When it comes to tech, the major trends of 2021 were as much about what didn’t happen than what did. A year into the ninth generation of gaming consoles, the top story of the year is a chip shortage that’s continued to cause headaches and supply strains (with no sign of relief for at least another year). Even so, we’ve seen some exciting announcements and advancements that lay the groundwork for next year and beyond. Here are the biggest tech stories of 2021.
The Chip Shortage
If you have been trying to purchase any of the most popular gaming gadgets this year, you’re probably familiar with these two words: “semiconductor shortage.” Global supply chain problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have limited the supply of the components needed for high-end electronics worldwide, causing manufacturing delays and production shortages on consumer products across the board. The ripples of the shortage can be felt in everything from rising inflation to Final Fantasy XIV server queues, but PC graphics cards and the PS5 and Xbox Series X have been hit especially hard, making it nearly impossible to find these high-ticket items at their advertised prices.
Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight, as many industry leaders have said that the chip shortage will extend through 2022 and likely into 2023.
Ninth-Generation Consoles: One Year Later
It’s been more than a year since Microsoft and Sony kicked off a new generation of gaming consoles with the release of the Xbox Series X and PS5, but they remain some of the most desirable and difficult-to-find gadgets on the market today. The ongoing chip shortage has kept stock in short supply, and when they do hit digital store shelves, they’re quickly snatched up by bots to be resold with a huge markup. Nevertheless, both consoles have sold big numbers in their first year, and their futures look promising.
For folks who have managed to snag a console, we’ve seen a steady trickle of hardware and software improvements throughout the year. One of the biggest issues both consoles were criticized for at launch was the minimal internal storage sizes, particularly for the PS5, which has just 667GB of usable space and launched without a means of expanding it. This past summer, Sony finally rolled out a firmware update that allows PS5 owners to open up their console and install their own M.2 SSD to expand the storage. While it seems intimidating for some, the process is fairly straightforward, and a slew of SSD options are available. Meanwhile, on the Microsoft side, additional configurations for the proprietary storage expansion card have hit the market, giving Xbox Series X users more options for contending with a growing library of game installs.
Peripheral support continues to grow as well. The Xbox Design Lab returned, letting folks build customized Xbox controllers with personalized color schemes, rubber grips, and metallic finishes on the triggers and d-pad. The PS5 got some personality this year too, as Sony rolled out a handful of new DualSense and console faceplate colorways.
Also on the Sony front, the PS5 finally has an answer to the Xbox Elite, thanks to third-party controller-maker Scuf, which announced the Reflex Pro, a PS5 controller with remappable back paddles, interchangeable thumbsticks, and customizable colors. It’s a welcome addition to the controller landscape, and something we hope more companies will follow suit with in 2022.
The Revival of Gaming Handhelds
The mega-hit Nintendo Switch made sure that handheld gaming never truly died, but recently a handful of newcomers have come into the fold, each with its own distinct approach to gaming off the big screen.
Most notable is the Valve Steam Deck, a handheld gaming PC that will run SteamOS. When it arrives, it promises to finally give PC gamers a way to take their game libraries on the go (or to the couch). Steam Deck was announced with a launch date for this holiday season, but that same chip shortage caused that date to slip into early 2022.
Steam Deck wasn’t the year’s only exciting handheld, though. The long-awaited Analogue Pocket is a sleek handheld that plays Game Boy cartridges without emulation, and it finally launched its first wave of units in December. More are on the way, but – yup, because of the chip shortage again – they’re now $20 more expensive and will be shipping in waves on a first-come, first-served basis: first in early 2022, followed by late 2022.
Finally, we have the Playdate, a quirky little handheld you can recharge with a mechanical crank on the side. It plays a selection of experimental or otherwise non-traditional games from notable indie developers. It was supposed to come out this year, but it too has been pushed into 2022.
Regardless of the launch dates or their particular approaches, these new devices, alongside the continued success of the Switch and its brand-new OLED model, shows a real renaissance in the handheld gaming space.
Cloud Gaming Makes Major Strides
Cloud gaming is nothing new, but 2021 saw this emerging tech make major strides.
In October, Nvidia announced a new subscription tier for its GeForce Now platform that effectively lets you rent a PC with an RTX 3080. While cloud gaming still comes with its own share of hiccups, access to that level of power is welcome considering how difficult it’s been to buy an RTX 30-series graphics card in real life.
As for Microsoft, it’s been building a lot of momentum with Xbox Cloud Gaming. The service launched on Android devices last year, but in 2021 it rolled out to Apple devices, the Xbox PC app, and Xbox consoles. That increasing device support means more and more folks have a pain-free way to try the service out and experience a game without the need for local gaming hardware that’s hard to buy right now. It also means that new-gen exclusives like Starfield will be playable on Xbox One, or your phone.
Again, cloud gaming is not without its quirks – namely, it’s completely dependent on the quality of your internet connection. The medium has a long way to go before it could fully supplant traditional console or PC hardware in most gamers’ living rooms – if we ever even get to that point at all – but the support and growth on both the device and platform level show that cloud gaming will continue to be an important piece of the gaming landscape in the years to come.