Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Future of Gaming

I've been thinking a lot about videogames recently (big surprise), specifically about the future of the industry. Recently, Mr. Steven Spielberg revealed that he thought that the next step in the industry's evolution is Virtual Reality machines. No offense to Mr. Spielberg, Boom Blox was fun, but take it from a hardcore gamer: that is NOT the future of the industry. Aside from all the sci-fi mumbo jumbo involved with a truly Virtual Reality experience, I just don't see the industry shifting that dramatically. I'm not saying that there won't be VR, and I'm not saying there won't be games for VR...what I am saying is that VR would be so wholly different from videogames as we currently know them that I doubt conventional games would be completely replaced. If anything, VR isn't where the videogame industry is headed; it's where the whole entertainment industry is headed. There would be no need for TVs anymore; just go to your VR room, or put on your VR headset and you could get a TV as big as a building. That pretty much ruins the movie theater/television industries. That said, I doubt VR will ever become a true reality; I don't think the government would allow it. VR would virtually destroy the economy, making televisions, movie theaters, and individual gaming consoles obsolete.

BTW, all puns were intended. Sorry.

The way I see it, the future of gaming involves one of my favorite things; achievements. You see, the future of gaming to me is actually driven by its past. People still love playing their favorite older games as much as they ever did. Looking back on it, the argument for "who has the best graphics" never really mattered much anyways. Just because a game like say...Terminator Salvation looks better than Super Mario Bros doesn't mean people will stop playing Mario. It truly is all about the gameplay. It's always been about the gameplay when you look back on it. The reason I say all this is to emphasize people's desire to play good games; past, present, and future. How could the industry abandon that whole era of games? To put it in business terms; how could the industry abandon all that money. Microsoft has the answer, and I don't think they even realize it yet.

The advent of achievements and leaderboards hardly seems relevant to the future of the industry...but I think we'll see a shift in the industry within the next 10 years that will seem natural to most gamers, but I doubt "normal" folks will see it that way. As a way to capitalize on older games, the industry will simply port their entire backlog of games, adding only the most basic of upgrades (HD text, achievements, and leaderboards) onto a downloadable service. Now, in a perfect world, it would be a single service. An amalgamation of Microsoft's Xbox Live coupled with the Wii's Virtual Console. I'll be the first to admit that I wouldn't buy game one on the virtual console unless it had some sort of upgrade. So far, the only game on the Virtual Console that has had any upgrade at all is Pokemon Snap (which I bought). Now, I'm sure I'm not the only gamer out there that has this mindset.

Here's the long and short of it; I, and thousands of gamers like myself, are willing to rebuy EVERY GOOD GAME EVER if it simply added achievements and leaderboards. The cost of rereleasing old games with achievements, leaderboards, and online play onto a downloadable service is minimal. Charge approximately $5 to $25 per game and everyone would be happy. A $5 game would be a simple rerelease; simple single player games like Sonic and Zelda that only need to add achievements and leaderboards. The next tier would be $10 games; games as simple as Sonic or Zelda, with the primary difference being multiplayer (like Toejam and Earl for example). The added cost is to compensate the extra work involved making it online. This tier could also include single player games that exceed 50 MB to cover bandwidth costs (N64/arcade games). The next tier for $15 would be for single player games that exceed reasonable bandwidth (games like Final Fantasy 7). The approximate size limit would include anything exceeding 200 MB. This could also reasonably include games like Mario Kart 64 or Perfect Dark; ones that don't exceed 50MB but would involve some coding for multiplayer. And then the ultimate tier, the $20 tier. This includes the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube tier. The cost covers the extreme bandwidth for these games (exceeding 1GB). One would assume that multiplayer games would cost more, but most games in that era were already online, so there wouldn't really be any need for additional coding. I guess a few games could add online multiplayer (games like Smash Brothers Melee), but anything more than $20 is a hard sell to most gamers.

Of course, this value scale is only relevant to today's standards. Inflation could change things, but so could encryption techniques, making the whole "added cost due to increased bandwidth" argument more or less a moot point (more moot than it already is).

The problem with my view of the perfect future is pretty obvious; I doubt Mircosoft, Nintendo, and Sony would collaborate on something like this, no matter how universally appealing the concept is. Lord knows gamers love to show off to their mutual gamer friends. I know I want my gamer friends to know that I've beaten every Zelda game, 100%, without dying, under 20 hours, blablabla, regardless of the console they own.

The reason I think that at least some form of this future is reasonable is based on my assumption that "gamers for life," i.e. nostalgic gamers, are willing to pay money for games they have already played just so they can feel COMPLETELY accomplished with said games. I know I already feel accomplished having all the Sonic 1 and 2 achievements.

If we had a universal achievement system in place, I think the whole industry would be better for it. I'm not predicting a one console future, not even a one online service future...I just see this whole "achievements" thing as a catalyst for the industry...even if the industry doesn't realize it yet.

Everything old is new again.

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