The sheer popularity of gaming has propelled it to a position as one of the leading big tech industries of the 21st century. Video games, mobile apps and online games have been surging in popularity for several decades, creating a vast consumer market whose demands and requirements have helped accelerate several crucial technological developments.
It’s no wonder the gaming industry is now bigger than movies and traditional sports combined.
With gaming now truly embedded in mainstream culture, what is the future of gaming tech? In this article, we’ll focus on the key innovations that will likely shape the industry and impact gaming experiences for the long haul.
A Transformative Landscape
The gaming landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with technological revolutions leading the way. The industry underwent a significant transformation in the early 2000s with the shift from dial-up connection to high-speed internet. This revolutionised the gaming landscape, providing countless possibilities for everything from online multiplayer games to online poker platforms and video game streaming.
Subsequently, the advent of the smartphone, marked by the release of the first iPhone in 2007, brought about the second 21st-century gaming revolution. Smartphones made gaming as convenient as they did communication, allowing players to have easy access to gaming on the go via mobile devices.
The success of mobile gaming has even led to the rise of new business models like the freemium model, in which app development companies offer games for free and generate revenue through microtransactions and in-app purchases.
The third gaming revolution of the modern era now appears imminent in the form of blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and web3. The gaming landscape is continuously evolving, and there are a number of significant advancements on the horizon, including the development of more sophisticated virtual reality and the integration of Artificial Intelligence.
Cryptocurrency, Blockchain Technology and NFTs
Games powered by blockchain technology and those utilising digital assets like crypto and NFTs have become increasingly popular in recent years, giving rise to the GameFi sector. GameFi is leading the way as a revolutionary gaming tech market, particularly since it capitalises on the play-to-earn (P2E) business model, in which players can monetise the time and effort spent playing games and receive digital assets in return.
The likes of Axie Infinity, Crypto Kitties and The Sandbox are some of the leading titles in the market, but new projects are launched almost continuously. In fact, the GameFi sector has attracted over $5 billion in investment since Q4 2021. Despite the ups and downs of the crypto market, GameFi is likely to continue thriving as the months go on.
Artificial Intelligence is currently being hailed as one of the top technological advancements of the 21st century. While it has undoubtedly gone through significant development to become one of the most innovative and usable technologies, AI has actually been used in the gaming industry for decades. All the way back to games like Pac–Man, AI has been responsible for the non-player characters (NPCs) who inhabit gaming worlds, whether that’s the colourful ghosts chasing after the iconic yellow character or Dogmeat, Fallout 3’s loyal German Shepherd.
The latest advancements being made in AI tech could impact the future role of NPCs in video games in the future. Several research and development teams in the gaming industry have begun experimenting with generative language models to create non playable characters that can engage in “intelligent” conversations.
While this is a future gaming development still in the research stage, since conversant NPCs could undermine the storyline and add an unreliable narrator effect to titles, it could nevertheless lead to the creation of new gaming genres, in which making NPCs talk is a key objective of the game.
While Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming more prominent in gaming experiences, this groundbreaking tech is also being applied to the game-making process. Designers have been using generative AI as a tool for game asset creation, essentially freeing themselves from the arduous task of manually creating individual game assets, such as trees in a forest or rocks in a canyon. The industry now frequently employs procedural content generation, a method that enables designers to delegate such tasks to computers.
In addition to generating game assets, procedural content generation is also used for creating game levels, sometimes randomly, to provide players with a fresh gaming experience each time. While it’s unlikely that AI systems will be capable of designing an entire game from scratch with the same degree of quality as a human team of game developers for the foreseeable future, they could also have a long-term impact on graphic design in gaming.
Virtual Reality (VR) is one of those technologies that’s always been on the fringes of a mainstream breakthrough. Since the dawn of the digital age, VR has promised to deliver truly immersive gaming experiences, but hardware and even the tech itself have been slow to deliver on that front. As we move further into the current decade, however, we can expect VR to take more of a leading role in the global gaming industry.
VR is still a niche market when compared to other gaming industry segments, but despite the setbacks, the industry continues to progress. A number of technology and gaming companies have invested significant resources into creating VR hardware and gaming experiences. Notable companies such as Meta, Valve, PlayStation, and Samsung have all entered the VR industry in recent years; while Apple is now rumoured to be working on a VR/AR system, albeit with some delays and challenges.
Of course, we couldn’t mention VR tech without discussing the metaverse and how it will impact the gaming industry of the future. While it may be a theoretical concept, the metaverse has nevertheless inspired many of the world’s most prominent tech companies to launch new products as a means of facilitating its growth.
The overall goal of the metaverse is to provide an online virtual realm in which users can log in and essentially live their lives. It will integrate both virtual and augmented reality and even develop its own functioning economy. While we may be some years away from a fully realised metaverse, traces of it can be found in everything from gaming platforms like Roblox to the marketing of luxury fashion houses.