The story so far is pretty well known. Long history made short, people went to the arcades, spent their quarters while others watched, and every cabinet had its very own magic. We learnt by talking to unknown gamers-by and dreamt of the games that were to come, as every new game was, quite literally, a step into the future, foretold by films like Starfighter or Wargames.
Of course, there were also the brawls, the in-home rules for player versus player, the absurd names for everything (Ryu’s helicopter!), the mistreated controllers, and the occasional chick who was looked over from head to toe. It was fun.
People left the arcades, and they waned and then vanished when home consoles became powerful enough. Neogeo was a clear warning, but few were able to afford it. PS1 was the coup de grâce. First came Internet walkthroughs and move lists, and then online multiplayer. They not only changed the way we played, but also the way we learnt to play and from whom, hence changing gamers’ socialization.
Now to the point: we can go back to the arcades. They can resurge, and not via becoming nostalgia kindergartens for nerds in their thirties. People won’t be able to purchase the hi-tech machinery required to play the video games that will be developed from 2025 on. Likewise, cabinets may need more than a room, or even an industrial unit. Although the domestic versions could be played in a conveniently emptied garage or living room, the great games will need much more space, power and connectivity.
GTA V, which is a domestic game after all, cost $265M to make. How much will it cost to make a blockbuster game in the future? A cool billion? Let’s figure out a Virtual Reality Multiverse of Warcraft a la Sword Art Online for the win, or a Counter Call of Battlefield, where players wear a VR helmet and a sensor jumpsuit and can move and jump and crouch and ra-ta-ta-ta and swash-buckle. Where you can reserve a round with your wolfpack to battle your neighbours, or go online against a random team from elsewhere connected at the same time. For an extra fee, you can take a 3D vid of the match, drink a soda (ehem, Elven mana potion), access uncanny stages and get your avatar customized.
We know that VR games aren’t going to break onto the scene in 2014. They won’t in 2015, either. But it’s hard to foresee any distant future of video gaming without VR. Domestic VR handsets might be great, but they’ll be a watery experience compared to a whole Danger Room, whose tech is already germinating. We have the Oculus Rift and stuff of their ilk, the motion-track suits, the surround sound system… it’s only a matter of time before someone puts it all together somewhere and hangs a poster with “opening soon” on it.
Eventually, the industry will find a way to bring such tech to homes, and it’ll be something faster this time. Home VR and Arcade VR will coexist since the advent of that technology, and someone, perhaps myself, will write an article in 2035 about how we’ll go back to the arcades because the upcoming neural olfactive zero-G tech is beyond our budget.
How this will affect mobile? A ton. Future games will make a strong bet for social media instead in addition of global leaderboards, and games will have their own tie-in apps and mobile games. Likewise, future online tournaments might enjoy broadcast coverage, and mobiles (and wearable wired stuff) will play the most important role therein. In addition, it’s to be expected that voice and motion actors of the future will receive superstar treatment, and such idolatry will need of mobile devices to be fed.