Throughout history, several have laid claim to the ability to predict the future. I am not one of those people. I do have some ideas of where the industry will be headed in the next ten to fifteen years, but I fully admit that most of my conclusions will probably be wrong. I'm hoping for about a 50/50 outcome, but that really is a tall order statistically speaking. At any rate, lets wrap this series up with a few predictions about the video game industry.
- This will be the last console generation. -- We've known for quite some time that there is a level of performance that we can't go past lest we create fire hazards in a box. I'm going out on a limb here and expecting that the current console generation will last for about ten years. The exception will be Nintendo who will, most likely, release one more console five years hence. While it is possible to put just a little more ass into a console, it's almost impossible to do without some kind of extreme cooling system. Yes, console manufactures could go the PC route and concentrate on hardware accelerated physics and AI, but that isn't something that can be captured in a screenshot or sold via in-game footage. With the exception of the Wii, consoles have always sold on graphics alone, and we are about to hit the wall in terms of what we can achieve graphically while staying within a mass market price range.
- PC gaming will finally go completely indie. -- With the development budget of console games reaching the seven and eight digit mark, it's unlikely that developers are going to want to risk spending even more money to produce games for the already marginalized PC market. Yes, PCs are far superior to any console, but that's kind of the problem. If developers are already sinking left and right while making console games, imagine the bloodshed that occurs to devs that exclusively produce games for the PC! Not only is the graphics hardware an issue, but compatibility issues create a nightmare of customer service budget hemorrhaging. I expect AAA developers to completely abandon the PC in the years to come.
- Speaking of AAA games.... -- They present most of the problem with the gaming industry. In our single-minded pursuit of "BIGGER, LOUDER, MORE!!" we've actually reduced to the profit margins to the point that only a few high profile players can even make games. Most games, currently, lose money. There are a lot of ways to attack this problem, but no one outside of Nintendo even wants to admit that a problem exists. It's for this reason that I see AAA games slowly dying away. You'll know the end is near when EA is the only publisher of AAA titles on the planet and all game development is done in Pakistan.
- The future is portable. -- Show of hands: who here DOESN'T own a cell phone? Next time you're out and about, count how many people are playing games on cell phones, DSs, and PSPs. I guarantee that you'll be shocked. The current hot rumor in the portable wold is that the next DS will have cell phone functionality in order to compete with the iPhone. Of course, a similar rumor was floating around just before the GBA was unveiled. Big N made the DS to compete with cell phones and PDAs, Sony made the PSP to compete with the iPod. Who knew that Apple would combine the two? I know that some of you are going to yell N-Gage at me, but that's not really a solid argument. Nokia was a cell phone company that tried to play the video game game. Nintendo is a game company that will probably be more than happy to let Verizon, US Cellular, T Mobile, or some other company play the cell phone game with their hardware. For a fee, of course....
- The future is downloadable -- Direct download games are kind of a double edged sword on the PC. On the one hand, they are completely doable and are being done. On the other hand, they make piracy incredibly easy. This isn't so much of an issue on consoles or on cell phones. In fact, some of the best games on the Wii and Xbox 360 are direct download. What's even cooler is that most of the direct downloadable games on consoles ring in at under $10 while cell phone games are usually around $5. Smaller, cheaper games, without the overhead of packaging or buying shelf space at big name retailers (*cough* Wal Mart *cough*) are a win win situation for developers. It can take as little as six monthes to make a portable game and as little as $300,000. Combine that with a direct line to your customers and the money just rolls right in. The best part is that you don't have to look like a complete social retard by standing in front of the game aisle at the age of 30+.
- Everyone who wants one will have their own MMORPG. -- Remember in part three where I said that virtual social environments were more popular than virtual game environments. Well, this will probably be the end result. Second Life and Active Worlds already have areas that are a lot like MMORPGs. However, Neither of those are all that reliable or smooth which leads me to think that the virtual spaces of the next ten years or so will be more like a combination of IMVU and Ventrillo. Basically, you'll be able to make you're own area, a "home" if you will, and people can visit it or you can visit the homes of others. the catch is that you'll have to pay a monthly fee to be able to have more people to connect to your "home" beyond, say eight people. To twist the knife a little further, you'll probably have to pay for items and scripts to place in your "home," but there should also be a way that you can create your own stuff and give / sell it to others. The result? Everyone who wants to run their own MMORPG will pay for a huge area and either ask for donations, or sell in-game items to the people that play in their "home." It's really not all that different from private servers really. Expect a lot of stock areas and artwork. It'll be a lot like the Diku flood of the mid 90's. You know, that time when there were something like 6,000 MUDs that all looked alike and were some variant of Diku. I'm also figuring that the World Forge project will be in a fairly workable state within the next ten years and that too will allow everyone that can rent a server the ability to host their own MMORPG. Yeah.... It's gonna suck.....
And that's basically it for my predictions. I guess now would be a good time to clear up any possible misunderstandings so that we're all on the same page.
To begin with, I realize that consoles and cell phones only have limited memory capacity for downloadable content. The answer is to use proprietary (as in, not editable without the original hardware) storage media or allowing someone unlimited download access after purchase on just that one device. Next, I realize that the iPod was not around when the GBA went public, I was merely pointing out that there was a rumor that the GBA was going to also be a cell phone shortly before it was released.
With that out of the way, I think this sums up the logical outcome of current trends. If even one of my predictions comes true I'll probably die of heart failure. At any rate, the video game novelty won't completely disappear; it'll just get toned down from the eleven that it's currently on, down to a more reasonable seven or eight. The "hardcore" years are finally coming to a close.