The following is an excerpt of an email conversation I had with another author in which she picked my brain on what the next decade or two might bring to video games. I got so far into the questions that I had to copy it all and share it with you.
1) What would be cool gaming innovations from a players perspective?
Interface (like the Kinect) is exciting and will be the technological focus for the foreseeable future, but ultimately it takes a back seat to interaction. Bar none, the most popular games are those that allow players to link up with their friends and share activities, even if it’s just posting scores on social sites. I predict that THE game ten or twenty years from now will act not only as a game, but also as a social network as involved as Facebook. It would also logically have to be something people could take with them wherever they go, which means a mobile interface to at least part of the game. A savvy game company would also keep track of their preferences and market directly to them, just like Facebook and Amazon do today.
Now, if a computerized AI could substitute for human interaction, then that might mean the computer could become a true surrogate for friends. (…and how would it teach people to interact with others when they’re not in the game?) I’m reminded of the “talking walls” in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Given the government’s declining investment in science research, it seems unlikely that AIs will progress to the level where sprites could pass the Turing Test in the next decade, but a breakthrough isn’t impossible.
3) If you could think up a near future gaming world dominated by one global game, what elements could the game have?
Gamers like games for very different reasons. Some like to “pwn noobs,” and this type traditionally flocks to the competitive arenas of shooters and certain MMOs. Others are casual players who don’t want to get too deep, and these tend to like games along the lines of Angry Birds or Wii Sports. Others want an engrossing experience, and these go for RPGs like Mass Effect or Guild Wars where there are extensive plots and highly developed characters, often featuring decision points that affect the story. Gamers play all kinds of games outside their category, but game companies tend to categorize them based on preferences and will gear their games towards one group or another.
The Great Game of the future could go one of two ways. It could go for the hard core gamers and suck in a smaller portion of the population to a greater extent. But it might also offer a variety of experiences to cater to numerous interests. Perhaps the “lighter” mini-games could also serve to generate resources that the more serious gamers use in their more serious quests.
Neal Stephenson envisioned this kind of thing in Snow Crash long before most people had heard of e-mail. Perhaps there would be an “over-map” (as we used to call it in Legend of Zelda) where players could have a relaxed, noncompetitive, social experience perhaps like Second Life or The Sims, and then they have the option of navigating to and entering other game areas of various complexity and competitiveness.
As for genre, marketing research thus far indicates that gamers don’t pay this much mind. A hot property like Batman can really draw interest, but I never hear gamers say “I like sci-fi more than thrillers.” Maybe it’s just because they don’t have as many categories as books (there are no games that fit the romance genre, although if book and movies are any indication this is a huge market yet to be tapped by the video game industry).