The Future of Gaming: Crash Course Games Part 2

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Well, technology reporter Yannick Lejacq suggested that the future of video games could look a lot like television. For example, Square Enix’s release of Hitman in 2016 followed an episodic distribution model allowing players to purchase each of its 7 missions across an extended release cycle. Some players argued that this distribution model allowed developers to charge more for the entire series (which was clearly true by their pricing). Hitman developer IO Interactive claims that releasing a game in this way allows developers to actively shape and evolve their games over time as they analyze player behaviors and receive feedback from users.

So is episodic games a good thing or is it just a way to make more money? It’s hard to say, but none of this really matters if the industry doesn’t address what columnist Mark Hill claims is the industry’s biggest future problem: a reliance on nostalgia. Now don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia – what up 90s kids!

But in 2015, IGN posted its top 11 biggest stories by traffic volume from that years’ E3, every story EXCEPT ONE was either a sequel, remake or existing game. With the tendency to see more and more remastered games and iterations of existing properties, the industry does seem to be appeasing players with nostalgia but at the cost of new and original content. But maybe budding game developers will fix the problem. The barrier to entry for game design seems to be lowering. You have Indie game developers, the four person team that started No Man’s Sky, even games being funded on Kickstarter. And as it gets easier and easier for developers to create great games, hopefully with them will come more diverse backgrounds and more diverse stories.

Games are telling more and more detailed narratives; we’ve come a long way from from the first cutscene in Pac-Man. Take the Last of Us in 2013, it has become one of the most awarded games in history, and its use of real voice actors and motion capture shows us just how far we’ve come from those digital voices of Castle Wolfenstein. Or, excuse me, [muffled] those digital voices of Castle Wolfenstein.

But then I suppose if you consider the almost nonexistant storytelling of Star Wars: Battlefront and the campaign-less Overwatch it’s harder to guess if improved storytelling is coming or going in future games. Or maybe it will just depend on the game. Now, board games may not be evolving at the same rate as video games, but they still have a promising future. As we discussed in our episode on American vs Euro-style board games, there seems to be a renewed interest in them, given increasing sales and attendance rates at events like the Spiel in Essen Germany and GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana.

We may also be seeing another shift in board games design towards legacy gaming. Take the release of Pandemic: Legacy, Season 1 in 2015. In this game, each playthrough slowly, and permanently, alters the state of the game. The game is designed to be played only 12-24 times, and as players complete each session, game rules change, characters can be lost, and each win or loss affects future gameplay.

The Guardian journalist Owen Duffy called Pandemic: Legacy ocean extraordinary triumph of design, not just as a game, but as a piece of episodic storytelling. And this approach to game design isn’t that different than say an RPG campaign in Dungeon’s and Dragons. It’s a framework that allows this style of play to be more accessible to a larger audience, and given the game’s current first place ranking on Board Game Geek – and remember that’s out of 10,000 games (with Monopoly way near the bottom – why y’all hating on Monopoly?) – it seems to be doing something players like.

And on that note, what ABOUT players? Well considering in January of 2016 ESPN launched an eSports column, we’re starting to see and are likely to see more famous eSport players in the near future. And as more traditional sports broadcasters start to taking notice, maybe leagues will grow to the point that they get their own special night of the week just like football.

Maybe. But these expert-level gaming skills will extend far beyond just eSports athletes. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. According to the Gaming Advocacy Group the average gamer is now 31. That is to say we are entering a time period in which the current generation of adults, and all generations that follow, will have grown up playing video games.

And by the time an American has reached 21 they will have averaged more than 10,000 hours playing video games. To put that into perspective, that’s the amount of time a student would spend in school from 5th grade to graduation! So what does this all mean? Well, it means that future gamers are going to be good. Really good. Game designer Jane McGonigal theorizes that the United States is well on its way to an entire generation of expert gamers.

According to McGonigal gamers learn to be expert collaborators and problem solvers and that, “If future gamers could realize this potential and channel these skills, they would have the potential to tackle complex real-world problems.” McGonigal’s theory was put to the test in the online puzzle video game Fold-It which you may remember we mentioned in Episode 1. Fold-It is an online puzzle video game involving protein folding that awards high scores to the most efficiently folded proteins. The game allows anyone with a computer and Internet connection to login and try. In 2010, 57,000 players effectively outperformed algorithmically computed solutions. And in 2011 players helped decipher the structure of an AIDS-causing monkey virus that had gone unsolved for 15 years in 10 days. Thanks Thought Bubble.

So McGonigal might be onto something, but one thing is definitely clear: We are becoming a society of gamers and surely with all this experience we must be getting good at something. So yes, this has been a lot of speculation, but what do know and can see is that our game worlds are continually merging with our real world. Blurring reality in VR, teaching us in classrooms, allowing us to live alternate lives in fantastical worlds, encouraging us to assume the roles of other characters in our own world.

And of course catching those Pokemon on Pokemon Go. Games help us form friendships and communities, giving us a place to compete with others all over the world, and of course just giving us something to do while we wait in line or sit on the toilet. You know you do it, don’t, don’t you judge. So whether it be on an arcade machine, a home console, a mobile phone, a Basketball Court, or a Dungeon in your imagination, or through virtual reality, there is always a place for you to play because gaming reflects the diversity in ourselves. I am truly excited for whatever the future of gaming will bring and I hope you are too.

I’m Andre Meadows and thank you for co-oping along with me and thank you for watching. Good game everyone. A winner is you. Game Over!

Crash Course Games is filmed in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it’s made with the help of all these nice people. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank all our patrons in general, and we’d like to specifically thank our High Chancellor of Knowledge, Morgan Lizop, and our Vice Principal, Michael Hunt. Thank you for your support.