Longtime gamers may reminisce with fondness on the golden age of arcades and 8-bit graphics, but considering what has replaced them, no one can really complain. Nor can they deny just how far gaming has come since the ’80s and ’90s. The classics of old are still alive and playable — even if doing so no longer requires dropping quarters in a box — but they have been succeeded by a universe of new technologies.
Advances in modern gaming have breached a new threshold of possibility in terms of graphics, gameplay and accessibility. From hardcore competitors to casual mobile players, today’s games boast an audience over 2.2 billion strong. With any extensive innovation comes new challenges, but I believe a record number of people will continue to flock to video games, thanks to these revolutionary trends in gaming tech.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Thanks to numerous innovations, personal VR headsets — such as the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and Playstation VR — are in the process of being optimized for the consumer market. Though still in their infancy, motion capture technologies that enable greater freedom of movement have already redefined immersive VR. Many headsets are now able to faithfully recreate a 360 degree perspective, wherein users look around by physically moving their head.
However, VR still faces barriers to wider adoption. PC and high-end console headsets utilize high definition displays and powerful processors capable of complex gameplay, but the technology can be expensive, and physical movement is limited by cords and wires. Mobile VR, on the other hand, is generally cheaper and wire-free, but graphics and gameplay are held back by mobile phones’ inferior processing strength.
ESports has exploded into a global industry that last year alone generated $696 million in revenue. Brand investment in eSports is increasing rapidly, and attention from gamers and investors alike is predicted to send eSports revenue soaring to $1.5 billion by 2020. Professional eSports leagues host tournaments where pros battle for million-dollar prizes, and matches featuring popular titles like League of Legends, DOTA and CS:GO, are watched regularly by tens of millions worldwide.
Somewhat of an issue for eSports is the fact that competitive games are privately owned. Matches, as well, are hosted over servers managed by parent companies. With all of eSports in the hands of a few entities, problems can arise if a company decides to make changes without announcement, or take actions deemed unpopular by the user base. In addition, each company holds gamers to a unique code of conduct, which, if violated even unknowingly, may cost individual players their user account.
Gaming’s transition to mobile and online is mirrored in its payment options. To balance rising development costs, game creators are finding new ways to provide value in exchange for payment. Various modes of in-game transaction offer everything from new weapons, to character skins and additional content. Mobile games commonly use a “freemium” business model, in which the game itself costs nothing, but offers players the option to pay to acquire experience or in-game currency, which is needed to access a title’s prime features.
Since their introduction to gaming, these and other “microtransactions” have been a source of controversy. The criticism of “loot crate” style payments — in which players purchase a chance at winning rare items — is so pervasive that Belgium and other European countries are considering a ban on loot boxes and similar micropayments. As with any digital payments, fraud and data breaches occasionally pose a problem as well.
Despite the difficulties these nascent technologies face, their potential to guide gaming into its future as a seamless and universally enjoyable medium is there. As innovation progresses, I believe we will continue to see gaming iron out its wrinkles, and assume its role as the entertainment of the future.