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9 trends for the next decade of video games

9 trends for the next decade of video games

November 5, 2013 | By Kris Graft

November 5, 2013 | By Kris Graft
More: GDC Next, GDC

Predicting the future of a space that's as dynamic as the video game industry is a difficult task, but it's still fun to speculate every now and then.

Starr Long is a 20-year industry veteran who was formerly project director on Ultima Online, and currently working on Portalarium's Shroud of the Avatar with Richard Garriott. At GDC Next this morning, he explained nine trends he sees for the future of games.

Long said the overarching theme for the next 10 years of video games is a blurring of boundaries " between digital and physical, interfaces and game experiences.

Mashups/crossover: Digital + Physical + UGC + Makers + Brands

Digital and physical crossover is picking up speed, Long explains, whether you're talking about today's top-selling Skylanders, Disney Infinity or Angry Birds telepods, which take physical toys and adds an electronic element, sometimes with huge commercial success.

This digital and physical crossover won't be exclusively in the hands of large companies like Activision and Disney for long, thanks to 3D printers and scanners.

"When people start trying to cross [physical and digital items] with the MakerBot or the Digitizer … [people] could create a toy like in Skylanders or Infinity."

Creators will be able to not only make digital and physical products that interact with one another, but Long also envisions user-driven marketplaces that will form where people can buy and sell each others' creations.

Once the material science around 3D printing advances further, there will be easier crossover between physical and digital, paving the way for such community-driven creations.

Interface/display/wearable: Proliferation and evolution

"It's evolving at an insane pace," said Long. Haptic touch screens that change how they feel when you touch them, Illumiroom that expands the screen by projecting images throughout an entire room, biofeedback technology and Google Glass all represent accelerating interface technology that are poised to merge for new experiences in video games.

Deeper Immersion and Lighter Games

Long also expects that although there's a lot of talk about smaller, mass market games like Angry Birds displacing the huge, immersive triple-A game productions, both kinds of games will be able to "peacefully coexist."

The opportunity for game developers, says Long, is to create games that blend deeper experiences with smaller experiences " essentially to bring different aspects of a single game across a variety of devices. It's something that we're already seeing today, but Long says the trend will become more prominent in coming years.

Play Anywhere: Any Device, Any Location

Being able to play, interact or interface with a game won't be limited to one device or location, said Long. We're starting to see this with PlayStation Network's Cross-Buy and Apple's Universal apps, for example.

"This idea that I can play anywhere or any time, you're not going to be able to get away with not supporting it, pretty soon," Long said. "People are going to expect it."

Developer Democratization

The democratization of game development will only become more apparent in the next decade, said Long. Democratization has expanded from technology -- with the accessibility of game engines and tools -- to economic democratization, thanks to crowdfunding.

Even hardware creation is becoming democratized, if you look at devices like Raspberry Pi and Android-based consoles like Ouya and GameStick that are funded by an interested community.

Gamification Proliferation

Making every day experiences more game-like is a trend that will continue, Long said.

"This can be a good thing or also a very bad thing. The danger for us as developers is that it can be introduced to non-game experiences, and not be fun. Just throwing a bunch of badges on your website [can bring a negative connotation]."

If the general public gets a bad taste in its mouth about game mechanics, like RPG leveling, that are co-opted by poorly-done gamification, games can be negatively impacted. "Let's not let gamification take away some very powerful tools we have as game developers," said Long.

Monetization Models and Price Erosion

Price erosion on video games is an unfortunate trend in many respects, but one that many game developers will have to deal with or address in the coming decade, said Long. "We built a business based on $50 and $60 games, which is the highest price for an at-home entertainment experience hat you will pay," he noted.

But now games are bringing in an audience that isn't used to buying items that are so pricey. Price erosion happened almost immediately.

"This isn't a bad thing…It's an eyes-wide-open [scenario]. But for the vast number of people making games [it's tough to make money]."

New Cognition

Long said games will bring about new cognitive abilities for players. Games like Portal, Braid and Perspective offer new ways for players to think about space and time.

The Portal gun, which lets players make entry and exit points in a 3D space, introduces complex concepts and makes them accessible, for example. "That's not a cognitive ability you had before you did this," Long said.

As for Braid, "I would posit that after playing something like this you'd have a better idea of how time works, that it's not a linear progression."

Digital Societies and Multiple Meaningful Identities

Peoples' digital identities will become increasingly important in the years ahead, Long predicted. "You can have an identity in the digital space that is just as relevant important and real as your 'real' identity." We can already see this with social media profiles that reflect different aspects of ones' personal and professional identities.

Peoples' digital identity could be as a member of a guild, or an avatar in League of Legends. "If you would've told me 10 years ago that 50,000 people would cram into an arena and watch five guys play a video game, I would've laughed in your face. … We really have to start thinking about digital societies," said Long.

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