In the 1980s I occupied a front-row seat for the drama that was the Seattle tech boom. Friends and family created successful startups in the '80s and the go-go '90s. (My then-husband, an excellent entrepreneur, was a cofounder of two of those startups: Aldus and Visio.) After close observation of the rollercoaster IPOs and acquisitions and later the dotcom disappointments, I like to think I developed an eye for trends. In my own industry, video gaming, I'm starting to see a few.
Here are my predictions for near-future of videogame-related trends:
- Despite the doomsayers, the new consoles will sell well, but they will never again be the only big thing. Dedicated gamers will buy an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4 to get the even-better graphics, motion capture, updated controllers, and blockbuster games, while other folks will continue to play their backlog of games on older consoles and computers. Mobile gaming will step up its evil campaign to dominate your life, but it, too, will be just another gaming option among many. You’ll find yourself playing more and more on multiple screens as gaming devices converge with each other and with your TV and your computers. In other words, I agree with Phil Harris, a Microsoft executive who said in Eurogamer: "You’re seeing a lot of growth in console but you’re also seeing a lot of growth in gaming, full stop, whether it’s on mobile phones, tablets, or consoles and a number of new entrants. So the games market overall is in an incredibly strong position."
- Games and play will lead the way as virtual worlds and reality overlap. New devices such as Kinect’s motion capture with Microsoft’s IllumiRoom 3-D projection, virtual-reality glasses, and Oculus Rift (which just got a $75 million investment) will begin to take gaming into realm of Star Trek holodecks. While these technologies will have vital applications in medicine and other fields, gaming will drive the early commercialization. (Personally, I can’t wait to swing a sword in the first virtual-reality Legend of Zelda game.)
- Gaming will get even more social and take us with it. Already, more than 60% of gamers play games with others, either in person or online. With the rising popularity of online services like Xbox Live, PlayStation Network (with 110 million accounts), and Steam, not to mention the already crazy-popular, massively multiplayer online computer games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends, gaming with others will be the norm.
- Microtransactions will shake up the revenue models and shake down gamers (or make some gamers feel that way, anyhow). It’s not just mobile games that make you pay to keep playing. Now even Grand Theft Auto is incorporating microtransactions as a way to increase revenues and keep people playing...and paying. Some gamers hate this trend; others appreciate an option to try out a game at a low price, or for free, and pay only for what they value.
- The fight over institutional sexism in gaming will come to a head as women kick a$$ in public. In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian was the target of a group of harassers who threatened to rape and kill her on Twitter—just for putting up a Kickstarter campaign fund her study of sexism in gaming—and and Twitter tried to ignore the issue. This past year saw several controversies over sexism in the gaming world that rose to the level of mainstream outrage. The #1reasonwhy Twitter tag called more attention to the fight against sexism and rape culture. Controversy over sexism at the world’s largest gaming convention, PAX, raged in 2013 and will go on in 2014. It may be too early to predict better treatment of women in videogame culture and in the industry, but it’s safe to say the battle will continue.
- Minecraft and its ilk will take over the world and the U.S. education system. (Well, maybe not in 2014, but soon.) Educational games are everywhere now, partly because of the growth in educational mobile games. But educational games are only part of the picture. More and more teachers are aware of the deep engagement games bring to learning, and they’re bringing commercial games like Portal (physics), Minecraft (math), and World of Warcraft (team-building and leadership) into their classrooms.
- Games will drive the effort to make us all coders. Recently we’ve woken up from our stupor and realized it’s a problem for America that 90% of all schools fail to offer programming in their curricula. A bunch of initiatives have commenced to push coding into the mainstream, and for kids games are the gateway. Last week at Seattle’s Amazon headquarters, I attended a session of Coder Dojo, a grassroots movement for teaching kids to program their own games. Seldom have I seen so much enthusiasm for serious work. When President Obama, Shakira, and Ashton Kutcher (among others) participate in a video to promote everyone learning how to code, you know it’s a movement that’s here to stay.
And, overall, gaming will continue to enter the mainstream, driven by one simple fact: Gamers beget gamers. People who played videogames as kids in the '80s are becoming parents now and beginning to play with their kids. As a result of gamers growing up, we’ll also see more videogame music at the symphony, videogame art in our museums, videogame tournaments in our sports arenas, and videogames in our homes, schools, workplaces, and even churches. Parents will play with their kids, and look out—gamer-grandparents may be the big trend in 2015.