The future of PC video gaming is…

Since its birth in the labs of MIT and its infancy in neon-lit arcades, the video game has changed beyond all recognition. The likes of Pong and Space Invaders are a far cry from today’s near-photorealistic, open world extravaganzas.

In the last decade alone, we’ve seen the advent of sandbox games like Minecraft, enjoyed mid-generation console upgrades, witnessed the renaissance of VR and the rise of 4K UHD gaming. But what’s next? Here are some factors that we think will influence PC video gaming over the next 10 years…

Moving to multiplayer

For a long time gaming was a solitary occupation, interrupted only by the odd bout of split-screen action. But the move to online has seen a huge shift towards multiplayer gaming, a trend that’s only going to continue.

The Steam charts are dominated by multiplayer titles — PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Grand Theft Auto V. But there’s more to it than that. The idea of an expansive multiplayer game that offers a long lifespan and continual source of revenue — via microtransactions and paid-for DLC (see below) — is a very much on-trend.

However, it’s also possible than once a game world has been built, it can cater for both types of gamers, as has been the case with Gears of War, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and many others. Single-player gaming is far from dead and it will also be interesting to see whether machine learning can provide smarter, artificially intelligent NPCs to play with (or against), enabling solo gamers to enjoy multiplayer-style action and emergent gameplay without ever being sociable

Catering for aging gamers

Video games are often seen as the domain of kids and teens, but in fact the average age of gamers is 35 and it’s growing. A recent study in the US showed there were nearly as many gamers in the 50+ bracket as there were under-18s.

This provides several opportunities for publishers to shape the future of PC video gaming. First, retro gaming is more popular than ever. Whether it’s older gamers reliving their youth, or youngsters discovering titles they missed first time around – often at little or no expense. Games like A Hat in Time, for example, recall the halcyon days of Super Mario 64…

Classic 8- and 16-bit titles are inspiring a new generation of games, often reborn on mobile devices. While the latest generation of consoles and PCs are seeing a wealth of remakes and remasters; great games form the last decade reborn with shiny new graphics, or – in some cases – simply running as intended, smoothly and at a higher resolution thanks to more powerful hardware.

As new games become ever more expensive to create, the trend for recycling old titles is only going to gather strength.

Rolling out the franchises

Big AAA franchises have been a part of gaming for many years. After all, Nintendo has been running for the last 30 years on about four core IPs. Publishers have spent a lot of money in the hope of creating a new, long-running franchise. But for every Halo, Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty there’s a Dead Space or Borderlands, that – while brilliant and hugely popular – just never seem to reach critical mass.

It only takes one publishing misstep, like Mass Effect: Andromeda, to bring a popular series to a grinding halt. However, the trend toward massive, money-spinning franchises shows no sign of abating. EA might have upset some gamers with loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2, but with a new Star Wars film released every year, you’d be crazy to bet against further iterations.

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Mass Effect: Andromeda overcomplicated a return to its familiar and much-loved universe.

As video gaming becomes more and more like the movie industry, the safest bet will always be a sequel to your most popular releases. It’s why next year’s roster of titles includes the likes of Monster Hunter: World, Metal Gear Survive, Far Cry 5, Crackdown and Red Dead Redemption 2.

Never ending games

As games have moved from physical distribution to digital delivery and into the cloud, so their lifespans can be continually extended. A great example of this is World of Warcraft, the MMORPG that first launched in 2004 and is still going strong. The core game has had seven major expansions, and while it has declined from its peak of 12 million players in 2010, estimates still suggest it has 5-6 million active participants.

Similarly Dota2, which was publicly released in 2013, has seen a long list of tweaks, patches and updates and is still the second-most-played game on Steam, after the phenomenon that is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

The ability to bolt on new chunks of game while also making tweaks to gameplay elements means that, in theory a single title can evolve and continue for as long as it remains popular. Bungie was hoping for similar success with Destiny, while Elite: Dangerous is offering an accessible, persistent world, one now besieged by angry Thargoids.

BioWare’s 2018 action RPG Anthem looks to be taking leaf from the same never ending storybook, with both single player and co-op multiplayer missions baked in. EA has promised to support the game with new content and updates long after launch and hopes it will be the start of “a ten-year journey” for the game.

Half-finished and buggy is the new norm

The popularity and success of ‘early access’ titles on Steam, as well as the advent of open betas on consoles is surely a sign of more to come. Indeed, when factored in with continual updates, DLC and expansions, is there ever a time when a game is truly finished?

We can’t talk about betas without mentioning Star Citizen, possibly one of the most technologically ambitious games of all time. The massively multiplayer online space combat and trading game began life in 2011, but is still in active development with no release date – however it’s being played and enjoyed by many in its alpha state.

Chris Roberts has actually stated that Star Citizen will be released when the beta is deemed “good enough”. So in that regard – with extra content and refinements and new technologies – it’s doubtful Star Citizen will ever be “finished”. And that’s probably going to be the case for many persistent, massively multiplayer, open world games in the future.

Are these some of the factors that will shape PC video gaming over the next ten years? If they are, we’re optimistic and excited about the future of entertainment.

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