A lot of new gaming trends have been developing over the last few years. In an age where freemium MOBA’s like Smite and League of Legends are attracting millions of gamers to PC’s, and Android/iOS paid games starting to look a lot less like Facebook clones, console gaming is turning into what Nintendo always envisioned. It just took later.
In attending the last two E3 expos, along with PAX Prime (and a variety of tech expos), I noticed seven major trends that will be dominating video games in the future. Arcades, home gaming, and mobile gaming are three sectors to focus on, as each will evolve down different paths.
1. Virtual Reality Will Become a Public Hit
Whether or not you want virtual reality, a lot of people do, and it’s already showing up everywhere. Developers are working round-the-clock to provide stable software platforms and huge gaming libraries to redefine 3D reality. Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus are just two VR headsets hitting the market. HTC, Samsung, Razor, Archos, and Google all have VR headsets in development, along with startups galore.
While some VR headsets will work for Android and low-end PC’s, these aren’t full virtual reality. Instead, they put an HDTV in front of your face, often including surround sound as well. Consoles will each have their own VR compatibility, with Oculus and Xbox reportedly making a deal, and Sony staying proprietary with Project Morpheus on PlayStation.
Though it can be played sitting down, VR technology works best with accessories, which, like any video game accessories, will range greatly in both quality in price. Movement sensors, headphone upgrades, 360-degree treadmills, and every Wii-type toy you can imagine will be sold along with games, making VR an immersive, but expensive proposition.
Since many households don’t own a high-end computer, arcades are where unique virtual reality experiences will be created. Gameworks, Dave & Busters, and the lot will also need to lure in home-VR owners, so the rides and experiences at the arcade within the next decade will soon become mind-boggling, especially with legal vaping and cannabis on top of the beer and bar food.
2. Holograms Are More Business Than Play
The Hololens differs from VR headsets in the same way Cardboard differs from Glass. Whereas VR immerses your senses as fully as possible into a virtual reality, holograms put a 3D interactive overlay onto the real world. This is much closer to the type of futuristic technology seen in Star Trek (and Wars, though it happened a long, long time ago), Dr. Who, Bill & Ted, Minority Report, etc.
While virtual realities need to provide some level of fun (though I’m sure there’ll be a gajillion second lives), holograms have productive applications – think the visual UI in Terminator movies. This means that holograms are more likely to be used for apps, while VR is better for games (and training simulations).
This doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of fun hologram games coming in the future. In fact, many VR peripherals will likely be usable (out-the-box, if not hackable) on hologram platforms. Though there is a worry Microsoft may be backing yet another HD-DVD, Hololens is a useful technology, and Minecraft alone is enough to sell it.
3. Console/Computer/TV Convergence
Gaming consoles have been becoming more like entertainment machines for the last several generations, focusing on social networking, music and video streaming, and becoming a necessary device in a home entertainment system. With smart devices widely available on the mass market, televisions are increasingly becoming computers in themselves.
Nintendo, one of the last holdouts for a “true” gaming console with the Wii-U and 3DS is already developing mobile games we’re all hoping play more like Nintendo than mobile games. This move signifies the convergence of technologies, as home PC’s are slowly shrunk and becoming more mobile.
Newer consoles like Alienware Alpha are already looking to create Android- and Windows-based gaming consoles. These are essentially low- to mid-grade gaming computers, which is pretty much all a gaming console is anyway.
PlayStation and Xbox are increasingly becoming nothing more than proprietary entertainment platforms. Both have exclusive content in the works, a la Netflix and Hulu, which both carry. Console companies are just one more tech squirrel trying to get that nut.
4. Android Will Reign
The variety of Android devices on the market is already astounding. Companies like Sony, Nintendo, and Apple are notorious for making everything proprietary and sticking to it. Google’s Android platform, however, gained huge market traction over iOS, Blackberry, Palm, and all the other forgotten competition with an open platform that allowed any hardware or software developer a chance to create.
When virtual reality and holograms become ubiquitous in smarthomes and arcades, Android devices will see more use, due to the wide-ranging capabilities. Devices like NVidia’s Shield are already pushing the boundaries, but they’re ahead of the market. It’ll be another few years.
5. Toys-to-Life Will Reach Full Saturation
The collectible aspect of toys-to-life makes it an instant hit with the younger generations. What was once a niche for Skylanders suddenly became a crowded industry involving Disney Infinity, Nintendo Amiibo, and Lego Universe. Kids in this generation will now get used to a world we could only imagine, where their toys can be brought to life through video games.
Lego is gaining the most from toys-to-life by merging their popular Lego playsets with their popular Lego video games. Now when you buy a Scooby Doo, Back to the Future, Superman, or Lego Movie playset, you’ll get new characters, vehicles, and levels for the game. This makes the toys more playable than the competition, incorporating real-world interaction that predates video games.
Toys-to-Life can also benefit Nintendo, assuming they’re able to take advantage. Brand quality in such Nintendo franchises as Pokemon, Mario, and Zelda is what keeps this company chugging so many years after the demise of Sega and Atari. Collectible card games were Pokemon’s bread-and-butter almost as long as Magic and Blizzard have been at it. If they can find a way to make Amiibos as collectible as any other Nintendo swag, it’ll be a hit.
With both Star Wars and Marvel under Disney’s wing, the character interaction is currently more interesting in Disney Infinite. Darth Maul, Jack Skellington, and Wolverine can find themselves suddenly working together. Disney is notorious for visual affects and writing, so Disney Infinite can keep up with Lego’s brand appeal much better than Skylanders and Amiibos.
Still, expect toys-to-life to become a new standard in video games, seeping into game swag for more adult-related games. Imagine every WWE action figure adding a new wrestler to your roster, a racing game that can scan in any Hot Wheels, or any McFarlane toy being brought to life.
6. The Future Will Be Televised
Amazon and Twitch. Google and YouTube. Money is being poured into game streaming. Most kids I know under the age of 10 are more mesmerized by watching a guy play Minecraft on YouTube than actually playing it. In fact many of the video game journalists I met at E3 were some form of Twitch or YouTube streamer. These people are mostly doing it as a side gig, but they are making money.
The biggest Twitch and YouTube stars, much like any other Internet site, generate enough affiliate ad money to work full-time as a career. Both Twitch and YouTube garner so much traffic that they show fan appreciation by featuring video game events, sponsoring promotions, and showing up at E3.
While game consoles produce Hollywood-level video content, they’re also pushing to allow users to create and share content, making video game consoles another key piece of the Internet of Things.
It won’t be long before the future of video games is upon us. Technology has certainly advanced from the 16-bit days where Sega and Nintendo fought for video game supremacy. Nowadays, it’s all about the tech, and who can provide the best overall experience.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared on Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, Huffington Post, BBC, Cannabis Now, Lifehack, and Intuit’s Small Business Resource