Focus on video games

As with all creative industries, the video game industry has undergone countless changes since the turn of the century. This note looks at some of the key developments which have taken place and those which look to further impact the industry in coming years.

 

The Introduction of Mobile

Since smartphones and app stores hit the market, gaming has undergone a rapid evolution that has not only changed the way people play games, but has also brought gaming to a new audience. Games can now be consumed on the move and games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush, which can be played in short bursts during daily commutes, lunch breaks or just waiting in a queue, have generated huge revenues.

Mobile has not only changed the way people play games, but also who is playing them. A study commissioned by Google Play in 2017 showed that 49% of mobile gamers are women. This is a market which traditionally game developers would not have thought to target. The industry has a bias towards men both in terms of individuals who work in it and who appear in the games that are produced – male characters are more common than female characters. This bias is something that should change as women are a clear market that businesses in the industry will be targeting.

 

Cloud gaming

Subscription based business models are growing in other creative industries. Netflix for TV and films and Spotify for music are two of the main players. Partly due to the rapid increase in internet speeds, attitudes are changing such that often people would rather pay monthly to access lots of content that they don’t own rather than pay once for far less content that they do own.

Cloud gaming is similar in that the user pays a monthly subscription but it adds on the idea of cloud computing that the game supplier runs the games on its servers and sends the display to the user using the internet. This contrasts with the traditional model of gaming where each user purchases and runs the game on their own hardware (PCs, consoles, mobiles etc.).

Building your own high-end gaming rig is not for the faint hearted and with new components being released each year, making sure you have the fastest PC available is expensive. Whilst maintaining your fps (frames per second) above 100 for some gamers is a necessity, for the majority the 60fps/30fps (depending on the monitor and connection type being used) provided by most cloud gaming providers is sufficient. If almost unlimited power on any computer with an internet connection is the future it is somewhat ironic that for years, the goal of hardware manufacturers has been to squeeze as much processing power into a small amount of space.

 

Voice recognition

Many games already incorporate voice recognition. Mass Effect 3 was released in 2012 and is widely regarded as one of the best games released on Xbox 360/PlayStation 3. In the game, the player controls a character who is in charge of a squad of team members that the player can direct using voice commands recognised by Kinect (for the Xbox version). The benefits are that gameplay is not slowed or restricted by the player having to pause to find the right menu to direct the squad members. Voice recognition technology can radically simplify controls but can also facilitate more complex gameplay.

 

Gesture control

The original gesture control console was the Nintendo Wii. It was genuinely revolutionary and opened video games to a much wider market. 101 million units were sold compared with around 84 million each for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (the Wii’s seventh generation siblings) making the Wii the winner by a significant margin. As a result, Microsoft released the Kinect (the hardware that connects with an Xbox which has voice and gesture sensors) and Sony released the Move (the two hand-held motion controllers).

The future is unclear for gesture and voice control. The Xbox One S was released without the port necessary to connect the Kinect and the adaptor has been discontinued. The Nintendo Switch has gesture control but the function is a secondary feature and optional for the vast majority of the games on offer. The application of gesture control to ‘real’ games is limited and the current thinking is that gesture control and VR are better suited.

 

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

VR is seen by many as the future of gaming. PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift are examples of VR hardware which are changing the way people are developing and playing games. Whilst in the UK arcades have been dismissed to side rooms in bowling alleys, they are still very much mainstays in other countries in the world, particularly Japan. VR lounges are the modern sibling of traditional arcades and are areas where multiple VR experiences are available.

Due to the nature of VR, there is a limit to its scope when restricted to being played at home. VR motion sickness is common because the user’s eyes are telling the brain something that the body is not experiencing. That is why the association between VR and what the physical body is experiencing will be crucial in VR gaming in the future and VR lounges are spaces where this association can flourish. VR Mario Kart when the gamer is sitting in a go-kart that tilts and vibrates according to what the user is seeing is a truly immersive experience.

 

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI in video games usually has a different meaning to what AI academics would consider to be true AI (which involves machine learning). In video games, AI controls the actions of NPC (non-player characters) which has been essential in video games since their inception because by their nature, the game must control what the NPCs do. The user’s interaction with NPCs will shape their experience of the game so a key objective for developers is to make the reactions of NPCs to the user’s character and other NPCs more human and less black and white. This is gradually getting better and better meaning games can be played in a more realistic way, rather than traditional gaming where the NPC pattern had to be learned, understood and beaten by the user.

 

The Future

Although mobile gaming has become a significant sector within in the industry, sales of consoles are still booming and each new generation of console brings with it new technology. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence look set to play a key role in the future of gaming but there are no doubt other technologies which will further change the video game landscape.