Top industry figures discuss what gaming will be like in ten years time.
To find out, we asked the people in the best position to take an educated guess. Yes, the same set of developers and industry folk we quizzed for our The Last Decade in Gaming feature. We're talking a who's who of developers and publishers from around the globe, including Platinum Games and Capcom in Japan, Avalanche and Guerrilla Games in Europe, FreeStyleGames in the UK, Krome in Australia, Ubisoft Montreal in Canada, and Blizzard, Turn 10 and Gearbox Software in the US.
We asked them three questions each:
- What do you think the videogame industry will look like in 2020?The answers, needless to say, were fascinating. Take it away, Super Happy All-Star Dev Team Alpha Plus!
- How do you think gaming technology will have evolved by 2020?
- How different will the games of 2020 be to the games of 2010, and why?
IGN AU: What do you think the videogame industry will look like in 2020?
Jeremiah Slaczka (Co-Founder and Creative Director, 5TH Cell): Gaming will continue to become much more mainstream and accepted as kids grow up completely surrounded by games. There's a big problem right now with our industry finding its comfort zone. Cost and time with big budget titles are such a huge investment that a few flops can sink a company and result in massive layoffs. Looking at film the process is much more streamlined, so flops don't hurt successful companies nearly as much. The game industry is young compared to all other forms of entertainment and people are still learning how to make money and how to make the process makes sense.
J. Allen Brack (Production Director for World of Warcraft, Blizzard): At the end of the 90s we had UO, which had a few hundred thousand subscribers, we had Everquest, which had a few hundred thousand subscribers, and those were wildly successful, very niche products. And now we have games that have incredible budgets and huge numbers of players that have defined a lot of what online gaming actually means, so thinking about that ten years from now, you'll have everything online. There'll still be single player games, but there'll be a lot more connectedness in games than we have now. I think potentially you'll look back on the idea of connecting to small numbers of players like we have right now as kind of quaint. I'm a big believer in the 'everyone playing together' kind of model and there will be more games that come along that are everyone playing together...
In terms of how important videogames are going to be, I think it's amazing and fantastic that games have reached beyond the nerdy core, as it were. No one is raised in society today that doesn't play games. It doesn't matter their age or gender at this point – everyone is kind of dialled in to games. The idea that ten years from now, we've got an entire generation where everyone plays games and there's not a stigma associated with it... I think that's great. It's more players, it's more people who are excited about playing games, it's more people interested in making games. I'm really excited about that.
Dan Greenawalt (Game Director at Turn 10 Studios): I think gaming will continue to trend along the same lines as recent developments: ubiquity of games and devices catering to a bigger and even more diverse audience who are hungry for interactive entertainment; digital distribution having effectively leveled the publishing field so you have risky, experimental indie games coexisting with huge blockbuster titles in a virtual and sustainable marketplace; and of course, the uber-connectedness of it all -- with social media and user-generated content playing central roles in how players define themselves and the experiences they have with the games they play.
Paul Denning (Senior Gameplay Programmer, Rocksteady Studios): We'll be bigger that's for sure. The question is how much. There's a huge untapped potential in places like China that if used correctly could help the industry grow. Already there's been some companies that have started development there. There's been issues with workforce skill levels but that will change as more companies start up there and help the education system churn out qualified graduates. THQ have already started this process with their Endwar team for instance.
I'm convinced that we'll also be more mainstream than ever. Nintendo have recently hit a gold mine with the Wii and the DS and the brand new market of non-gamers it's attracted. Microsoft and Sony are eyeing the market and licking their lips. Both are bringing out their own tech to entice people to their platform and that can only be a good thing. Now if only we can get the politicians into gaming!
That said, it won't be plain sailing, the industry faces big challenges in the next decade. Team sizes are fast growing out of control. There are lots of examples that prove that throwing more people at a problem doesn't help solve it. As such many studios and publishers are going to have to reshape their ideas. I'm expecting there to be more games that follow the episodic route that companies like Telltale are forging.
Yannis Mallat (CEO of Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto): Saying that the industry will be bigger in 2020 is a no-brainer and wouldn't make me look like a big visionary. My take is that the industry will strengthen its place as one of the main pillars of the entertainment industry, becoming even more mass market, widening its reach and cementing its place as a cultural product.
I believe, the power of the hardware will continue its skyrocketing raise, impacting our budgets and our teams' size. Online and multiplayer will continue to take a bigger importance in our offering and I also believe that we will be re-inventing some of our game play mechanics.
Finally, we have been talking for a few years about our Convergence strategy. We definitely believe that the movie and gaming mediums are probably some of the entertainment mediums that will have a lot of interactions in the years to come.
Kelly Zmak (President, Radical Entertainment): It will become the most important cultural media in the world. Young adults of today will be the politicians of tomorrow and gaming will be second nature. We will use it so symbiotically; we will take it for granted. We will use it where and when we want, and the concept of "platform" will have long been forgotten.
Yoshinori Ono (Producer, Super Street Fighter IV, Capcom): Considering the GDP growth rate of so called developing nations, the industry will no doubt grow on a global basis – or at least the number of people who play games will increase. Of course whether this leads to direct business opportunities or not is a different story but one thing is clear – that in the next 10 years the G7 games market will be saturated, if not already. BRICs will be good candidate markets but I don't think 10 years is enough for them to take any significant part just yet. Meanwhile all developers and creators will have to minimise cost and utilise time wisely in order to survive the industry's static growth era.
If distribution mechanisms change more over the next decade then the way retail works will change. At first micro-transactions were not so widely accepted, especially by the core gamers, but now it is in almost every game released. This has also created a new marketplace (literally) and this trend will continue. Games will have to be designed with this in mind.
Randy Pitchford (President, Gearbox Software): In 2020, we will have virtual identities and all of our content will be associated to those identities through digital credentials. We can choose between a number of related but unique small devices that act as interfaces to access and play the content we own. These devices, when in proximity to other devices, can do things like display our content on a nearby TV screen or allow us to wirelessly connect to a variety of different input devices (such as a somewhat standard feeling video game controller). Sony and Microsoft will both still be very relevant in the game business and, in fact, the relationship between them will be less competitive and more collaborative. I believe Sony will leverage its strengths in consumer electronics and being a media/content company and Microsoft will leverage its strengths as a software company. Nintendo will still be in the toy business and will continue to be very successful. All of the relevant players will still be driving the business but there will be natural fragmentations and consolidations that affect the names and organizations of some publishers and developers. Of course, Gearbox Software will be one of the most relevant and inventive players in the creative space :) Can you imagine a Borderlands 5?
Hermen Hulst (Managing Director, Guerrilla Games): A big change that I expect to see is the disappearance of a clear distinction between home consoles and handheld consoles. Also, we're going to see some fundamental changes to both the input and the output of games devices. Gestural interfaces are already happening, of course, and the screen as we know it might be a thing of the past too. I'm not sure if there will be a complete virtualization by 2020, but I like the idea of a wearable device - one that we control and interact with through natural hand gestures, and that we use to augment our physical world.
Jamie Jackson (Creative Director, FreeStyleGames): I would like to think that it will be in a healthy and diverse place. It is currently a very hard industry to be in. Fewer companies are managing to stay afloat. This in my opinion, is in part to the way publishers are playing relatively safe bets. This sometimes means fewer chances for the innovative games to get released. We are seeing great innovation within genres, but this is usually between a few gaming giants, playing tennis for who is best. Having said that, we are also starting to see a change in the videogame industry. The Wii has brought social, active gaming straight to our living rooms, arguably something RedOctane and Harmonix started with Guitar Hero a few years ago. We're now seeing offerings from Sony and Microsoft. Ten years of development in these new ways of interacting with games is going to be immense. I can see these evolving control methods translating into your entire home entertainment system. In a nutshell, your console will be everything you need and it won't just be used with a handheld controller, if you need one at all.
Gareth Wilson (Lead Designer, Bizarre Creations): In a lot of ways videogaming will be pretty similar to what it is now. People will still be getting the latest blockbuster for Christmas and Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will be fighting for our affections. It will still be a mainly male pursuit. One thing for sure is gaming will be bigger. All those thirty somethings will still be playing games in their forties and we'll have a new generation to entertain. Online will be defacto, as will social gaming, with whatever replaces Facebook/Twitter being tightly integrated into our gaming experience. I could see the traditional set top box becoming a key form of casual gaming. Game shows like 1 vs 100 on Xbox Live is a real pioneer, and in ten years time expect to see things interactive real time voting on shows like X-Factor or playing for real cash prizes on quiz shows pretty commonplace.
Chris Pickford (Associate Producer, Bizarre Creations): I believe video games will become an important extension of all visual entertainment. There will be lots more crossover between different media formats – films, games, websites, even theme parks! As companies get smarter with their IPs and learn to manage their ideas, they'll be able to use different aspects of them in different ways, and create full encompassing experiences for the end user. In terms of worldwide respect, video games will be side by side with Hollywood - it may possibly even overtake it at points, but I think both can co-exist quite happily as both are different in the way the someone interacts with them.
Peter Johansson (Lead Game Designer, Avalanche): The average age of gamers and developers will continue to increase and I think this will be reflected in the games, continuing to broaden the appeal of gaming. The definition of what constitutes a game will be less clear since all games will be so integrated with other forms of entertainment.
By 2020, it's likely that fewer games will be released but they will have better longevity by continually evolving and expanding, both by the hands of the developer and the users.
Steve Stamatiadis (Creative Director, Krome): I think gaming will merge into the entertainment pool and will just be available everywhere whenever you want it. I think we'll see reality TV shows that merge in viewer/gamer interaction seamlessly. TV ads that are playable (and if they're addictive enough stretch much longer than 30 seconds). Basically any stigma that games may have had will be gone. We'll have had a generation that's grown up having known the 360 and PS3 as their first consoles. Retrogaming Gears of Wars anyone?
Hideki Kamiya (Game Director, Platinum Games): The potential is incalculable. But I believe that the larger the game industry become, the more games are approaching industrial products. I personally want to keep the flame of the traditional Japanese way to create the game alight which is just like the handicraft manufacturing. Don't you think it would be nice if games - like traditional craftworks - survive, regardless of how technology improves?
IGN AU: How do you think gaming technology will have evolved by 2020?
Jeremiah Slaczka (Co-Founder and Creative Director, 5TH Cell): I think digital distribution will be huge. It changed the way music is sold and I think it will have a huge impact on games as well. In 2000 we were just being introduced to 300kbps DSL. In 2010 10mbps is normal in a lot of places. Where will we be in 2020? Cloud computing is a possible avenue. I don't think physical media will be wiped out, but think it's possible for the majority of games, like music, to be downloaded from online-enabled platforms. It's happening already now.
Dan Greenawalt (Game Director at Turn 10 Studios): Besides the inevitable hardware and graphics arms race that will take place on PCs and consoles, I believe gaming technology will evolve to integrate into a player's daily life so that even their most mundane routines become meta-games in a grander scheme. Imagine an RPG where going to work and sitting at your office actually gains you experience points in-game, or going on a date in real life actually accomplishes a quest or a mission. By 2020, players will go from an always-connected lifestyle of today to an always-gaming lifestyle of tomorrow.
Paul Denning (Senior Gameplay Programmer, Rocksteady Studios): I think the changes we will see will be the continued development of platforms such as Live and PSN as well as more forays away from the standard controller. Natal is interesting. The demo given by Microsoft was impressive but when you look behind the pizzazz there's a lot of unanswered questions and concerns over just how well it'll perform. That said, there's a lot of scope for them to improve and innovate in that area. It's going to be fun to watch.
Yannis Mallat (CEO of Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto): I just do not want to get on that turf. It's a trick to make me look like a fool in ten years. :)
Kelly Zmak (President, Radical Entertainment): 3D is unproven but will lead to new innovation. Interface design will be the next major milestone; the controller of today will be a relic tomorrow. Digital distribution is a given and retail will become an extension of the online business. Mobile gaming will be integrated into all our technology delivery systems and all technology will talk with each other seamlessly.
Yoshinori Ono (Producer, Super Street Fighter IV, Capcom): I'm sensing a more disc-less market in the future for the current main markets (JPN, EUR, NA). Since DLCs and expansions are so common already in 2010, the way games are provided may fundamentally change. Developer survival is dependant on whether they can create a fitting title for that particular market or not.
With ever-advancing mobile phones and PCs a narrow categorisation of 'console games' will simply be out of date. First Parties will definitely have that in mind for the next generation machines.
Randy Pitchford (President, Gearbox Software): The rules will be all different in moving forward. In the past, we could reliably trust that each generation was fundamentally centered on performance advances. Moore's Law dictated the platforms and the promise made to the customer. In the future, Moore's Law will take a back seat to design and interface. While many various interfaces will be attempted and some of them will be novel, interesting and amusing, the simple, general and open approaches will ultimately win out to be the most dominant.
Denby Grace (Senior Producer, 2K Games): [In response to this question and the previous question] I'll answer these two questions together: there's the vision I want which is a games industry that has embraced better storytelling methods, higher quality writing and performances from actors and that is really pushing films as the leading media for people to engage in escapism experiences. I want my family and friends, the young and the old to experience a game together and hold it in a high esteem such as they do with their favourite movies.
The vision I have and one which I fear is something like this: the gamer has a plastic contraption of some description which is strapped to every limb and inserted into every orifice of their body. Games and controllers have become so advanced that I could finish the game by simply blinking one eyelid and grabbing my crotch. Also, I am playing in full 8D vibration vision and hearing in 28.9 surround sound and the whole experience is similar to a bad tab of acid taken in a night club in the East Midlands circa 1995.
Jamie Jackson (Creative Director, FreeStyleGames): As I've already harped on about. Control methods. I can see these changing and becoming more widespread across ALL games, but I think the biggest change will be how content is distributed. I'll be amazed if we're still doing boxed product in 2020. Digital distribution may be the only way to access your entertainment, be it games, TV or films. I also think we will see a big step forward in short, dip in, dip out gaming. Social games that you can play without waiting to download. I also think we will see more people take up massive online gaming, mainly due to it being even more accessible.
Gareth Wilson (Lead Designer, Bizarre Creations): The traditional console pad will still be the usual control input for most games, but I'm sure gesture and motion based control ala Natal will be refined and have its niche in casual games, as well as being combined with more traditional control methods (e.g. detecting head movements and body position while holding a pad). Also, streaming technology like OnLive will mean you can stream any game from a massive data centre to a set-top box and pay a monthly subscription.
Although online distribution will become even more important (expect full game downloads to be commonplace) people will still be buying games from shops in ten years time. There will be people who simply prefer to physically own a title, and a download doesn't make a good birthday present ;-). 3D TVs and 3D gaming will be making an appearance but until they solve issues like motion sickness and special accessories (glasses, special TVs etc) it'll remain a novelty. We can do 3D gaming now but there's little real demand for it. Finally – wireless power. Out of anything on the horizon I'd love this to actually happen. Imagine a world without wires!
Chris Pickford (Associate Producer, Bizarre Creations): I hope we'll see a big shift in artificial intelligence. More believable characters and more subtle interactivity, which will be able to affect the way the game responds to the user. Many character based games are starting to allow the player to perform actions with multiple consequences, rather than the old style of heavily scripted events which need to be done in a specific order. Giving the player the freedom to choose is a much better feeling to them. They feel that they are really shaping the story, and it makes a much more emergent game – we've only scratched the surface of this technology in our current generation.
In terms of actual hardware, it's easy to see that the successes of Steam, XBLA, PlayStation Store, etc… They are showing that people will adopt new buying habits, and that digital distribution is here to stay in a big way. That said, I don't think that it will replace discs any time soon. Video games are getting bigger as the hardware gets faster, and this trend isn't going to change. Also, the unreliability of an internet connection and the 'instantness' of a disc in your hand will sway some users to stick with the current tech. In the future what we'll see is more options, which is always good.
Peter Johansson (Lead Game Designer, Avalanche): As always, even though the race for horse power seems to have slowed down somewhat, consoles will be more powerful but the main benefit will be in A.I., animations and physics.
There will be a lot of experimenting with interfaces during the next 10 years but I think the basic general purpose controllers that will be used by the majority of the games will stay pretty similar to what they are now. Pressing a button is still often the easiest way to do an action. Motion controls will play a part but have matured into being used where it really enhances the experience.
Steve Stamatiadis (Creative Director, Krome): Well in the last decade we're still mostly using joysticks and looking at screens so I think gaming technology will mostly be an evolution along the current lines. Of course we'll get some interesting offshoots like specialized controllers, larger screens, higher quality visuals etc. Already we're seeing Sony and Microsoft racing to the motion control market in 2010 with new devices, and these new interface mechanics will spawn new ways to play and we'll likely see more innovation based on their success or failure with motion control.
The biggest changes I think will be how we access our games. I think streaming games will let us play almost exactly the same game wherever we are on whatever device we want. No more cut down handheld version or having to wait to get home to play your current favorite.
Hideki Kamiya (Game Director, Platinum Games): I cannot imagine it, because gaming technology is evolving at a dizzy speed. In addition I'm not very interested in it. I'm just a game creator and simply trying to create the best product under the circumstance of the time for people who are seeking entertainment.
IGN AU: How different will the games of 2020 be to the games of 2010, and why?
Jeremiah Slaczka (Co-Founder and Creative Director, 5TH Cell): Again, ten years is a huge time in games. We saw the birth and death of all kinds of genres. New technology allows game makers to create worlds and experiences never before seen. I think it's possible to see systems like Natal and the PS3 wand fully realized in following iterations in incredibly immersive ways, this is the 1.0 of this tech. Where will it be in 2020? I also think augmented reality will become a large part of games, and life, the tech is there now, it's just too expensive. Those price barriers will come down drastically in the next ten years.
J. Allen Brack (Production Director for World of Warcraft, Blizzard): I think that players and game designers continue to surprise us. Who would have imagined a game like Katamari a few years ago would have come out and been so popular and so successful? I think there's all kinds of games like that that are either doing something new, or evolving something pretty significantly. Like the rise of the story shooter, which I think Half-Life gets a lot of credit for, and the Call of Duty series as well – games that have really integrated a lot of story into first person shooters. Are we going to have shooters in ten years? I have no doubt that we are. What are they going to look like? That's a lot tougher to think about, but I'm sure the trend of having the story shooter is going to continue and I'm really excited about that.
Dan Greenawalt (Game Director at Turn 10 Studios): The games of 2020 will become democratized through the tech for players to create their own content to share with others in the same ecosystem. Imagine the level editor in a game like Far Cry 2 or the livery editor in Forza Motorsport 3 taken to much higher technical levels, and the distribution of this content being seamlessly integrated into the core design of the game. Similar to how electronic music was prohibitively expensive and difficult for the layman to create back in the 1980s, we are seeing that barrier to entry being completely shattered, allowing pretty much anyone to make computer music. What will still remain true even in 2020 is that no matter how sophisticated the tools, there is no substitute for creativity.
Paul Denning (Senior Gameplay Programmer, Rocksteady Studios): Realistically, they'll be pretty similar I'd expect. Looking back at the games of 2000 we had almost all the same genres that we have now. We have better graphics, bigger worlds and more internet options so I'd expect the trend to continue. In particular, I'm expecting games companies to continue the trend of delivering their games on multiple systems that all connect together. Away from home? You can continue playing on a portable device. At work? There's always the web version etc. Finally, I'd also expect to see more of a movement into the casual market that we're already seeing now. The average age of a gamer is slowly rising. People who grew up with video games generally don't tend to leave. So each year we have a new demographic to cater for. Old age gamers are going to be more and more commonplace. Don't be surprised to see games made specifically for them.
Yannis Mallat (CEO of Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto): Without making a prediction, or committing myself, if there is one thing that I am 100% sure is that the games of 2020, and the experience they will be providing, will be more immersive and engaging than the games of 2009. I know, these predictions won't get me rich.
Kelly Zmak (President, Radical Entertainment): Games of 2020 will have smaller chunks of gameplay, but be more ambitious in scope. They'll be easy to access from anywhere and inherently social. Games will integrate our technology, our social networks and our lifestyle. It will extend our offline activities with our online interactions and seamlessly provide entertainment when and where we want it.
Yoshinori Ono (Producer, Super Street Fighter IV, Capcom): As a games creator I feel we mustn't forget that games are for fun. No matter how the market is structured and how the games are distributed, if the games aren't fun that destroys the whole point. Games also should never be necessity, but for pure entertainment. I hope even in 2020 games will be loved for their fun aspects and all game developers do their best to exalt games into a spice that increases the quality of life.
Randy Pitchford (President, Gearbox Software): The games of 2020 will be better at engaging us. In Borderlands, for example, we have blended the moment-to-moment fun of a shooter with the long-range compulsion of getting loot and leveling up. I think this game gives a good taste as to where the future of game design is going. Borderlands may be the first, great shooter-looter, but we are just getting started :)
Hermen Hulst (Managing Director, Guerrilla Games): Of course a few new genres will come into existence, probably enabled by the fact that our games consoles are increasingly networked, mobile and equipped with innovative interfaces. But most of today's basic genres will still exist in 2020, just like most of today's genres were already there in 2000. I guess playing a game like Cowboys and Indians is always appealing, regardless of the state of technology.
Jamie Jackson (Creative Director, FreeStyleGames): For the hardcore, I see exceptional graphics, improved storylines and choice. By "choice" I mean your actions will define the way the game unfolds. Yes we have this in some games already, but we're just starting to scratch the surface. I think advancements in AI will allow developers to really push games and allow the user to really make their own choices. I'd love to see a game that in effect is a simulator, but dressed up to feel accessible to your average gamer.
Chris Pickford (Associate Producer, Bizarre Creations): Hah, this is a tough one. I suppose it depends on what type of game you're looking at – I mean, games based in reality will get more graphical fidelity, better physics, more realistic audio, more believable AI and animations, etc… These games will continue to push the generation of technology to its limits and stun us with how life like everything is, and how many things developers can do at once. The more interesting thing to happen to the games industry in recent history is the sudden surge in peripherals. The pure escapism of Guitar Hero was something which makes complete sense in hindsight, but could easily have been done on earlier generations of consoles. Now that seal has been broken I can see lots more developers and publishers starting to think more about *how* we play, not *what* we play. It truly is a new frontier for us all.
Peter Johansson (Lead Game Designer, Avalanche): I actually don't think that actual minute to minute gameplay will change that drastically. There will be a few ingenious ideas that invent 1 or 2 new genres, storytelling will continue to evolve and we'll see a host of unsuccessful and (hopefully) successful experiments with interfaces.
All games will be online but by that I don't mean massive multiplayer. "Online" will be firmly integrated into our way of life and games will naturally tap into that connectivity. I'm talking about social networks, digital distribution, downloadable content, mobile connectivity, community etc. There's so much untapped potential there of which we've only just begun to scratch the surface.
Steve Stamatiadis (Creative Director, Krome): They'll be more polished, more accessible and more the same. Pretty much the way games have been going for the last 20 years. And get ready for the PS2 and Xbox retrogaming craze because games were better in those days! The more things change the more they stay the same.