production values.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Carlos Bordeu on 28th November 2013 11:25pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
Finally, today is the first day Europeans can get into stores and find both new consoles sold out and unavailable. We argue prices, devices and AAA development costs ad infinitum. Meanwhile on Steam.....

what's the topic? Disruption? Once could say there is one company trying to actively disrupt as we argue launch titles.
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Vivek Singh Sidhu CEO & Founder, Pencillati8 years ago
Who knows if Google Glass is the girlfriend that Oculus VR is destined to marry and their offsprings do to gaming what automobiles did to horses.

I guess in the long run, it would be worthwhile to see how new consumer centric gadgets such as the Google Glass and Smartphone Watches tie into making the experience of games better and more accessible. The reason which makes these seemingly segregated developments worth noticing is that they have the potential (just like a mobile phone) of reaching out to the masses and then turn into these huge platform for games (mostly casual to begin with) which just can not be ignored.
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Steve Goldman Journalist. 8 years ago
The game industry will likely crash by mid gen at this rate
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
@Steve Goldman
The game industry will likely crash by mid gen at this rate
Not the whole industry. Billions now play video games, they aren't going to suddenly stop. In fact the user base is expanding at the highest rate ever. 1.5 million new Android devices every day ensure that.
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 8 years ago
Surely if the industry crashes it's the end of gen not mid gen :D
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
Let's assume Sony and MS wait for 8 years again, until they refresh their hardware, then we have 2021. If Nintendo sticks to their six year cycle, it will be 2018 until they close the gap in terms of performance. Looking at current mobile tech and computing power, I'd estimate 2020 to be the year in which mobile could theoretically be as powerful as this new generation. It remains to be seen how things regarding battery life and heat shake out, so don't get too anxious just yet. There is also a reluctance of smartphone and mobile device manufacturers to go balls out on the processing power and instead focus on other features and higher profit margins. Two facts which will keep both platform designs apart in terms of processing power.

By virtue of their design, Steam Machines will never be permanently superior to consoles. If released right now, they will offer similar power for similar price. Due to shorter product cycles and innovations in PC technology, Steam Machines will offer more power for the same price than consoles over time. In 2018, your PS4 and XO will look mighty dated compared to the latest $500 Steam Machine powerhouse, while entry level models keep the price pressure up on Sony ans MS. Until the day that Sony and MS refresh their platform and all three will be on par again in terms of power.

In this scenario, where is the party crasher? There is certainly enough pressure to remove one or two competitors. Who knows how the next Microsoft leadership will treat Xbox division. Sony has its uncertainties as well, when it comes to the future of its huge corporate structure.

Bruce is certainly right with pointing out the huge Android activation numbers. But unless every phone comes with Chromecast and a Bluetooth Joypad, they will not be a competition to the living room gaming experience we all enjoy. Even then, the culture of video game companies producing those titles for the living room, from AAA publishers to small indies, currently seems not too fond of Apple and Google app stores. Who is up for constructing such a phone device which is disruptive on paper, when the outcome is anything but certain?
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