Where Games Are Heading: The Next Decade in Creativity

 2020 will be a momentous milestone in the annals of gaming, as technology, creativity, and talent continue to thrive in the growing industry.

The Last Ten Years

Let’s look back to the last decade:

-> VR Developers charted new possibilities in immersion with Virtual Reality headsets with the Oculus Rift and the Valve Index.

-> Minecraft and PUBG/Fortnite led genre revolutions in scale, letting imaginations run wild and enshrining endless size as the centerpiece of gameplay.

-> Esports took the world stage — in both importance and viewership. It’s integral to every competitive game’s strategy. Valve’s Dota 2 topped $30,000,000 USD for its prize pool!

-> Free-to-Play captured the attention of hundreds of millions of new players

-> Indie games proliferated with the support of distribution platforms and game engine technology.

The Promise of the Future

5 Macro Trends in Gaming

1. Games as Creative Tools

This has happened in the past on a smaller scale with classic game engines, but today’s tools are so accessible that many future designers will not have to be deeply familiar with coding or the underlying technologies.

User Generated Content (UGC) is at the center of this: Player-driven creativity is going to be the fundamental driver of future games. Once a player gets the taste for this freedom, it will be restrictive to suggest anything less.

On a tangent to creative freedom within games is the social creativity. This would be the sort of creativity that we see in social media circles: sharing of moments, images, and thoughts. In terms of video sharing, PlayStation has innovated on that front with the PS4 in the last console generation. They have included a Photo Mode feature in their first-party titles to encourage players to share beautiful snippets of their games.

The next step is to take that further: what if gameplay moments were share-able? We’ve seen the first glimpses of this with level sharing features in Mario Maker, LittleBigPlanet, and other design-oriented games. Sharability’s next evolution is the packaging of a small puzzle that you have to download the game to try out. The way we demo games in the future will be from snippets of gameplay, perhaps streamed directly to our devices.

2. Expanded Platform Services and Technologies

Player Loyalty to Services

Player Communities will be fought over by publishers and platforms. The companies that ultimately win over the players will be the ones that provide the best services to augment the gaming experience. This extends past storefront distribution (which is just the entry point to onboarding a player to your platform). Players need a way to connect more meaningfully with friends, to stay on top of their gaming habits, and to maximize their entertainment time.

Ubiquitous Cloud-sync for Games

Mobility between devices will become a necessity. Player data will no longer be locked to specific devices and platforms. With a cloud-sync service between your computer and phone, players will be able to start a game on one device and finish it on another.

The popularity of the Nintendo Switch is a testament to this “play anywhere” philosophy (executed in hardware). Pick up your console to play while travelling, or plug in to your TV for a comfy experience on your couch. Today, with my phone, I can move seamlessly between desktop and mobile gaming while playing Riot Game’s Legends of Runeterra.

The challenge here is in premium games because of isolated storefronts. The fragmentation of distribution requires a player to purchase a multiple times if they want to play on different platforms. This is a barrier that free-to-play games do not face.

Instant Streaming removes the need to turn off your game.

The most disruptive service will be game streaming, which allows players to bypass downloads and hardware requirements, by streaming the game from a remote server. Streaming will shift two major paradigms: how players demo games and how players switch between games.

For game demos, streaming effectively removes the barrier to sampling new games. Players will not have to download a game to try it out. The ease of sampling will make it a lot easier to help players find the games they love. Overall, games will be able to find their audience much faster.

For game-switching, streaming removes delays in switching between games. Players spend a lot of time loading into the game worlds that they want to play. In the past, we had to swap out game disks and waiting for the game to start. With the instant access of games through streaming, players will be able to play games with higher frequency, and maybe even play more with their time.

In the same way that phone are always-on devices, games will become always-on programs, available to be played instantly.

3. Empower Talent with Gamification

The next decade will test the foundations that have been built, as more students go through the schools and courses that we have developed. There have been plenty of great strides taken in the realm of partnerships with academia to support and pass on the craft of the game development. World class entertainment curriculum is being taught at schools like USC’s Games program and DigiPen’s Game Design curriculum.

However, there are forces working against us in educating the next generation. Rising tuition costs that dissuade creative risk taking, limits on classroom seat availability, competition from adjacent industries, among others.

Remote Work

Over the next few years, due to pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, game studios will force more development processes into remote work processes, accelerating the development of global talent. In effect, the regions with the most growth in game development expertise will be outside of the developed economies. Paired with developments in academia and online learning, we are in for a shift in the talent centers of the game industry as these other geographic regions grow.

Online Learning

As the cost of education continues to rise, the cost of a game development education does, too. Aspiring creators around the world would welcome an alternative to today’s traditional route. I think we will see the rise of an effective online curriculum for game development in the near future. Educators will figure out the kinks in online learning during this trial run in lockdown. And games educators especially will be able to leverage their techniques in design to make very engaging coursework.

Image for post
art by Nick Cassway http://nickcassway.com/designblog/?p=2443

4. Cross-Media IP Strategies

Graphics have pretty much caught up. Games are close to reaching parity with films on CGI (both real and stylized). We can make realistic characters and motion-capture real actors performances for video games! The leading AAA games are using a lot of hollywood talent (actors) to perform in cinematic games.

I’ll highlight the two major consequences of this.

The first consequence is that the means of production can be interchangeable between the two mediums. A few years ago, Square-Enix tried this with their flagship game Final Fantasy XV and the accompanying Kingsglaive movie. This first run attempt will surely open the way to more cross-media production. The reuse of creative assets opens a means to more efficient production from both industries when a game and a movie are made in tandem.

The second consequence is that games studios now have the ability to faithfully adapt existing IPs from the silver screen. In the past, a game adaptation of a film would look nothing like the movie, due to the limitations of graphics technology. Nowadays, a game can literally be a playable movie. To take a movie and create a near identical, playable experience opens up IPs to capture both the movie and the game market simultaneously.

The opportunity here is enormous, and the next blockbuster games will be be born with strategic integration with other media.

5. Virtual Economies and In-Game Gigs

Participation in virtual economies will become an ever viable way of earning a living. The first step to take would be the legitimization of workers in the virtual gig economy. That will open the way to low risk, high competition occupations that have a wide range of skill requirements. On the simpler end would be routine jobs such as resource farming. Whereas higher skill work could involve performance, tourism, skillful playing, or teaching. The possibilities here are as wide and varied as real-world jobs can be.

The spawning of in-game gigs will, in part, derive from the creative tools mentioned above. We need the technology to allow people to create additional value in virtual worlds, because this will let them contribute with a creation that is just as real as any other work. We will also build game worlds that facilitate work such as education and communication.

As time passes, the perception of virtual value will shift. We must remember that with the internet, the forces driving virtual economies must include the participation of people from around the world. In the globalized market, a digital good or service will be valued differently depending on the individual’s local economy. This is why gold-farming has become a viable source of income in Venezuela, for instance.

I imagine that in the near future, students will be learning skills and trades tailored for a career in the virtual world.

A Peek at Tomorrow

  • Creative: Players will want the tools to be infinitely creative within their games
  • Serviced: Platforms will win over players through the value of services they provide
  • Global: Talent development will be distributed globally through online learning
  • IP-Driven: Strategies around cross-media production will hit full stride.
  • Economically Powered: Games will tap deeper into the balance of virtual and real economies.

This year, gaming persevered in the face of unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Developers all across the world shifted to a work-from-home environment. Players played more and turned to gaming as a core part of their entertainment regimen. The next decade will be one for the entire world to look forward to.

for publication by MeowInVerse.