Trends That Will Define the Future of Gaming

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The video games industry is probably one of the fastest moving in the world, and it's only getting faster. The appetite of players for new experiences, greater realism and fresh angles is an unforgiving driver of technology, spurring designers and inventors on to come up with better machines and more responsive software. In turn, the rise of multiple platforms for gaming and the increasing capability of phones and tablets to handle complex, sophisticated games, means that old favourites are being constantly reimagined, while the latest games have to be adaptable and innovative from day one, just in order to survive.

At the same time, the demographic for video games is widening and the way we play and consume them is changing as a result. While on the one hand video games can increasingly be viewed as art, the industry remains commerce driven and will go where the money is. If a trend seems popular, then the big companies are able and willing to invest millions of pounds in researching and developing it.

Yet frequently, it’s the small indies that lead the way and take the initial risks. For those small companies, it's a big gamble: they may strike it big and win real success, but they could also lose everything if they've backed the wrong horse or, as is too often the case, they just don't have the resources to follow it through.

Simpler gameplay, more complex world building

Following the massive success of games franchises, such as Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed, Fallout and Witcher, as well as the Marvel-led trend towards blockbuster films overlapping in a shared cinematic universe, the big games from the major companies look likely to focus more on creating expansive shared worlds with multiple entry points, rather than overly complex individual games. These open worlds will be their own attraction, and crucially will be experienced via different but overlapping games on different platforms – PC, console, tablet, mobile etc. Simultaneous tie-ins in the form of films, online animated series, e-sports versions and so on are also likely.

Single-player and multi-player options on the same game will also become the norm, as will open-world systems with an open-ended number of side quests being made available as the popularity holds. Expect ever-more frequent reboots as well, as 'back to basics' becomes the new 'next level'.

Interactive gaming for older players

Sometimes, one or more trends can converge in interesting ways. For instance, the demographic for video gaming is undoubtedly widening, with the gender balance among UK gamers now more or less 50-50, and the first generation of gamers continuing to play as they bring up children of their own and indeed pass retirement age. At the same time, gaming is becoming more interactive, with multiple players around the world communicating in real time. A third factor is the continued popularity of online casino games, which are now outstripping their physical world equivalents in terms of popularity.

These casino games are equally popular among young people and female players who would not normally choose to go to a casino and older gamers who appreciate the familiarity of games such as poker and blackjack but aren't able to get out as much as they used to. The interactive element helps interact with other players around the world, live casinos are increasingly featuring live dealers, and players can find out a bit about them and choose whom they would like to play with, giving a real sense of genuine human connection.

Virtual reality winners and losers

We've all heard so much about how virtual reality is the next big thing in gaming – and elsewhere – that we've long since adopted a "we'll believe it when we see it" approach. However, we are now genuinely starting to see it, and the presence of systems such as Oculus and Vive gives hope that the VR revolution may genuinely be just around the corner.

The truth is, however, that progress towards a truly workable, high quality and affordable VR set-up is still likely to take a couple more years. The more sophisticated systems out there are still too expensive and too full of glitches to fully enter the mainstream and will remain for a while the preserve of rich nerds and early adopters. High street versions will inevitably disappoint, leaving the casual player wondering just what all the fuss was about, and temporarily queering the pitch for the immediate, high fidelity, cable-free VR that is genuinely on its way in a year or so.

For now, the way forward looks likely to be high-quality VR inserts in existing, otherwise conventional games, giving a teasing taster of what's to come. Until then, there's a very real worry that indie studios are putting all of their eggs into the VR basket, and may go broke before enough headsets are sold to justify their investment.

Making connections

On the tech side, future VR developments look likely to find ways to more fully integrate the physical body into digital space, using programmable gels as well as gestural controls. Interactive multiplayer VR experiences will counter complaints that the headsets are isolating and anti-social, with players sharing VR, either in the same physical space as their friends or with players separated by vast geographical distances.

No more console generations

One trend that seems certain is the death of the old five to seven-year cycle of new model consoles, such as the PlayStation and Xbox. This is largely due to competition from the smartphone market: in seven years' time, your phone will undoubtedly be more powerful than your beleaguered console, unless the latter adopts a policy of incremental updates rather than seven-yearly relaunches. The PlayStation 4 pro and the Xbox One Scorpio look set to herald yearly updates, with older models becoming cheaper as they are rebranded as 'entry-level' models.

Video gaming is going to keep on moving forward, and this can only be good news for players, who are demanding more transparency, greater choice and more say in what they play, when, and on what platform. Indies and majors alike are responding to these calls, while the prize will always go to those that can harness the latest technology to an affordable and popular model. As the finishing line keeps shifting further over the horizon, the race inevitably continues.

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