It feels like virtual reality is an idea whose time has been nearly upon us for about the past thirty years. Various headsets, gloves and even full-body suits promising complete gaming immersion have been on the market for decades at various unaffordable price points, and without many games being developed for them to lure in even the wealthiest of gamers.
The idea of VR is that instead of watching a screen and controlling the action using a controller, joystick or keyboard, you move as if in reality – moving your head in order to look around, picking things up with your hands, and potentially using the whole range of your physical movement to explore the game universe. The set-up is inevitably clunky at the moment, as hardware has not progressed past requiring you to wear a science fiction-looking headset in order to immerse your senses in the game. But it seems like we might finally be reaching the tipping point of VR that’s been promised for so long, with Oculus Rift, bought by Facebook for $2bn, competing with Playstation and HTC Vive for the high-end gaming market. If clunkiness is putting people off VR, it seems unlikely that headsets will stay clunky for long.
2. Augmented reality
Augmented reality gaming, at least for the moment, is unavoidably connected to the successes and failings of Pokémon Go. Claude Debussy famously described the music of Richard Wagner as “a beautiful sunset that was mistaken for a dawn” – that is to say, Wagner’s work was initially perceived as a fantastic new beginning for his style of classical music, but proved to be its ending instead. Some game designers fear that Pokémon Go will have the same impact on augmented reality gaming; it demonstrated that augmented reality could be hugely popular (at least, in the form of a short-lived craze) but it may be that from now on, all future augmented reality games are judged by how they resemble or differ from Pokémon Go, rather than on their own merits. It remains to be seen whether Pokémon Go will have marked the beginning of a new era of augmented reality games – or be their high-water mark.
3. Gaming as a family affair
An enduring stereotype is of the lonely gamer, usually in a basement, whose family are concerned for him (the stereotype is inevitably male) and who doesn’t often speak to anyone who he isn’t playing a game with – certainly not his parents. Gaming, stereotypically, has been something that teenagers do and uncomprehending parents worry about.
But as far as that stereotype ever held truth, it’s definitely being put to bed now. First, the launch of the Wii all the way back in 2006 created a deliberately family-friendly console, with a design that was accessible to non-gamers, so that parents who would never pick up a first-person shooter to play with their kids would buy it and enjoy it. All the same, that still left a gulf between ‘family’ gaming and ‘serious’ gaming. But generational changes are increasingly putting paid to that.
Think about someone who played the first Street Fighter game aged 15 in 1987. That person would now be in their 40s and might well have teenage children of their own. They’re much less likely to disapprove of their children playing video games than their own parents were – and much more likely to grab a controller and play along with them. When you think about the fact that the Millennial generation, who grew up not just with video games but with their own computers, now increasingly have children of their own, you can see how this trend is set to accelerate. ‘Family-friendly’ can sound worryingly like ‘childish’, but there’s a growing market out there for multiplayer games that are genuinely enjoyable for the whole family, not just for its youngest members.
4. Franchises without borders
The word ‘spin-off’ is not usually seen as promising, and for good reason. When you think about a franchise that includes a game, a novelisation, a TV show or movie, a theme park, collectables, soft toys and who knows what else, you’re probably thinking of something where most of those components aren’t very good. Take Harry Potter – a franchise where the books are great, the movies are good, the games are mostly terrible and the rest feels like it exists primarily for the purpose of extracting money from those too devoted to care, rather than for anyone’s entertainment. Or Angry Birds – a great game; a pointless movie.