Following its press conference at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany this week, Sony hosted a panel discussion between its execs and developers such as Kellee Santiago and Mark Cerny to peer into their visions of the next 10 years of gaming.
"The last couple of years, the advancement of sensor technology and components, processors, network usage and cloud has been amazing. In 10 years, I have no idea. That makes me very relaxed to talk about what I'd like to see in the future," said Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president, Shuhei Yoshida.
He sees one big sea change in the world as defining the next 10 years: "As long as there's a display with a touch screen, CPU, and memory, there will be games -- in everyday life from morning to the evening, people will have access to playing games."
Mick Hocking, VP of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Europe is, on the other hand, "really excited about the potential of bringing together stereoscopic 3D with augmented reality."
Veteran developer Mark Cerny, who's worked with Sony for years, observed, "As I look at it, we are hitting a milestone in September -- it'll be 40 years since Nolan Bushnell introduced Computer Space to the world."
He was less willing to prognosticate: "Today's market -- nobody could have anticipated five years ago -- anything we could say would be wild guesses." He did say, however, that Hocking's prediction would be here in three years.
A PlayStation Everywhere
Kellee Santiago, co-founder of Thatgamecompany, looked more toward the creative side, saying she's most excited about the "sheer variety of gameplay I see happening, because of all the different people who will be making games and different ways we have to play them."
"This generation of gamers who have grown up without knowing a world without the internet... The games they are going to make are ones we can't possibly understand right now," she suggested.
Said Gareth Edmondson, managing director of Ubisoft's Reflections studio, developers of Driver, "Driver is 10 years old," and what strikes him is "the level of immersion we've managed to bring in open worlds in that time."
The moderator asked Yoshida how far ahead Sony plans on R&D, and the exec said that it varies -- and while it's not 10 years, people are looking more than five years ahead in the global organization.
"There are different types of people in the company. Some people are called researchers, and they try to look for future technologies... It took [R&D manager of special projects at SCEA] Rick Marks eight years, nine years to really finish and make PlayStation Move... As soon as he finishes, his team is moving on to something in the future that may or may not become a product."
When asked about innovation, Santiago again wasn't interested in discussing tech. "I think from a content developer perspective, what we think about when we think about innovation is on the content side, we're not thinking about the technology," she said.
What's she interested in tech-wise, then? "A technology we can leverage to help support this experience," she said. "From my perspective they're [tech and design] completely hand in hand."
She hopes for something that "maybe [can] unlock developer potential that hasn't been able to find an outlet yet."
When asked if cloud gaming is a potential problem for Sony, Yoshida replied "if we do our job right, there will be PlayStation everywhere, not just under the TV."
Future Of Stereoscopic 3D
There was something of a debate on 3D. Said Hocking, who oversees 3D for Sony's Worldwide studios, "The bulk of the titles will support 3D."
Santiago, on the other hand, would be "very considerate of the content we want to create," before the studio would consider supporting 3D, "and how is this technology going to enhance or support or be integral to this experience... The great interactive experiences are when it all works together."
She said, "I think a studio of our size could think of an amazing experience that would use that technology in a meaningful way, but I don't want it to be another checkbox."
Hocking agreed: "it must add to the experience... It won't be that all games suit 3D." However, he said "High quality 3D does really work very well."
Yoshida extrapolated the idea of 3D further: "I think what people want is the whole graphic display, so your character can stand up and talk to you and you can chat." Hocking said holographic games are "definitely feasible" in the next 10 years.
"What people want is a perfect human being in digital form," said Yoshida. "It's a human and it reacts to you like a human."
Cerny also spoke up on the irrelevance of technology and the primacy of development: "These things don't really touch the human heart, and I think that if we're looking for growth in games we're looking for something that doesn't have to do with explosions spawning more explosions... That's the kind of game that Kellee makes and that's why I love them."
Emotions And Games
"Emotion comes from the human voice and the human face and a film student in college has access to those things for free... But in games the human face and human voice are the most expensive things possible," Cerny observed, saying that games like Uncharted 3 and Assassin's Creed cost between $40 and $80 million dollars. He thinks it will take 10 to 20 years for performance capture tools to get cheap enough to be accessible to all.
"I don't know that humanity is something digital technology will ever do very well," said Santiago, "and I don't think it's a very good use of our time to invest in communicating emotions through realistic human faces. I think there are so many tools available to us today, even in the most simplistic 2D games."
Having just gone to the Notgames festival, an indie art showcase taking place in Cologne simultaneously with GDC Europe, Santiago said it proved her point: "There are a number of games there that are fantastically meaningful and deep and emotional... Do games touch us? They can, they do now."
Of course, these games don't often connect with large audiences, and she hopes to see these sorts of themes reach a "more accessible, broader reach," but "honestly, it's just money, where the money's going."
"Ico was one of the games that in the end that you care so much about the characters in the game that you feel the pain and the sadness," pointed out Yoshida. "We'd like to see more games evoke different emotions."
Motion And Games
When asked about the future of motion control, Hocking said that developers are "just starting to explore the possibilities. There's loads more we can do with motion control."
Said Yoshida, "As far as I am concerned the motion controls of today are like the 8-bit days of the video game... It's really, really early and there are lots of limitations."
And what will later controllers measure? "The game could know a lot more about the player, not just your movement, but ultimately where you're looking... Or how you could be feeling... Even taking some bio sensor readings," said Yoshida.
"In the future, in 10 years, I like to think the game developer will have access to the information of the player in real time and create some really, really dangerous, almost, interactions with it."
Hocking envisioned a world where developers "build up over time a map of the player... and the more accurate the map becomes, the more we'll be able to change the emotional state."
When asked by an audience member of we will see more Heavy Rain and less Call of Duty, Yoshida replied "the good news is the developers are aging and so are the players."
"We should be seeing more variety, demanding more variety, in the content of games that we play," said Santiago. However, she said, "When you are working on content that's risky... You have to show you can deliver on that... It's a catch-22."
While first saying that interactive stories "tend to fall apart," and lately "it's just not a very rich area to be mining yet in games," Cerny quickly backpedaled: "I shouldn't have said what I just said, because Heavy Rain had 17 different endings."
"Quantic Dream is innovating in so many different ways I can't wait to see what they do next," he added.
Santiago pointed out that games such as Minecraft and The Sims are "evolving user generated storytelling in a way that's organic and rooted in the interactive experience themselves."
A More Open PlayStation?
When asked if smartphones and tablets will be eating into Sony's fortunes in the future, said Cerny, "If it's a 99 dollar console it's reasonable." A $599 launch like the PlayStation 3 is not "part of any conceivable future."
"The issue of the smartphones innovating every quarter... That's a problem for game developers in terms of you cannot focus on one experience. You are making games to the lowest common denominator," said Yoshida. On consoles, "Developers have complete control and they know exactly what the consumers experience is... That's a fundamental strength of what we call consoles."
However, Cerny said, "most of the console business erosion, that happened a decade ago," when casual gaming on the web took away gamers who bought consoles for games like Tetris. "The console biz today is going to be pretty unaffected by mobile devices."
When asked what the panel would like to see from the next generation of PlayStation tech?
"A console that's easier to develop games for" than the PS3, said Cerny.
"Opening the network up more to developers to for pricing models and data tracking that's available through other dev platforms now," suggested Santiago.
Edmondson would also like to see "a more open structure for doing business," subtly suggesting he'd like to see free-to-play.
Yoshida expects some changes to come in "this generation absolutely," as "developers want more services from the platform.