The gaming industry has no shortage of people declaring a golden age, or others raving about the signs of a gaming apocalypse. This is a pretty standard reaction to uncertainty. Because gaming is technology-based, it has been changing rapidly, creating a lot of uncertainty over the direction in which the industry is headed. Here we’ll look at some of the trends that are influencing the future of gaming, and where the industry may be headed if these trends pan out. (For some background reading on gaming, see From Friendly to Fragging: A Beginner's Guide to Video Game Genres.)
Mobile Devices and Casual Gaming
One of the biggest trends to roil the video game industry may be the growth in casual gaming on mobile devices. People are now turning to their phones and getting their gaming fix in small, simplistic doses. This is great for the development companies who make these addictive gaming apps, but it has called many of the traditional game development models into question.
Instead of pouring millions of dollars and development hours into creating an immersive online or console-based game that sells for a high ticket price, these smaller development companies are throwing together simple apps that retail for less than $10 in the hope of hitting on a hit game. It's a bit of a lottery approach, but the games that do achieve a following will receive the resources to make them better. This is essentially prototyping, and it has been shown to work pretty well for gaming apps that are meant to be played a few minutes at a time, but can it also work for games with playing times well over 30 hours?
It is too early to tell, but there seems to be a split emerging in what we refer to as gaming. Casual gaming is breaking off to do its own lower-cost thing, whereas large, immersive games are becoming more and more expensive to make. The difference between the two is similar to the difference between the television industry and the movie industry. If these two types of gaming separate further, consolidation among the immersive game designers to create better economies of scale is likely. This outcome would have both good and bad consequences.
Another interesting trend – and perhaps an alternative to having just a few huge game designers dominating the industry – is the idea of subscription gaming. This already exists for some online games, but the ability to handle all the processing and storage in the cloud means that gamers could sign up for a gaming service with a model much like the one used by Netflix. This would allow game design companies to collect ongoing revenue and update games on a rolling basis, rather than spending resources versioning a successful franchise.
The issue many gamers have with this idea is that they don't get to own games in the traditional sense. This means that hardcore gamers who lose their connection to the internet will be stuck twiddling their thumbs until the connection is restored.
Dedicated users in any industry tend to have a vested interest in improving the products they consume. Finding a way to let them do it in a controlled way has always been a bit of a challenge. For gaming in particular, this a challenge worth taking on. Whether it's a puzzle game, role-playing game, first-person shooter or any other genre, user-generated content is something gamers are likely to continue to see in increasing measures. Customization of levels, quests, game mechanics and so forth has proved popular. Scaling up this concept within game franchises could change games from a one-time buy to a platform as a service model that keeps users invested in improving the overall product.
We’ve mostly focused on the newer trends, but there are a lot of mature trends that haven’t reached an endpoint yet. A lot of technological leaps have been made in gaming in the last 20 years, including experimentation with alternative control methods, 3-D gaming and so on. Motion controls, such as that found on the popular Nintendo Wii and Wii U, may not replace controllers completely, but they will open up whole new gaming areas in fitness and simulation as the technology improves. 3-D gaming is also far from fully developed and could lead to games that are more like interactive art than anything with a storyline. There is still a lot of potential locked up in these old trends that may spur entirely new trends in gaming. (Discover some of things that already make video games appealing in 5 Psychological Tricks Video Games Use To Keep You Playing.)
Creative Decline or Leap Forward?
Depending on who you talk to, gaming is either in the midst of a creative decline or at the beginning of huge leap forward. In reality, what actually happens all comes down to execution. If the gaming industry can deliver on the potential of some of these trends, the future is bright. If not, there is always another life, another chance and another trend to jump on before the game is actually over.