The Future of Gaming
I am part of the original gaming generation. I can remember when I was six years old, my father bought my mom an Atari for her birthday. I can remember becoming one of the first players to be printed in Atari magazine's 20,000 Pitfall club. The Christmas that I was eleven, Santa brought me a Nintendo and my brother a Sega... and I still consider Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! one of the greatest and hardest games ever created.
And my 19 month-old daughter has followed in her father's gaming footsteps already as she asks to sit and watch me play the Wii.
Video games are experiencing some of the greatest success since the Arcade days. And to call it a reborn fad for our kids would be greatly misunderstanding just how far the passion for gaming goes. According to the ESA's 2006 Sales, Demographic and Usage Data report, the average age of gamers is 33. In fact, 25% of gamers are over the age of 50. As much as we like to portray games as a child's play, there is little that is childish about it. Video games are a part of our society at all levels. Overall, video games took in just under $10 billion dollars last year. I have a guess that the overwhelming success that the Nintendo Wii has with casual gamers will put it over that milestone this year.
By the way, that $10 billion is just for the United States; worldwide is estimated around $38 billion (not including consoles).
And as a self-proclaimed First Generation Gamer, the changes we've already seen in games have been awesome to witness. Games have changed from running-to-the-right scrollers into entire virtual worlds, and there seems to be a virtual world for just about any enthusiast. The controllers have changed from a joystick and a single button into eight button and directionals that can control all three dimensions. And let's not forget motion sensitive controllers, like the Wii, to specialized controllers like Guitar Hero and the upcoming Rock Band. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that a game's storyline has changed from unbending objectives into flexible stories that allow the player to choose their own story lines, decisions and really make the character their own. Because of these developments, game manufacturers are finding renewed interest and new players in the gaming culture.
So where does it all go from here? I'm not sure, but I have some guesses.
Obviously, graphics and sound will continue to improve. The dropping prices of surround sound systems will influence how players and game developers use sound in the gaming experience. As TVs continue to move towards better picture quality, console makers will be sure to be on the cutting edge with them.
The casual gamer will continue to influence the development of console gaming, price and strategy-wise. If there is anything that Xbox and PS3 have learned from the current sales-war, it is that even the most passive gamer is willing to spend a little money for a couple hours of enjoyment.
Games will become more about buying the right to play rather than levels. What do I mean? Think in terms of World of Warcraft; you buy the software and the ability to create characters but the game itself is housed online. Game developers are going to start using this for console games as well, thus allowing them to continually add and improve the games as the characters grow. So your game is not limited to the hardware it is housed on. The advantage of doing this is that your story lines never have to end and, for all intents and purposes, the character will live as long as you do.
Social networks and support groups will continue to play major roles. World of Warcraft is as much about the people you play with as it is about the game. People join groups in the virtual world and it is like a sacred bond. Real world friendships and even marriages have resulted from WoW meetings. As games continue to allow players to flesh out their own characters, the socialization platforms that come with the games will be used in the same ways as Facebook and Myspace, perhaps stronger.
Games will continue to influence education and professional training. Games like Trauma Center are a lot of fun (the player is a surgeon who performs everything from removing cysts to heart surgery) but they have a greater potential if applied to the medical field. The military uses a gaming interface to help train their soldiers for life-or-death situations. From a marketing perspective this is a major yet-to-be-tapped resource but one with serious profits if they make the right games.
I've said it before and I will say it again; I love the age I am growing up in. It's not just gaming revolution, it is evolution. We're going from static to dynamic and creating games that are not just one-dimensional stories but true interactive experiences.
So, if you are not part of the gaming culture, I recommend you check it out... there is something for everyone. And if you are, I hope we meet in the virtual worlds.
Incidentally, if you are ever smitten by someone named Rex Libris in the virtual world, I apologize now.