In 2009 the gaming news site Gamasutra held a competition called “Games Of 2020” where entrants envisioned a game that would be played in the year 2020. Some of the predictions were surprisingly accurate and were made into reality over the course of the following decade. Among the highlights:
- GEO, Fate, The Probe, RetroSpectacles, and Play Everywhere predicted the use of geolocation and Augmented Reality (AR) in games, the most notable example being Pokémon GO.
- Paper Planes was a vision of a massive sandbox game with a relatively simple ruleset - similar to Minecraft, which entered beta just two years later and is still widely played to this day.
- Chow Time, Household Chores: Broom Breeze, Muses, and PacYourSack predicted the use of gamification to promote healthy habits. While true, this feature became more prominent in non-entertainment applications such as Nike+, Headspace, and Stash.
- Big Game Hunters predicted the rise of “Battle Royale” games such as Fortnite and PUBG.
What about predictions from even earlier times? The Gamasutra article inspired me to dig up an essay I wrote in 2005, during my freshman year in college. I’ll show you the original text, unaltered, and I’ll discuss how well these predictions held up in next week’s post.
Without further ado…
The Future of the Video Game Industry
The arrival of new game consoles brings uncertainty to the future of game design. Advances in graphics technology and increasing budgets threaten creativity and innovation, as companies refuse to take risks that would cost millions of dollars. Concerned participants in the industry provide several predictions on the game industry and give possible remedies to the upcoming compromises in game development.
Michael Dolan, former video game writer for Wired and Details, looks at the future of the industry with a marketing perspective. He says the evolution of gaming is parallel to the development of television today. There are going to be many possibilities, and we have to prepare for both the good and bad. He undoubtedly foresees the appearance of breakthrough games that will change the way people develop games, including the next Citizen Kane or “an educational game that rivals the social significance of Sesame Street.” However, Dolan admits they will not make up the majority of games made in the future. According to Dolan, most games will depend on increased corporate sponsorship; for example, future racing games will have objects such as “the Shell gas station on the corner, the McDonald’s on Main Street, the Budweiser billboards near highway exits,” and other landmarks that feature brand names. The recording and video game industries will continue the trend of cross-promotion by inserting more licensed music in games. Dolan says the game industry, for the most part, will merely “follow the money.”
Dolan also indicates that the average age of the gamer is approaching thirty. These adult audiences will inevitably demand games with mature content. The writer notes that the future of this industry will depend on consumer awareness. The ability of parents to decipher the rating system, and separate games that are good for children and ones that are not, will determine whether the game industry will proceed free of activists willing to further hinder the industry.
Game designers are calling to oppose the trends that will negatively affect the future of games. Several individuals in the gaming industry are disappointed at the direction companies are going. Steve Meretsky, a designer and industry veteran, says “We’ve been moving in the wrong direction, toward bigger budgets, centralized decisionmaking by fewer big companies that has led to more licensed games [based on movies and books], and fewer experimental games.” Many, like Meretsky, fear that Dolan’s predictions about the tainting of the industry will come true. Many ideas have arisen to bring the industry back on track. One proposal for game improvement is given by Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). He says, “We need games with better stories, more interesting and complex characters; games that keep you up at night wrestling with whether you made the right ethical or moral choices.”
Several Microsoft employees are addressing this issue. Ed Fries of the Microsoft gaming division says interactive entertainment industry has yet to reach its full potential. He mentions that most consumers do not “understand how powerful it is, how great it is not just to be told the story but to be the one in the story.” Dr Seamus Blackley, of Xbox, mentions online gaming as a solution, as players interact not only with machines, but also with other humans. “Hundreds of thousands of people all together in one space, all working together to solve problems, to fight battles, to improve their characters - it’s incredibly compelling,” says Blackley.
Sandy Duncan, head of Xbox Europe, says he looks forward to computer games that evoke a variety of strong emotions. The figurehead currently implements the concept of “mimicking television” in making games, since emotional experiences are commonly achieved while watching events, especially sports, on the television. Duncan compares future emotional games to the soap opera Hill Street Blues, which features multiple plots that excite and satisfy viewers. “Translate that to games - in episodic games the stories can get more complex and reach out to a broader range of emotions,” says the director. Duncan is faithful that any declines in the industry will be made up for with the rise of emotional games.
There is evidence for the validity of the above prospect. Peter Molyneux, a famous game designer from Lionhead Studios, is currently working on a game called Project Ego. An astonishing aspect of aspect of the game is how a player’s actions greatly influence the game world. For example, “a sapling kicked over by your character will not then go on to grow into a tree and 20 game years in the future you will not be able to hide behind it in a battle,” and “characters will tan, grow old, get lines on their faces, grow beards,” according to Molyneux. This project will definitely revolutionize game mechanics.
James Gwertzman is the Director for Business Development of PopCap, a casual gaming company known for Zuma, Bejeweled, and other puzzle games. He offers an interesting alternative view on the future of games. The former developer observes a startling trend in the gaming industry: more designers are moving away from the mainstream and moving into casual markets. Additionally, he expects casual games to become more popular when they are introduced to game consoles. According to Gwertzman, “If you have a couple minutes to kill, it’s pretty tempting to pull up Zuma or something. As a gamer also, I’m very excited to see what people are going to do with it as a platform, as an escape from the $10 million tradition console development.” Gwertman explains his approach to game design:
“We compete in a try-before-you-buy market, and we believe competing successfully there is a fundamentally different kind of design. It changes everything. You can’t be successful just by slapping characters or IP or fancy graphics on the box, because people have a chance to try it out. If the game’s not fun, it’s not going to make a sale. So everything comes down to whether or not the game is fun. And that’s what makes casual games so exciting to work on, it’s all about fun. It’s very oldschool. It’s not about fancy graphics or movie licenses, it’s just about fun.”
Additionally, the PopCap employee describes mobile gaming as an arena with totally different rule from other platforms. Traditional consoles look forward to improving graphics, multiplayer capability, complex gameplay, and other obvious innovations; but mobile devices are used in multiple brief periods, not in huge chunks, of time. Thus, mobile games require gameplay that is quick and simple. This leaves game developers with an alternative challenge to the high-definition, $10 million-budget game. It will most likely in this market, not in area of console gaming, where innovative gameplay will develop.
In the future, we will continue to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the video game industry. There will be two different movements influencing video games. On one hand, we might see more mediocre games – the result of an industry tainted by the need for money. Fortunately, this trend will be countered by further developments in game design that will make games more enjoyable. The game industry will also transform in ways never imagined, as seen with the development of the mobile game industry. The rise of game companies with unique goals and the rise of different devices that include games that will foster significant advances in gaming.
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