GottaCon 2014

When I was over at GottaCon 2014 in Victoria last weekend, I participated in two of the “expert” discussion panels. One of these panels was meant to focus on the future of gaming, but we ended up spending much of that time talking about the gamification of everything, as well as how game theory and gaming technology has come to infiltrate so many aspects of our lives. We did speak on where gaming was headed, like with the Oculus Rift, but I have a few other predictions that I think are worth discussing.

Stream All the Things

When you think about the conventional video game model, you buy a console (or PC) and then you buy physical media for each of the individual games that you’d like to play. In the past, we had cartridges on the NES and Genesis, for instance, and this has moved on to optical discs for the Xbox and Wii. PC games can still be purchased on CD-ROM and DVD-ROM, but the delivery model is shifting. We’re already seeing a lot of digital delivery by way of Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Steam, but I believe streaming will become the norm at some point in the relatively near future.

Streaming media services like TuneIn Radio and Netflix are already very commonplace, but streaming a game — meaning that you don’t have to download anything locally and that the actual “processing” for the game is handled by a server someplace else — is slowly picking up steam. We see this with OnLive, PlayStation Now (powered by Gaikai), and NVIDIA GRID. Call it game streaming, cloud gaming, or gaming as a service (GaaS). Whatever you call it, that’s where we are headed. This means you don’t have to worry about game saves, updates or anything of that sort, because it’s all handled off-site.

The Rising Domination of Freemium

Again, when we look at the traditional model for the video game industry, the cartridge or disc that you buy is an end product. The game is complete. These days, though, things are different. We see a lot of expansion packs, downloadable content and other ways that any given game can constantly evolve and change. New characters can be introduced. New stages can be added. And all of that can be monetized.

Indeed, the mobile and casual space is really where we are seeing this business model flourish. So many of these games are “free” to play, but you have to open up your wallet if you want any of the additions or in-game purchases. From Angry Birds to Candy Crush, these microtransactions are incredibly commonplace. This is very much the reason why games like League of Legends have been able to do so well. Sure, the core game is free, but you’ll be very tempted by all the “extras” that aren’t really all that “extra.”

Companies are getting increasingly creative with how they can extract more money from every player. Look at the new Killer Instinct as a prime example. The basic game is “free,” but you buy each of the individual characters. Or you can buy the “season pass” to unlock them all. This is very different from how traditional fighting games have been sold.

Motion Controls Are a Gimmick (Sort Of)

GottaCon 2014

We’ve been promised the “revolution” of gaming for many years now. The Nintendo Wii was first seen as a gimmick, but it quickly caught on as quite the success. The same can be said about the Kinect, but the novelty factor very quickly fades away, particularly among older players. Whether you prefer console or PC games, at the end of the day, there’s a good chance that your ideal gaming session is one that is (reasonably) relaxed and probably seated. I don’t want to wave my arms around in front of the TV; I want to plop down with a controller.

This being said, I feel there is still a future for motion gaming, but it won’t be nearly as “active” as the “gimmick” games that we see today. Instead, you might be able to peer around the corner in a shooter game, but still move around with a controller. You might lean one way or the other in a go-kart game. We might see a controller-free environment like the game portrayed in the movie Her, but I highly doubt the future of mainstream gaming will entail running on the spot or holding a plastic gun.

In-Game Worlds Are Persistent and Social

Traditional games are largely self-enclosed and episodic in nature. You progress along a pre-determined path from one stage to the next until you face some sort of final boss. That dynamic has continued to change and evolve over the years. Animal Crossing is a great example of where gaming is headed in that the in-game world continues to exist and change, even when you’re not actively playing. We see the same thing in Tiny Death Star. This will grow and, with the rise of “social” gaming, these game worlds will persist with or without you, just like we see in Second Life or World of Warcraft.

There will still be games with distinct missions or stages and you’ll get a story with a real ending, but there will be many more games that are ongoing, open-ended, and never-ending in nature.

The Next Big Thing

Of course, this is all conjecture and there’s no saying where the video game industry will be five, ten or twenty years from now. Not too many people would have guessed that Sega would exit from the hardware game or that the biggest threat to Nintendo’s handheld business would be the almighty cell phone. We thought that we’d have the Holodeck by now and that hasn’t really happened either.

What do you think is the “next big thing” in gaming? Will it really be more of the same or will there be a grand change that’ll dramatically alter how we choose to game moving forward?