We will start this article with an anecdote about the future in gaming. Namely, last year the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed what he thought was the company’s biggest competitor. No, it wasn’t HBO or Amazon. In his estimation, the biggest threat to Netflix’s continued dominance in entertainment were video games. He added that the demand now has shifted from “what to watch” to “whether to watch”. The most common answer to this between the audience is “I’m going to play a game”.
This imposes the question: how often people are choosing to reach for a game controller, instead of a TV remote? Numbers show an impressive potential and perspective for the future of gaming. In 2019, this industry generated over $120 billion in revenue, and predictions are it could reach up to $200 billion within two years. Niche markets like online casino gaming also have a slice of the cake. Today, players prefer to explore different games and themes in the online space, reviewing casino providers, and online games. For example, check out this Sausage Party slot review at SlotsWise from Blueprint Gaming. The name might sound goofy in the first place, but the game enjoys a lot of popularity on comparison websites and streaming platforms like Twitch.
When it comes to online streams, close to 100 million viewers tuned in to watch players compete in the last League of Legends World Championship. This number is a larger number than the telecast of the Super Bowl or any other similar show. By 2021 it is projected that almost one-third of the global population will be involved in gaming.
How is the gaming industry performing when we make a breakdown by markets? Here are the statistics:
Mobile Gaming – 64.4 billion
PC Gaming – 29.6 billion
Console Gaming – 15.4 billion
Game-related videos – 6.5 billion
VR and AR gaming – 6.3 billion
On the other side, big companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon are seizing the moment. By the end of 2019, Apple released Apple Arcade, a service for a game subscription. Soon after, Google launched Stadia which allows users to stream major game titles directly from the Cloud rather than fussing with downloads or physical console. In 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch, the most popular platform up to date to watch gamers play. It is rumored that soon they’ll launch their own game-streaming service. These newcomers will compete with pioneers like PlayStation, Nintendo, and Xbox for market share.
Culturally, it seems that gaming has broken out of the niche corners of the world and will become even more mainstream. But, which are the innovations that will shape the future of video games and how they will influence the gaming experience?
The idea of AI has been expressed in gaming for decades – most prominently in non-player characters ( NPCs) Characters like these are typically programmed to follow a script or an if-then statement. For example, If the game is on, then chase Pac-Man. In recent years, game makers have taken a more sophisticated approach to NPCs. For example, some are now programmed with a behavior scheme that enables them to perform more complex decision making. Now characters have the ability to work in a team and coordinate their moves, rather than needlessly roaming around and running like they’re in a cheap action sequel.
Still, NPCs can only do what is written in their code. Their behavior, no matter how intelligent it is, is still determined in advance by the designers. Some developers have tried to give NPCs a mind on their own using complex AI tasks. This is very likely to happen in the future according to experts, but not all are convinced it’s coming any time soon. Designers are convinced that if there’s too much artificial intelligence, there’s no guarantee about which way the story will unfold and is it going to be fun. In other words – if characters run free in games, their autonomy would result in a less fun experience for the player.
Technology isn’t just part of the gameplay, but part of the game making experience. Designers can offload the drawing work to computers by using a technique called procedural content generation, which has become a standard practice in the industry. Many game makers also rely on neural networks in order to customize the levels for players through a process called experience-driven content generation. For example, researchers collected player data for Super Mario, quantifying each player’s preferences as they played. Maybe a level had too many jumps and not enough sewers, or some coins were hard to reach. Once this data is digested, it points out new levels that reflect the player’s preferences. In the near future, we’ll probably not have AI systems that can design a complete game from scratch, ignoring the human touch and team effort of developers.
Two prominent pop-culture phenomena like the edition of Star Trek and Westworld series have captured the imagination of developers with their depictions of AI and VR. Experts describe the possibility of having an AI “director” who’s looking at what you’re doing and directing the experience just for you. Until designers figure that out, rest assured that characters in the games will be alive and vivid only when you’re online.
The position of VR
For VR to be more than a niche hobby or a fun time, several challenges will need to be overcome, and the first one is the bulky headsets. The experience is still stuck in the mode where you turn on the headset and spend hours comfortably sitting in one place. The question many tech professionals are asking is – if the hardware cannot respond to preferences of gamers, will VR be able to survive? Until companies change their hardware solutions and price points, most gamers will probably continue to resist.
VR is mostly a solitary experience. It’s still a thing that you’re doing on your own to the exclusion of everything else. People enjoy playing VR games, however, if someone else is around, chances are that they’ll think twice before putting on the headset. Before and after the VR experience, people feel like they’ve completely cut themselves off from the social environment. This is a potential disruption for this niche market that should be considered. If there’s a possibility for future arrangements and predictions, the potential of this market is more through social VR.
To understand what social VR is, think about location-based entertainment (LBE) which blends together a virtual and physical reality. Unlike typical VR experiences, hyperreality game players will notice that what they see in their headsets actually corresponds to the physical space where they are at. Developers see this type of entertainment as an on-ramp experience that introduces everyday people to the possibility of virtual reality. The technology that brought Pokemon Go on the market wasn’t new. The geo-based AR gameplay was already around, it just took a brand (Pokemon) to attract consumers. Once they played it, they loved it and the content went viral. This is the part where AR is taking off faster than VR – People have an appetite for games that interact with reality and not completely removing it from their sight.
Technology will continue to unlock more social interactions and engagement because real-world encounters in a different format are what makes this possibility attractive. The quality of an augmented reality game depends on the level of reality in it. If the current trends and forecasts continue to evolve in this direction, they will reveal human’s greatest skepticism about interaction, because our desire to escape is far outpaced by our desire to connect.