I think the game industry's best prediction of upcoming changes is already here. It's a little gem of a game called Minecraft. Minecraft represents pretty much everything that I think is going to change in the gaming industry within the next few years.
First of all, while Minecraft does get the terms "open world" and "sandbox game" tied to it, it's not comparable to the other games with those labels. The major difference: Minecraft's worlds are randomly generated. This means everyone's Minecraft journey is truly unique. This is an idea that has massive potential in the years to come. Can you imagine, for example, online role-playing games with randomly generated terrain? If it was done properly (the system would have to be tweaked quite a bit), we could be seeing online game worlds so large that they make WoW's landscape area look like the inside of a birdhouse. In fact, there is an upcoming MMO called Salem that is toying with this very idea.
Minecraft gives the player 100% control over the game environment. Every chunk of dirt can be moved, every stone crushed, and every mountain leveled in the sake of expressing the desires of your creative little mind. Destructibility is being explored more in the first-person shooter genre, with games like Red Faction and the upcoming Battlefield 3, but this destructibility is more limited in Minecraft. I want to see a shooter in which both sides actually get to construct bases, set traps, and dig trenches before a multiplayer match starts. This would up the strategic value of the FPS immensely.
Minecraft also unbinds itself from something that's long been poisoning the gaming experience: the need for top-notch graphics. While incredible graphics are fun to look at, they really don't make or break a game experience.
Well, that's not true. Nice visuals don't usually make a gaming experience, but they certainly can break one. Just ask the folks at Square Enix. They have admitted that the depth of Final Fantasy VII is no longer possible to be recreated, since making sure their games look graphically appealing is taking so much of their resources. But with Minecraft proving that gameplay still trumps graphics, we may finally be able to see a return of the epic, side-quest-filled RPG.
Finally, Minecraft proves that indie developers are able to make it alongside the majors. 2010 saw a massive explosion of indie games that did quite well for themselves. At the end of 2011, it's just as possible to see an indie game take home a game of the year award as it is for one of the AAA titles to win.
My prediction: Minecraft is a game-changer. If you look at all the features that make Minecraft great, I think you'll find a road map to the new directions we'll see the game industry take in the coming years. Randomly-generated worlds have huge potential, as do fully-transformable environments. Graphics are going to be less important to us serious gamers, and the indie gaming scene will continue to go head-to-head with the AAA gaming scene.
Well, that's my own interpretation of Minecraft anyway. If all this is truly an indicator of what to expect in the near future, then I'd say we have a great decade of gaming ahead of us.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*