Video games hold a unique position in the world of media and entertainment. Reliant as they are on the constantly evolving industries of tech and design, it should come as no surprise that their development and progress is unprecedented in its momentum. Despite now sitting firmly as an established form of media, routinely bringing in more money than even the film box office, the position of this billion dollar industry is often misunderstood.
So where does gaming currently stand in the world of technological adaption and improvement, how has it reached this point, and what is expected from this ever-growing industry in the future?
Into the Eighth Generation
The current line of video game consoles is what is commonly known in the industry as the eighth generation. While this division of units into different era is not always entirely straightforward, the general pattern of releasing consoles at the same time is still useful for defining a line of technological leaps and bounds which tend to accompany each new set of units. Just as personal computers continuously become more powerful, so too do video game consoles, though the trend here is not always as linear.
With faster processors comes greater possibilities for graphics and expanded opportunities for game play. As people have continually been impressed by video game graphics, even all the way back to the early days of Space Invaders, it makes sense from a business standpoint to pursue this as a primary avenue of advancement, though it can come at a cost. Games need game play, after all, so an overemphasis on graphical output over similar processing power which can be used for game play elements does cause somewhat of a divide within the gaming community.
Sony and Microsoft pursue the graphics first at all cost avenues, as they have since their first console’s inception, though Nintendo takes a separate tack, now relying on innovation rather than sheer horsepower. The last three of Nintendo’s mainline console entries, the Wii, Wii U, and Switch, have all gone for something different. While in the case of the Wii U it left them with a commercial failure, both the Wii and Switch have been praised as some of the best in the business, emphasizing fun game play and art style as they do over raw graphical prowess and polygon count.
When it comes to the future of these major consoles, the unique current technological situation leaves considerable room for discussion and doubt. For the first console gaming generation ever, these devices are gaining direct hardware updates to their base units, effectively rendering them as very different from their initial releases. This could mean a future without clearly defined generation boundaries, though until Sony or Microsoft officially reveal their next line of consoles this is relegated to conjecture.
As for Nintendo, assumptions are that it will continue ignoring the competition, comfortable as they are doing their own thing, for good or for bad.
Virtual, Augmented, or Traditional?
Some of the biggest changes in the modern age of gaming have come from the unexpected or long-predicted but only recently possible. The biggest of these include the increasingly viable technologies of virtual and augmented reality, as well as the unexpected explosion of the mobile gaming market.
The concepts of virtual reality and augmented reality are far from new, having been popular elements of science fiction for decades. Our current range of high-quality and immersive devices are not even the first major commercial attempt either, as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy tried and failed to break into this market all the way back in 1995. With extreme processing limitations and a monochrome and headache-inducing red and black display, it’s not difficult to see why this product didn’t take off, though it certainly stood out as ahead of its time.
Modern AR and VR tech is a difficult experience to describe when a reader doesn’t have the context of experience, but suffice to say the believability and potential of these devices are finally approaching the reality portion of their names. Not only have these seen major gaming integration with some of the biggest series such as Doom and Resident Evil, but their benefits for education and health have also helped drive interest and innovation on a level which gaming alone could never manage. With high resolutions, responsive frame rates, and engaging worlds, these devices are finally poised to make waves in the mainstream.
In the future, as miniaturization and improving technology evolve these devices and lowers the barriers to entry, it is expected that these will become an increasingly integrated part of our daily lives. Whether through entertainment or use in business, expect these to soon have the ubiquity of standard gaming consoles or PC devices.
The mobile gaming market, at least for diehard gamers, was not a concept widely predicted. This is owing to both the hilariously limited state of early pre-smartphones, and just how widely these little devices have been underestimated in their adoption. Nowadays mobile gaming brings in billions of dollars a year, and while this is expected to continue into the foreseeable future with major developers, the origins which help this industry proliferate are more than a little surprising.
In the earliest days of digital mobile phones, the included games were limited to the likes of brick games or Snake. Fun, sure, but not exactly the most engaging. As the new millennium dawned, smartphones became an indispensable part of our daily lives, yet major gaming developers remained hesitant. Seemingly untrusting of new technology, or unaware of the opportunities which this could represent, it came down to others to show the world what was possible.
Chief among these was the online casino market. As one of the first and most successful business to enter the online world, this industry is no stranger to innovation, happily adopting their games on mobile systems. Online services took the first step in delivering perfect interpretations of games like slots and blackjack over PCs and mobile devices both, both showing just how faithful these versions could be, and proving that this was largely a market untapped. Even today – perhaps due to the intense competition in the sector – online casinos are quick to adopt new technology, with providers such as Vegas Casino beginning to accept cryptocurrency payments much earlier than their non-gambling counterparts. Following their success, major traditional video game developers often follow suit.
Enter Cloud Computing
What is thought of as not only a potential next step, but a potential endgame for video game systems, is the concept known as cloud gaming. Set to completely revolutionize the way in which we play, the first steps into this new world have already been taken, though technology has a while to go before mainstream adoption becomes a reality.
When understanding exactly how cloud computing works the best example is perhaps the related area of video streaming services like Netflix. These systems have been created to keep actual media loaded and computed on a host system potentially hundreds of miles from the user. This is then streamed via the internet directly onto a huge range of devices, from televisions to mobiles and laptops. Not only does this reduce storage requirements for viewers, but it also entirely removes many of the limitations of the host devices themselves.
Applying this to video games is a little trickier, though the base concept remains the same. For these systems, the actual computing is done off-site and then transmitted via the internet onto any device with a capable input and display method. This means that players could enjoy something like the highest requirement PC game on the market without needing a high-spec machine at all, able to play the newest entries even on something as relatively limited as a smart-phone.
The actual implementation of this technology still has a while to go, as gaming comes with a distinct caveat not applicable to video streaming – the concept of latency or lag. Videos and music can buffer, effectively creating an initial delay for a more continuous playback. Games, on the other hand, necessitate a rapid response time in terms of both the host machine receiving an input command and relaying the created video output back to the player. Anything longer than just a few milliseconds renders many games unplayable, so before this becomes a common reality our collective internet is still in dire need of improvement.
Technology evolving as rapidly as it does today, and the tendency of some trends to completely dominate others, means the predicting exactly which of these paths will become popular reality involves no small amount of guesswork. What is known for certain is that consoles will see another generation, with at least Sony and Microsoft pursuing generational technological leaps. Similarly, virtual and augmented reality are still seeing a considerable upward trend, with their use and capabilities making them a shoe-in for future development and mass-adoption.
Mobile gaming, as we can see with the likes of the current biggest game in the world, Fortnite, getting on board, appears to be following a path analogous to PC game development. These are also likely the devices probably to get the most out of the coming cloud gaming revolution, as gaming on the go continues to build steam at an unprecedented rate.
The next few years are going to be some of the most exciting in the history of the gaming industry, whatever form this market eventually takes.