Jim walks out of his favorite StarbucksAmazon with his coffee, when all of sudden, he catches wind of something through his glasses: the unmistakable silhouette of a mecha-squid gyrating in a nearby alley. Must be feasting on some trash dumpsters, he thinks. Perfect.
Looking both ways, he crosses the road while slowly pulling out his Spark-Glove. As he peers around the alley’s corner, he spots just what he was hoping to find: the fourth piece of the city map he needs to find the next level marker – lying just behind the twelve-foot cybernetic creature. He musters his courage, and begins creeping towards the piece, hand outstretched, praying the monster doesn’t notice him…
What will games look like in 2025? Eleven years can make an incredible difference in entertainment, as we see clearly when we compare 2014 with 2003. Consider that eleven years back, mobile gaming was still emerging from the days of Nokia’s brick-based Snake-eating-other-bricks game on their universally loved handsets. Unless you worked in R&D, your phone didn’t have color, you loaded computer games from CD-ROMs, used 3 ¼ floppy disks for important files and it was a big deal if you bought the new (original) Xbox.
Five years later in 2008, I was on a “future of mobile games” panel at a mobile conference in New York. The conversation still focussed on J2ME and carrier-driven distribution issues. At the time, Blackberry was high fashion, and there were tight controls on delivering mobile content to the mass market of Java based phones. The iPhone was cool, but it was still a niche.
Technology is an unpredictable space. Anything can happen. But using fairly safe assumptions like uptake of wearables and increasing processor speed, here’s Fuel’s take on where gaming is headed. First, a few trendlines. Then, some fun thought experiments of where they lead.
Gaming and the Quantified Self
NikePlus kicked gamification of health into the mass market, and since then we’ve seen a steady expansion of hardware and software intended to help people become better versions of themselves. From Kinect aerobics games presented by The Biggest Loser TV series, to mental acuity games like Lumosity that suggest (without quite promising) to increase the players IQ, gaming is expanding into new areas in which the score means something in real life.
With tech companies making big gambles on wearables that would speak with smartphones and offer the ability to measure things like heart rate – and even measure brainwaves with Interaxon’s Muse – the potential for games that work with biofeedback and neurofeedback is huge. Essentially, NikePlus for your whole self – from weight to mental state.
Fragmentation of Creators Extends the Long Tail
Or, “Hey guys, let’s make an Xbox game this weekend.”
Mobile gaming – let’s all take a long, awkward stare at the lone genius who created Flappy Bird – shows us how individuals can create breakthrough global content. Immense studios with huge properties can be beaten out by small studios with novel content. This is not the rule, but that doesn’t matter to creators who build out of passion, rather than commercial potential. Xbox One now offers the ID system that allows (pretty much) anyone to create Xbox games for digital distribution. Whether they’re any good is irrelevant, as the trend we see here is that more people are creating more content and making it available to more people. But just because it’s available, doesn’t mean everyone is going to access it. An analogy?
In the 90’s classic UHF, Weird Al and his friends create a hit on the long tail of the airwaves – but for every Channel 62, there were a hundred more that no one cared about. What will be interesting to observe is how widely available game development tools, publishing options and sandbox creative environments combine with an even tech-savvier generation. Consider what blogging tools did for web publishing.
Convergence of Content Platforms Extends Games Everywhere
Already visible with gameplay across platforms like Facebook, iOS and Android, and social extensions between console and social networks, convergence of platforms will continue to make it easier for developers to build experiences that move seamlessly between technologies. As more devices are added to the mix, like retinal projectors (more advanced Google Glass), it will become even more critical that systems are able to interact with one another.
Evolution of Inputs Makes Games Ultra-Intuitive
What started with Wii making movement a part of gaming, and evolved with Kinect using voice and total body movement will continue to evolve. Higher resolution cameras and software will make facial expression and emotion visible to a console. Voice controls will improve to allow deep levels of player and character dialogue. Neural inputs like Neurosky and Muse will allow games to be controlled with thought. Ultimately, handheld controls will likely remain the primary interface device for console and mobile gaming, as they allow for very simple and fast control of complex commands, but the expansion of input modes will make games that much more immersive and allow for novel experimentation.
Evolution of Outputs Builds Enhanced and Synthetic Realties
In 11 years, we will likely be seeing the unveiling of the equivalent to the “PS6” and iPhone 9. Google Glass will have spawned multiple competitors and be in a 3rd generation device to provide visual overlays on reality on the go. Full immersion VR in a 3rd generation Oculus Rift or Avegant Glyph-style headset will be available. There is potential that 3D television or holography will have reached a point of consumer adoption, but it’s more likely based on past trends that home screens will simply continue to get bigger, sharper and more connected.
Example 1: Hardcore Gaming – Modern Warfare starring you and Matt Damon
Sitting at home with a bowl of popcorn, Josh powers up the PS6 and – using voice commands – has the new Call of Duty: Jason Bourne game load. A co-production between Universal Pictures and Activision, the game continues the convergence of Hollywood and gaming, with video-realistic versions of a full cast of actors including Matt Damon reprising his starring role. Rather than offering canned responses, the characters offer fully interactive dialogue.
Example 2: Casual Gaming – Angry Birds Mean Streets
The game is activated, and the player’s view changes. Brick surfaces propagate out of every flat surface perpendicular to the ground, procedurally generating a level overlaid over the real world. Two others across the street have a slingshot icons above their heads. The player raises her phone and pulls back a virtual bird, flinging it across the street into the base of a building, bringing it and the piggies down. The players across the road take aim, sending their own birds flying above her head, creating a mess of bricks at her feet.
Example 3: Persistent Worlds – Middle Earth
Following the theatrical release of the Lord of the Rings reboot, starring, say, an aging Ewan McGregor in the role of Gandalf, and a newly rehabilitated Justin Bieber as Gollum, a new persistent massively multiplayer online roleplaying game launches in the spirit of World of Warcraft. Played across multiple platforms, the game allows players to fully realize fantasy visions through a highly complex synthetic world. The evolutions include multiple play modes for multiple
Imagine millions of complex and developed characters living in a parallel reality, one which we control, but also has sufficient AI to operate while we’re not around (let’s say you only want to make a few tweaks from your phone in a meeting). We pop in, visit, steer them in certain directions, and come back later for the outcome, getting periodical updates and choices on our devices. We can also settle in for hours of detailed interaction, exploration, conversation and action in their world, which will seem just as real and vibrant as our own. If World of Warcraft and MMO addiction is a concern for some now, these kinds of worlds will be the mother lode of psychological gratification.
A new era for audiences
But beyond the player’s experience, what’s to be said for audience? From whopping eSports statistics like 32 million people tuning in to watch 2013’s League of Legend World Championship, to the explosive popularity of Let’s Play videos on Youtube, the consumer ecosystem has proven that there is indeed an interest in watching gameplay for passive entertainment’s sake. Move that forward a decade, and you’ve got the lines between ‘nerd’ and ‘jock’ and ‘rock star’ unequivocally blurred.