Eighteen years ago, gamers still had a PlayStation 2 in their living rooms. The Xbox 360 was still being referred to as Xbox Next. And the Wii was called by its codename: the Nintendo Revolution. We didn’t realize we were on the precipice of a tidal shift in gaming, where the number of people playing games would expand exponentially – and there was certainly no way to predict what would be happening today.
That didn’t stop a handful of brave developers from giving it a shot, though. It was 2004, I was working at CNN, and I put the question before a variety of high-profile developers and executives at the time: What would game systems be like in the year 2025?
We’re not quite there, of course, but we’re close enough to get an idea of the level of their psychic powers. So, how’d they do? In general, it turns out, really well.
Of course, not everyone’s predictions panned out. Yuji Naka, creator of Sega’s Sonic series, for example, said he imagined the industry developing “3D projection technology that will allow you to play without a monitor. Sonic will be running and the game will proceed just in front of or around you!”
Obviously, that didn’t happen. That said, Naka could ultimately be right. Microsoft, in 2013, announced it was working on the proof-of-concept system called IllumiRoom, which augments the area beyond the television screen with projected visuals. It’s a bit short of holograms, but (if Microsoft ever releases it) it sure could make games a lot more immersive.
The most-fun future guess that didn’t pan out certainly belonged to Greg Zeschuk, co-founder of Bioware (who retired in 2012 and is now a craft beer brewer). He imagined … well, let’s just let his words speak for themselves.
“I think a scenario where we’re all using virtual controllers without physical representation will be quite likely,” said Zeschuk. “These controllers might use either magnetic fields or optical systems like those used in current motion capture set-ups. …One other option is direct input into the nervous system of the player (i.e. a spinal input port at the back of one’s neck), but this still seems rather far-fetched…and scary.”
Getting things wrong is part of the risk (and the fun) of pie-in-the-sky prognostication, especially in a fast-moving industry. What’s especially impressive, though, is how close many game makers came to predicting elements of the current video game world nearly 20 years ago.
Will Wright, who’s behind The Sims and so many other seminal games, pretty much nailed it, predicting that video games would spread far beyond dedicated systems and become ubiquitous on a variety of electronics, even if he was a bit pessimistic about the longevity of console systems.
“In 2025 I doubt that we will even have something that we call ‘gaming machines’,” he said. “We don’t have dedicated ‘movie machines,’ instead we have many different devices that can play and display movies as well as other media. … Movies have become a very portable form of media that can live on all of these. I think we’re starting to see gaming evolve and diversify in a similar way.”
While virtual reality still hasn’t quite lived up to its potential yet, it’s far from the outlier and pipe dream it was in the early 2000s. And Facebook/Meta is hoping to make it a big part of the metaverse. Bioware’s other co-founder Ray Muzyka (who retired from the industry in 2012 and is now an angel investor and mentor based in Canada) saw its potential in 2004, saying, “I look forward to true virtual reality in games 20 years from now, where you can become totally immersed in the action and storyline.”
And Ted Price, CEO at Insomniac Games, was similarly enthusiastic about the technology, especially when it came to ways you could interact with games. (He also predicted a technology that would be realized six years later with Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing input device.)
“Let’s get rid of the TV and create a more convincing head-mounted 3D display,” he said. “Let’s take the controllers out of players’ hands and instead create the sensation of actually holding a baseball bat or swinging a sword. And forget about keyboards — even now many games are really starting to take advantage of the things you can do with vocal commands.”
Since 2004, the video game industry has seen its annual sales soar from $7 billion to $121 billion, according to The NPD Group. It’s a vastly different world than it was when Nintendogs and Pro Evolution Soccer 5 ruled the charts. But even then, there were people who saw the future and were planning for it, even if they weren’t always 100% right.