I mean yes, we could spout off some quick numbers and irrelevant facts that would seem to suggest as much, but I can guarantee you each and every one of those claims are made by a person who most likely has passed some sort of twisted and hedonistic event horizon, rendering all their opinions as amusing conjecture at best.
The claim that things have been the same however, has far more of a lasting significance here (even if that's somewhat fallacious as well). The growth in this industry is akin to that of a human being. It's easy to long for childhood (i.e. retro games), and it's just as convenient to pretend like 'times are so much better now!' (i.e. hop on XBL every night like a dumbass and refuse to question anything else).
What's difficult though? It hardly ever gets seen enough so it might not be that recognizable; its the appreciation of a overall continuum and not just 'this is better, but this is worse!' This means that we respect everything that comes along with it, both good and bad (as well as what it means to even perceive as such as well). People have trouble with such this antinomy, especially when trying to decipher meaning from it. This is particularly prevalent in the United States, as people have perverted happiness here as some type of end-game idealistic goal (and the morons think they can actually claim altruism at the same time with this attitude too).
Here's a quick napkin-list of why people commonly think we're living in such great times now with the bold text just highlighting my thoughts.
1 - "These games look so great now!"
No they don't, they're a narrowly and hollowly viewed set of styles reflecting the perverse cultures that make them. There's rarely any cross-breeding and overlap and when there actually is, it becomes lost amidst whatever demands that marketing and audiences are currently making at that given time.
2 - "I can play with my friends online!"
You're that easily fooled eh? I call it the can-kicker effect, and it's something more of you should be aware of. Human beings are social creatures, this does not mean we should just lower our standards simply because of that fact.
3 - "So much work goes into them, it's a thriving medium, it's an art!"
Work smart, not hard. It's not a living breathing thing, it's a well-oiled machine. People would do well to make that distinction now. Perhaps we can tilt the table towards that more biological metaphor eventually, but now's not that time (so stop jumping the fucking gun). People rarely doubt the actual work that goes into a game, but they DO tend to forget about it. They forget about it to the extent as to not even question it, wherein lies the greatest challenge here.
If you're honestly going to take the the money route (i.e. 'games are a major financial force now!'), then we're in more trouble than even I thought. I refuse to acknowledge that one beyond these two sentences.
"I look around Tokyo Games Show, and everyone’s making awful games; Japan is at least five years behind"-Keiji Inafune, (source)
That's not the first time that Inafune has expressed such a sentiment, but at the same time, that New York Times article eschews its own topic buy presenting some quick-hit statistics that really don't hold up in the long run. It talks very shallowly of how Japan's relationship with 'overseas' markets (they're just talking about the United States by the way, a problem in itself) has tinted their eyes towards design. The 'Westernization' of video games is a bigger problem than people are letting on at the moment and it expands well beyond what I've been bitching about with the likes of Crackhead Dante and whatnot.
dear Odin and his friends can offer us. That said, Europe has surely become a bigger factor, but it's still akin to the second string quarterback in a football game, appreciated by not necessarily always needed.
At the very least, we can all say that design has moved forward to an mentionable extent, but the only reason that people are perverting nostalgia and rallying behind indie games now is because the foundations laid out in the past twenty years were done so haphazardly. Base concepts and ideas are really only beginning to become addressed now. Cinematics in games, literary themes, and even fundamental & mechanical design theories are just starting to become serious topics (not to mention any academic discourse on such things). This is very much opposed to the idea that 'it's just a game', which still holds its worth by most, so such topics will be fighting an uphill battle for decades to come. Even the very idea of 'this game sucks!' is poison now, and any type of critical analysis on a game is seen by most fans as some personalized attack.
God forbid fans actually form a relationship with a game. They just think loving it unquestioningly is the answer. Heh, and like all human relationships, unwitting idealization for the sake of happiness will always lead to problems. Good luck with it!