It's officially 2020. Welcome to what may be one of the most consequential years in gaming history.
A lot will be happening this year. Some huge games will be coming out, including the much-anticipated Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Half-Life will shine a new spotlight on the burgeoning VR space. New consoles will start the familiar hype cycle anew.
All of this should be familiar to those who have observed the ebb and flow of the various console generations through the years. What's more interesting is that the way we consume games is on the verge of changing forever. Not since the advent of free-to-play mobile gaming have we witnessed such a massive change in the way that games are delivered to our various devices.
When the Xbox Series X launches later this year, it will do so with a multi-part salvo that has been in development for several years now. Its centerpiece will be Game Pass, which has already found success on Xbox One thanks to its inclusion of Day 1 exclusives and a huge catalog of back releases. Like it or not, subscriptions are set to be an even bigger part of the gaming space in the near future as the major platform holders scramble to adapt to the changing media landscape. For years, the holy grail has been "Netflix for games." In 2020, it will finally happen.
This is thanks in large part to the rise of so-called "cloud gaming" through services like xCloud. Skeptics have argued that video game streaming will be hindered by bad infrastructure, input delay, and other problems—issues that have been born out on Stadia. But one way or another, streaming will have a place on the next generation of consoles, if only because of its sheer convenience. Stadia hasn't been great so far, but Google was definitely onto something when it promised an end to the long installations and updates of previous generations.
The rise of streaming and subscription services will have the effect of making Xbox and PlayStation into service providers instead of platform holders in the new generation. It's already evident in the way that Microsoft has been steadily breaking down the barriers between various devices, with practically every game coming out on both PC and console now. Similarly, while exclusives ruled the PS4 era, Sony and Microsoft are already loosening their grip on marquee games like Cuphead. News that MLB The Show would be on Switch and Xbox was a shock, but perhaps a sign of things to come.
If the current rumors bear out, we could even have an xCloud app on Nintendo Switch. Nintendo would win big thanks to the presence of marquee triple-A games on its platform, and Microsoft would win because people would be subscribing to Game Pass. That's why Microsoft isn't too fussed about releasing a major exclusive like Gears 5 day and date on Game Pass: a successful subscription service has the chance to make the company more money than three generations of Xbox ever did.
All of these trends are likely to converge right at the launch of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, bringing with them a massive sea change for gaming. Hardcore hobbyists will still insist on playing competitive games locally, and you'll still be able to find physical releases at outlets like Amazon. But it may also be possible to curl up on the couch and play Halo Infinite through the xCloud app on Nintendo Switch. What a crazy world that would be.
Regardless of what happens, every generation of gaming brings some major change to the way we play games. The Xbox 360 era was about friends lists and online storefronts; the PS4 was about "service games" and streaming, and now the new generation stands ready to break down the artificial boundaries between devices for good.
So get ready, because it looks like 2020 will be the year where all the hyped promises of the past decade will finally be fulfilled. And that will make it an exciting and important year no matter how you enjoy games.
Major Game Releases: January 6 to January 10
Here are the major releases for the week of January 6 to January 10. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Monster Hunter World: Iceborne [January 9 for PC]: Monster Hunter: World players on PC finally get their crack at the Velkhana when the expansion releases on PC later this week. I was a huge fan of Iceborne when it released on consoles last year, not the least because it has almost as much as the base game. While you wait, check out our postmortem interview with the developers.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week in Gaming
We're launching a separate notes column later this week, so we're changing things up slightly for Starting Screen. Starting this week, we'll be listing five things you should know heading into this week in gaming.
- Awesome Games Done Quick is off and running! Highlights include a complete run through Untitled Goose Game and a co-op relay through Final Fantasy 8. You can go here for the most interesting streams as well as how to watch.
- CES 2020 is also underway in Las Vegas. With a new generation of consoles out this year, many are expecting fresh info about the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
- Switch Pro rumors are starting to heat up again thanks to a new report. They aren't much more than gossip and speculation at this point, but observers do expect Nintendo to find another way to refresh the Switch as it nears its third anniversary.
- The Lord of the Rings: Gollum received a large reveal through Edge magazine. It will reportedly include elements like Ringwraiths and Legolas' father.
- Sonic Heroes was released for North American GameCube on this day in 2004. Shadow the Hedgehog is more infamous, but Sonic Heroes is generally regarded as the moment when the series really started to go off the rails. We ranked them all back in 2017.
Axe of the Blood God for January 6, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
It's a brand new year, and that means new RPGs! Join Kat and Nadia as they get excited about Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Tales of Arise, and all the rest of this year's biggest games! Plus, we talk about the potential impact of a new console generation, The Witcher on Netflix, and much more.