In the past I’ve done a lot of talking about the future of one particular franchise or one part of gaming as a whole, but let’s talk today in more general terms. Here are six trends that may forecast where gaming is going in both the near and distant future. As gaming evolves, this is what we will eventually have to look forward to.
Longer Console Lifespans
Our current generation of gaming has been one of the longest in history. In fact, we haven’t seen longevity like this since the NES. Why? Because we hit a bit of a technological brick wall. We have been steadily increasing our graphical processing power ever since the days of the Super Nintendo, and every console-maker wanted to be the first on the scene with their new 16-, 32-, and 64-bit consoles, and beyond.
Yet even though we are still creating better graphics cards, graphics aren’t getting that much better. The Wii U’s graphics aren’t much better than our current-gen’s, even though it has better specs. So unless someone comes up with some amazing new innovation that can’t be patched in or used as a peripheral, our consoles will stick around for a good long time.
Not only that, but the cost of game development has gone through the roof, only dropping as a console gets older. It helps everyone out for our consoles to stick around for a good long time, and so five-year console lifespans will most likely stay in the past.
Non-Traditional Control Schemes
As I said before, consoles are hitting a bit of a technological brick wall in terms of graphics. Still, innovation always wins the day, and if console-makers can’t innovate in the graphical department, then they’ll have to innovate somewhere else.
It looks like control schemes are the next big thing that developers want to tinker around with. The Wii proved that with its outstanding sales this generation, which arguably outpaced its actual popularity among gamers. All it took was a couple of accelerometers and suddenly Nintendo redefined gaming as we know it, eventually paving the way for the Kinect and the PlayStation Move.
Now, Nintendo is doing it again with their fancy Wii U tablet controller, which is potentially being followed in suit by Xbox SmartGlass and the PlayStation Vita’s PS3 connectivity.
Of course, Sony did a bit of their own innovating with the Vita’s back-facing touchpad, and Nintendo has the DS and the 3DS, proving that dual-screen handhelds are pretty cool. Not to mention the fact that there are still any number of weird heart monitor peripherals and brainwave sensors being tested on the PC.
However, things won’t stop there. It wasn’t very long ago that the idea of dual analog sticks was new to us. In ten or fifteen years, we will likely be controlling games in ways we never predicted.
More Shovelware and AAA Franchise Pushes
On the darker side of things, the gaming industry as a whole has arguably become less creative. This is mostly because gamers, in general, are a lot less willing to drop money on any random title. Back in the day, creating games about burger chefs running away from living hot dogs and fried eggs was commonplace (see: BurgerTime.)
Now, however, information just gets around too fast. Everyone has an opinion these days, and it only takes a few critics saying “this game sucks” to make the gaming population turn its back on any new title. Unfortunately, this means we are going to be seeing a lot of Call of Duty until we end up getting tired of it. It also means we are going to see a lot more crappy titles, as studios will simply commit fewer resources to a game if they think it won’t go platinum. Unfortunately, this means we are effectively cutting out the “middle class” of gaming in a sense, those games that are interesting and innovative but don’t sell to a triple-A standard.
Certain developers are fleeing to the indie space and the mobile space, where this type of gaming still exists, but if our industry continues down the path it’s on, even these markets will follow suit.
Gaming as a Lifestyle
Gaming consoles used to do one thing and one thing only: play games. However, that very quickly started to change as our technology got better. The PlayStation could play music CDs, the PlayStation 2 could play DVDs, and our current systems allow us to do everything from surfing the web to browsing YouTube videos, from checking e-mail to getting updates on the news. Game consoles are becoming miniature computers that help manage our lives, rather than just the things we play Super Mario Brothers on.
At this point, first-party developers are finding even more ways to integrate game consoles into your life. Xbox SmartGlass, for example, allows you to connect smartphones and tablets to your Xbox to get even more content that isn’t necessarily gaming-related. As time goes on, consoles will only stray further and further away from being pure gaming machines and will become lifestyle devices, much like smartphones and tablets already are. You’ll be able to do everything from watch movies to plan a schedule to perhaps even control other electronic devices in your house through your gaming console.
Physical media will slowly be phased out of gaming, as it will be for practically every electronic device that still uses software. Just about everyone has an Internet connection now, and it costs far less to simply let someone download your software than to print a continuous run of DVDs or Blu-Ray Disks. Even now, both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 allow day-one digital downloads for certain games. Steam and other PC platforms have been offering day-one digital downloads for ages. Soon enough, heading to the store and purchasing a game disk will be a thing of the past. We will all simply be able to pick what we want to play from a menu and download it.
Of course, this will make the video game retail business change drastically as well. In the past, Nintendo had a service that let you go to a retailer with a disk and write an SNES Disk Drive game to it. Perhaps this is what GameStops of the future will look like, burning disks on the spot for the few of us who still won’t purchase games digitally.
Games as Art
Like it or not, games will become more artistic as time goes on. Kickstarter and a growing indie/mobile space have allowed certain developers to shed the heavy burden of publisher expectations in order to focus on creating the masterpieces they always wanted to create. We will be seeing more Double Fine Adventure Games, more Telltale Games’ the Walking Dead, more Fezes and Braids.
This doesn’t mean triple-A titles will become less common. In fact, as I said before, triple-A development may make it harder to survive in the indie space. However, the very fact that there is such a thing as an indie space opens up a world of possibilities that more artistic developers are just begging to exploit.
It may be a tough road, but interactive media will be so much more than just “games” soon. They will be art.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: October 31, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*