How will we be gaming in 2029?
At the close of the last decade, otherwise known as two weeks ago, the video game industry was once again in a state of flux. In fact, the industry has been in flux for most of the 2010s. From the explosion of mobile at the start of the decade to the decentralized platforms of cloud gaming at the end, the past ten years have been perhaps the most adventurous the medium has seen since the ’80s.
Just think about everything that was introduced in the last decade. Virtual reality headsets are now mass consumer products. AR is a thriving technology on smartphones. Streaming has turned gaming from a personal hobby into its own form of broadcast entertainment. Esports exploded with games like League of Legends and Overwatch. Gaming today looks quite different from what it was a decade ago.
The same will be true in 2029. Technology that is considered the norm right now may only exist as retro hardware in ten years. It’s impossible to know exactly where gaming is going, but we asked the Destructoid staff to give their predictions on what this industry will look like a decade from now. Check out what we have to say below and tell us your predictions in the comments.
We’re going to see niche genres resurface in a big way as companies lean even harder into personalized recommendation systems and game-streaming services. (Or so I hope.) There will always be name-brand hits at the top of the sales charts, now and forever, but I think game creators – in general – will need to get bolder, weirder, and more distinct to stand a chance of capturing players in the 2020s.
Just look at what Microsoft is doing with Xbox Game Pass. It’s a way to fund projects that have a relatively small but dedicated audience and then grow that base with curious players who never would’ve paid full price in the first place. It’s unclear if Game Pass can continue in its current form forever – it’s absurdly cheap – but for the time being, developers seem happy, Microsoft says it’s satisfied, and people are using the streaming service to branch out beyond their comfort zones.
If our entertainment is going to be chopped up and repackaged a hundred different ways – heck, it already is – then unbridled originality, not mass-market appeal, needs to reign supreme.
I think Jordan is right on the money when he says original voices unconcerned with their own marketability will continue to rise to the top, at least in some ways. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when both Minecraft and Undertale were weird, niche games that had no apparent mainstream appeal. That rejection of convention garnered them both a veneer of authenticity that, in time, helped them become two of the biggest games of the decade.
Yet there are still plenty of people who love games who have never played either of them. That’s because, more than anything, the past decade has been a time for branching growth in gaming. There was a time when there were only a few genres of games because that’s all the hardware of the era was capable of running. Platformers, shmups, basic RPG, even more basic sports sims, and text adventures were pretty much all there were, and therefore, games only appealed to people who were interested in those genres.
Now we have so many genres that language is struggling to keep up. The term metroidvania, in my opinion, was coined as a half-joke, born of desperation to describe a particular trend in games, not as an actual genre. Then, no one was able to come up with anything better, so it stuck. This “trends as genres” naming convention will probably continue, with even more insular terminology evolving in the siloed subcultures that develop within each larger sphere of gaming. The spheres themselves though will probably become more distinct. There will be “Games for Escapism” (open-world, VR compatible), “Games for Mental Exercise” (puzzle games, mobile dominant), “Game for Sport” (fighters/shooters) and “Games for Galleries” (fine art-style games that you play chiefly to get in the minds of the people who made them).
That’s more or less where other forms of art have gotten to at this point. There is a very distinct line between watching a soap opera, a how-to video, a football game, or a documentary on TV. In time, games will fall more deeply into those four domains as they speak to the four main things people are drawn towards doing (escaping, self-improving, fighting, empathizing). In ten years, terms like “gamer” will mean even less than they do now. You’ll have to specify why you play games for anyone to have any idea what you’re talking about.
Defining genres has kind of been like pulling teeth lately. I felt this most when people started arguing about Indivisible on the hypest subreddit on the internet. Is it an action-RPG? Is it really? There’s action and there are pieces of an RPG, but not nearly enough for some to consider it an RPG. When I played the demo, I thought there would be a menu for equipment or leveling up for some reason, but here we are in 2020 with the realization that there is absolutely no micromanaging of any kind in Indivisible. The fact that you fight in timed turns might be enough for some people to consider it an RPG, but not me. Is it an RPG with fighting mechanics? There are juggle states, a combo counter, and Smash inputs for moves.
There are so many subgenres that make it all more complicated. So many fighting games from beloved properties like Jump Force or Kill La Kill turn out to be 3D-arena fighting games rather than “core” fighting games, which in turn shouldn’t be confused with Tekken or Soul Calibur despite taking place within 3D arena levels. Games like The Division or Destiny 2 involve shooting things that take a comparatively long time to kill than other shooters because their bullets are being affected by RPG statistics.
So what does this have to do with predicting the future? Will genres blend further and further into total integration? Maybe we’ll see more genres get remixed by RPG sensibilities? More subgenres like how battle royal blossomed out of the shooter genre? More specificity to game design to tick hidden checkboxes in our brains’ dopamine generators?
Nah, let’s just give every genre a gun.
Do you want a turn-based RPG? Actions menu has shoot, item, and reload. Do you want a fighting game? Every character uses firearms like they came straight out of Equilibrium with their own unique gun kata. Are you looking to play a puzzle platformer? Let me remind you that several games already use the kickback of oversized sawed-off shotguns as a form of movement and traversal, so get to platforming with guns of course. Think you can get away by technicality and play a first-person shooter? We just add more guns to it. Why stop at dual wield when you can triple wield? You can shoot guns like Reaper and just throw away empty guns in favor of new ones that just spawn in your inventory. Instead of snapping your aim towards a hell demon, aiming down the sights pulls the demon from where it is, directly into your crosshairs. Tetris-style block puzzler? In order to clear a line, you aim a pistol at each block and shoot them out from under the tower.
Maybe instead we’ll see more genre-blending and adapting. Has God of War always been a character action game or just a brawler? Games that have you mow down armies of enemies are called Warriors games, but can a Warriors game be a character action game like Devil May Cry? Or maybe guns will just be added to all these examples, I don’t know.
Whatever genre names we do end up formulating for our games, with or without additional guns, there’s a strong chance they’ll have a little bit of Fortnite in their blood and/or business models. I don’t think we’ll still be playing the current “biggest game in the world” in 2030. For as much noise as people have made about modern games being made to be played forever, times do change and trends move on. Fortnite did make more money than anyone else this year (again), but this is the first year it’s actually seen a decline in the take. Nothing lasts forever, not even a “forever game”.
And yet, I do stand by my assertion that Fortnite and “service games” like it, aren’t going to go away. Virtually every trend in both mobile and marquee gaming is leaning towards a service-oriented future, where most players get most of their titles for almost or entirely free, be it as part of a service like Xbox Game Pass or as part of the business model, like Fortnite and the gacha legions. Streaming services like Google Stadia, Project Xcloud, and whatever Sony, Nintendo, and the major publishers have in mind are also leaning this way, an attempt to put your games wherever you happen to be regardless of what box you’ve chosen to place on your desk, under your TV, or in your pocket. In other words, a more “hardware-agnostic” sort of future.
You can even see it happening on the home consoles. After generations of using exotic hardware shenanigans to make cross-platform development harder, Sony’s apparently making the PS5 more or less a logical continuation of the PS4 and PS4 Pro, making the relative stasis of its logo design more sensible. Microsoft is calling its next Xbox part of a series, implying there will be more in the line to come. Developers have effectively outed both platforms even more like PCs than the current one, and rumors abound of the Switch getting its own mid-life upgrade. The future of gaming, at least on consoles, is looking a lot like the present of gaming on phones (and PCs to an extent), where the hardware you’ve got matters much less than the “ecosystem” of apps, services, and subscriptions you’re ensnared in. In fact, MS is so confident this is the case that they’re apparently not even that worried about building an appealing slate of exclusive titles for this year, banking on the notion that players will be too attached to their current library and the one they’re building via Game Pass handouts to want to change over.
The irony is the closer parts of this future get, the less appealing it looks. I’d be in rapture if you’d described the pitch for Google Stadia to me five years ago, but these days trust in basically every company making and selling this stuff is at rock bottom. Missteps in the actual rollout of services Google Stadia aren’t helping the case much either, making it all look like a big grift designed to make us pay more to own less.
Nevertheless, the concept does have its own appeal, and with time and luck, my old-man cynicism will prove unfounded.
The next decade of gaming is going to be a whimsical place, like Hill Valley 2015 from Back to the Future Part II. Just kidding. It’s probably going to be more like alternate Hill Valley 1985 from Back to the Future Part II: dark, twisted, and ruled by corrupt businessmen.
Actually, the truth is likely somewhere in between, with a bit of whimsy and some corrupt businessmen.
For whimsy, I predict that a new niche will open up around AR glasses, similar to what Microsoft is attempting with the Hololens, but more geared towards gaming. I expect someone like Nintendo will take the first exploratory steps into the technology’s application to video games with gimmicky proof of concept games that capture the public’s attention. This will be short-lived, however, and we’ll all revert back to our screens once the novelty wears off.
Expect that consoles will become more iterative with a greater focus on backward compatibility. Microsoft seems to be already headed in that direction with the Series X and its “full” backward compatibility. Rather than buy a new console every 5 years, one will come out annually and you will be expected to jump on the console train for a few years before your hardware becomes obsolete, stops being supported, and you need to upgrade. Like smartphones. The good news is that your library of games will never age, the bad news is that your hardware will age faster than ever.
As for the businessmen, we’ll probably see some of the bigger megacorporations enter into the video game market. Google and Amazon have already started to push in that direction, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Disney snatch up someone like EA, and Tencent will no doubt continue their expansion into the video game realm.
As for the games themselves, they’ll remain the same dependable form of media you and I both enjoy. Don’t sweat the small details, like whether or not you’ll actually own the games you purchase. At the end of the day, the delivery method may change, but we’ll still be piloting our meaty avatars through adventures both magical and mundane.
A lot of what I think will happen in the next 10 years has already been mentioned by other contributors to this post. I think services like Xbox Games Pass will become more prevalent. I think a Hololens or Google Glass-type AR will take off with Pokémon Go as its premier app. I think categorizing genres will become extremely complicated as more unique developers enter the fray. And I think the games as a service industry will continue to boom across all platforms.
That latter prediction plays into my contribution to this post. I think the video game industry will unionize in the next 10 years. And I know this is a terrible prediction to make because most high-profile attempts at unionizing have failed. It didn’t happen with McDonald’s, it didn’t happen with Walmart, and even though the video game industry has a long and well-documented history of taking advantage of its employees (to put it nicely), it hasn’t there either.
I think that changes by the end of this decade and the rock that starts the landslide will be games as a service. Crunch isn’t getting better, it’s getting longer, lasting so long that calling it “crunch” is misleading because traditionally crunch has an endpoint. But if you’re a developer working on something like Fortnite, there is no endpoint, no finished version of that game. There’s only the publisher deciding a game is finished because it’s no longer profitable.
The industry relies on the adolescent romance of creating video games to avoid changing. Why worry about working your employees ragged when dozens waiting in the wings won’t mind working nights and weekends if it means they get to develop games for a living? It’s a vicious cycle that leads to the worst tendencies in the industry. In the next 10 years, my hope is that cycle comes to a crashing end.