For years, video games have been gradually increasing in popularity. The tendency has only intensified as individuals seek new methods to socialize and remain occupied throughout the pandemic. Gaming has grown to be larger than the film and sports industries combined.

Gaming revenue is expected to rise by 12% in 2020, to $139.9 billion from $120.1 billion in 2019, according to industry research firm SuperData. In fact, four out of every five people in the United States played a video game at least once in the previous six months last year. Your revenue could rise just as much if you get lucky gambling online.

It used to be a question of ‘what to watch,’ but now it’s a question of ‘whether to watch.’ And the response is becoming more common: ‘Nah, I’m going to play a game.’

So, where do we go from here? Gaming will only become more widespread culturally in the future. But what technological advancements are influencing the future of video games, and how will they impact the gaming experience?

Virtual Reality

For decades, virtual reality has captivated gamers with the promise of a completely immersive experience. Technological developments, on the other hand, have been slow to deliver on that promise.

Last year, Polygon’s Ben Kuchera remarked, “VR has been five minutes away from some form of breakthrough for roughly eight years.”

Although virtual reality has a big name in the video game industry, it is still a very small one. Let’s take for example that it has less than half of video game sales in 2020.

In 2020, Kevin Mack, a VR game creator, remarked, “Right now we’re sort of in this trough of disillusionment regarding VR.” “There was a lot of enthusiasm around it in 2015 and 2016, and then the whole world got butt-hurt when their first-generation VR headset didn’t turn into the Holodeck right away.”

“The fact that their first-generation VR headgear didn’t suddenly turn into the Holodeck stung the entire planet.”

Despite the fact that virtual reality has yet to live up to the promise, internet firms such as Facebook, Valve, and Sony are working hard to progress the sector, investing significant money in the development of VR technology and games.

On the horizon, there are some positive developments. But first, a few obstacles must be overcome.

Namely, the bulky headsets and high prices.

Virtual reality headsets are often over a pound in weight and must be attached to the user’s face. It’s not exactly a comfortable environment. After a half-hour of play, you’re sweating hard and your energy is spent.

This experience runs counter to the traditional gaming behavior of spending hours happily snuggled into a sofa. Will VR hardware be able to thrive if it cannot accord with players’ preferences? Most gamers, with the exception of early adopters and tech fanatics, will continue to resist until firms trim down their VR headsets, eliminate unwieldy connecting wires, and cut pricing.

Virtual reality is becoming more enticing to a wider audience, and hardware costs are decreasing. Even if those obstacles are solved, the social isolation of most VR experiences may limit their potential.

“Virtual reality is a one-on-one encounter.” Mack stated, “It’s something you do on your own, and it’s something you choose to do over anything else.” He enjoys playing virtual reality games, but he thinks twice about donning the headset while others are present.

“I still wouldn’t wear one that often at home if my partner is also present,” he explained. “Because I feel like I’ve walled myself off totally from the social world.”

Despite the restrictions, Mack is hopeful about the future of virtual reality.

“I believe virtual reality will stay niche, but it has the potential to grow into a large niche,” he remarked. “I think we’ll see some pretty spectacular and intriguing stuff coming down the pipeline in the next couple of years,” he says.

Professor Mitu Khandaker of the Game Center at New York University is bullish about VR’s gaming possibilities. Khandaker believes that rather than people playing through a headset alone in their homes, it will be a co-located experience that many people share.

She remarked, “I feel that social VR is the path of the future of VR.”.

Several VR games, such as Rec Room and VRChat, provide social experiences in which users can engage and hang out with one another in real-time.

VR will be able to win a big position in gaming’s future if it opens more, not fewer, relationships with other people.

Augmented Reality

Parks and plazas were teeming with Pokémon-hunting smartphone users in the summer of 2016.

Pokémon Go is a smartphone game in which artificial objects — in this instance, colorful animals known as Pokémon — overlay a person’s natural range of vision.

The game was most people’s first introduction to augmented reality, and it remains the technology’s biggest success story. It has already sold over $5 billion.

However, a large portion of Pokémon Go’s long-term success may be attributed to its valuable intellectual property. In a number of games, literature, and movies, people may spend time with Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. The ultimate secret sauce is the game’s mix of virtual and real, the interplay between digital characters and physical locations.

People prefer games that interact with reality rather than removing them from it, which is one of the reasons why AR is catching on faster than VR.

“I don’t think the entertainment experiences in AR will attempt to be immersive,” Mack added. “I used to travel to particular spots just because there was a Pokémon there when I was playing Pokémon Go. And that’s a significant societal force.”

The x-factor that triggered the network effect that turned Pokémon Go into a multibillion-dollar phenomenon was found outside of the goggles, rather than within them. Its success will surely motivate other gaming companies to try to capitalize on the public’s desire for games that incorporate virtual and real-world components.

“I could easily imagine a game like hide-and-seek or some form of laser tag,” Mack remarked. “At that point, it’s a natural match.”

In the medium term, at least, Rogelio Cardona-Rivera, a professor at the University of Utah’s School of Computing, believes that AR will prove to be a more fruitful ground for game makers than VR.

“Rather than aiming to completely duplicate reality, I believe designers will find complementing reality to be a more trackable design problem,” he remarked in 2020. “Then we might see some of the AR lessons incorporated into VR.”

On mobile phones, AR gaming has seen the most momentum thus far. However, internet giants like Facebook or Apple believe that the future of augmented reality will be mediated by specially designed glasses.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has long been present in video games, most notably in non-player characters such as Pac-colorful Man’s ghosts or Grand Theft Auto’s innocent bystanders.

NPCs have become increasingly complex in recent years, thanks to game developers. Many NPCs now have behavior trees coded into them, allowing them to make more sophisticated decisions. In Halo 2, for example, the enemy aliens may work together and coordinate their attacks rather than running into gunfire one by one like they’re in an action film.

NPCs, on the other hand, can only do what is written in their code. Their actions, however clever they appear to be, are nevertheless predetermined by the game’s designers.

Is it possible that more powerful AI may appear in commercial games in the future? Although experts agree it is possible, not everyone believes it will happen very soon.

“You can attempt to construct a very fantastic, complete AI system that is about allowing a character to behave in all kinds of unexpected ways,” Khandaker explained. “However, if there’s too much of it, there’s no way of knowing which direction the tale will go or if it’ll be enjoyable.”

“In terms of publishers’ or studios’ willingness to take chances, games are a relatively conservative business.”

Free-range NPCs may be a non-starter from a strictly cost standpoint, in addition to posing game design issues.

“Games are a conservative business in terms of publishers’ or studios’ willingness to take chances,” Khandaker added. “There’s a huge sense of wanting to keep doing the same thing because there’s such a fantastic legacy in terms of design for what works in games.”

It may be feasible to include more intelligent NPCs in games. However, if it is expensive and does not improve the player’s experience, studios will be less motivated to make it happen.

Nonetheless, some designers are committed to improving NPCs, particularly in terms of finding ways to make NPCs more convincing and human-like.

“The toughest problem for AI is to replicate creativity,” Julien Desaulniers, the programming team head of AI and gameplay in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, told GamesRadar. “Having AI create narrative material raises the bar to a new level, one that not even all humans can achieve.”

AI, on the other hand, isn’t only a part of the game experience. It’s all part of the process of creating a game. Designers have been using artificial intelligence (AI) to help them create game assets for a number of years, saving them the time and effort of meticulously drawing each individual tree in a forest or rock formation in a canyon. Instead, designers may outsource that task to computers using a process known as procedural content development, which has grown rather common in the business.

Procedural content creation is also used to generate gaming levels, which are occasionally generated at random so that the player has a unique experience each time. (The 2016 game No Man’s Sky pushed this concept to its logical conclusion since the game’s entire open-world setting is randomly generated and not pre-drawn by the developers.)

Some game developers use neural networks to create custom game levels for players, a method known as experience-driven procedural content generation, according to NYU scientist Julian Togelius.

Researchers, for example, gathered player data for Super Mario in 2009, measuring each player’s preferences as they played. Perhaps there were too many leaps and not many sewers in a level or coins were difficult to get and bad people were too simple to fight. The data from the players was input into a computer by the researchers. After the computer had digested the data, it generated new levels based on the player’s choices.

While AI creates game elements and, in some cases, whole levels, human designers’ jobs aren’t in danger – at least not yet.

In his 2018 book Playing Smart, Togelius writes, “For the foreseeable future, we will not have AI systems that can build an entire game from start with anything like the quality, or at least consistency of quality, that a team of human game creators can.”

Academics and game designers are still working on AI systems that will govern the game in a way that is enjoyable to the user.

Cardona-Rivera imagines a future in which artificial intelligence operates as a game master, directing the actions of a human player.

“Imagine having an AI ‘director’ who is watching what you’re doing and guiding the unfolding experience for you,” he added. “That’s similar to what my study is attempting to do, as well as what a lot of other intriguing work in the area — not just mine — is attempting to accomplish.”

We’ll continue to see human designers and machine algorithms collaborating to produce the next generation of video games until they figure it out.

Although AI is not currently capable of developing full high-quality games from scratch, it can give vital input to game creators, allowing them to fine-tune their creations on the fly. It’s a rather typical occurrence.

Togelius remarked, “It would be difficult to discover a commercially marketed game that did not ‘phone home’ with information on how it’s being played.”

In most games, information on how a player interacts with the game is gathered. This information is sent into an algorithm, which is then used to fine-tune games based on what the system predicts players would love.

“Games are all about creating an engaging experience that people want to return to,” Khandaker remarked. “That is, in essence, what AI is about.”