Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 11, 2010
Past and future of video games

I recently watched an old documentary, The Rise of the Video Game, from Discovery Channel, made in 2006 and first shown in 2007. The 5-part series tells the story of video games from 1958 to "the future". Only that in 2006 people still believed that the future of video games would be games like Second Life and Project Entropia. That vision of the future of video games has changed meanwhile. If you'd ask a similar panel of experts today how the future of video games will look, most would probably cite social game networks, based on the current success of cow clicker Facebook games like Farmville.

While I don't claim to have the power to see the future, I'm pretty certain that today's "experts" are as wrong as those of 2006 were. Experts have this nasty habit of only looking at what is hot today, and extrapolating just that into the future, instead of regarding the whole picture, and applicable history. Especially history is important, because it repeats itself.

So to understand what is going on today with social games, one does not need to look back further than 1983, to the great video game crash, which is also described in The Rise of the Video Game. As Wikipedia says: "There were several reasons for the crash, but the main cause was supersaturation of the market with hundreds of mostly low-quality games." Doesn't that sound just all too familiar?

While people are sometimes attracted to shiny new things, especially when "everybody else does this", in the longer term the rational and self-interested homo economicus tends to prevail. Once the "shiny new" sensation wears off, players are perfectly capable of telling a good game from a bad game. Making shoddy games to get rich quick didn't work with E.T., and it won't work with Facebook games. I always found it encouraging, a symbol of hope, that some MMORPGs sold over a million copies, only to lose two-thirds of those players after the free month, because it proves that players are able to make a rational decision to stop playing a game they found to have been less good than the hype.

Four years from now the experts will say "Social games? That was only a fad! The future of video games will be <insert extrapolation of current fad here>!"
While social games in their current form are probably going to go away, I think that social networking features are here to stay. If not for the viral marketing, then definitely for the sake of convenience. Organizing a play session with your friends should be as easy as possible.
Interesting post! I recalled back in 2000/2001 that I said MMORPG's may be the next big thing. The only issue was that during this time (in Australia) we were using the 56K modem dinosaurs (rofl!).

My prediction for the immediate future (3-4 years) is a "EVE/WoW merged" game where the casual/hardcore of the game exists at the same time. I also apply a bit of Gevlon's "social coolness theory" (where everyone wants shiny things to appear cool); where progression in both paths can happen; i.e. in the casual (and safe) realm, people will eventually progress to the power of the hardcore (but in a slower fashion).
Except that it got you too. Free to play games are oversaturating the market, with the majority of MMOs being such. I do remember you being quite enthusiastic about Luminary.

It got me as well. Hindsight is second best, but crazes and oversaturation are cyclical in gaming, whether its WoW clones, Pokemon Clones, Street Fighter games, or what have you.
I have to agree with Hirvox. Just because the current offering of social games are, as a general rule, terrible, doesn't mean that type of game doesn't have a future.

I think dismissing social games as a fad would be as big a mistake as dismissing consoles as a fad in 1983.
Well, you need to differentiate: The kind of console games we had in 1983 were as unsustainable as the kind of social games we have in 2010. Thus a "big crash of social games" is bound to happen, and people will turn away from the idea that the future of gaming is on Facebook.

But just as the underlying idea of "playing games on a console" is sound, the idea of "playing casual games on a social network platform" is sound too. And just like the console market recovered in 1985 with the appearance of quality console games, we can hope for quality social games to appear in a few years.
I've been hearing from game reviewers that the future of video games is indie games through downloads.

In the meantime, I keep hearing from game developers that social is the future.

I guess it depends on whose future you are talking about. Core gamers' future is in Indie games, with AAA titles coming out in intervals throughout the year.

Social gaming is nearing that bubble burst though, where the introductory gamers are slowly looking for something more. At some point, the psychological barriers to exit will no longer be enough to keep people playing social games.

Will the future of video games have a social space in it? I think XboxLive shows us that it will.
Free to play games are oversaturating the market

You are confusing games with business models. Turbine just announced that going Free2Play *doubled* their earnings from LotRO. Is that business model here to stay? You bet it is!

That doesn't mean that every bad game will be a success just because it has an item shop. Some games will remain "niche", whatever their business model is, and some games will simply flounder because they are fundamentally horrible. But just as the demise of several monthly subscription MMOs doesn't mean the end of the monthly subscription business model, the failing of bad Free2Play games tells you nothing about the viability of the Free2Play business model.
Extrapolating my experience of listening to music, watching films, reading fiction and playing games over five decades tells me this:

There will always be far more things that I like than I have any hope of consuming.

It really doesn't matter what the current fad or trend is: no matter what one's personal taste, more examples of it will always be produced than you will be able to keep up with.
Social gaming is probably the only area of gaming at the moment where quality has slipped as developers have been blinded by profits. In almost ever other genre there is a plethora of very high quality games available often at heavily discounted prices. In many ways there has never been a better time to be a gamer.

Hopefully when the social gaming phenomenon does crash many of the new gamers that were initially enticed by Farmville will be be tempted to sample higher quality gaming. There are an awful lot of very good casual games out there if people look around - just about anything made by PopCap for example.
The industry needs to do more to upgrade casual-only customers from click-fests to deeper experiences. I keep seeing this mentioned in CEO interviews, but besides making games easier, I’m not convinced that this move has been wholly successful.

If I can go off-topic for a second, it would be nice if media campaigns conveyed a message other than “This is a product for adolescent males”. Looking at WoW’s TV campaign with its choice of celebrities (Mr T, Verne Troyer, Ozzy Osbourne) and its emphasis on roleplay and killing things, it’s no surprise that the is a certain % of the population which would never touch the game in a million years.

Where are the female celebrity endorsements?
Interesting post, with lots of insight.

One thing that will slow down mainstream games is just how big the base is of expected features. Say you have a cool vision of an MMO; it would take millions of dollars of development effort to produce the stuff people expect - chat, mail, AH, voice, forums, ... before your employees could even start coding your innovation. The upside to lots of derivative, low-quality junk is at least it is affordable to experiment.

Perhaps the market will bifurcate into the transitory and the permanent.

t: You have lots of junk but lots of innovation. Best example is emerging iPhone gaming. Thousands of bad games but some really great (I have resisted Civ but it is inevitable.) What economists call "creative destruction" occurs because people expect to replace their CoD4 with CoD5 in a year or two.

p: MMO like WoW or EVE. Network effects push things towards bigger, more established brands. Generals Motors proved poor management can sink even the best of brands, but the pace of change here is much less.


One of the pleasant internet fictions of last millennium was the "long tail." Where before only blockbusters were successful, now niche products are viable. Perhaps the internet can allow smaller in scope games to exist due to blogs and twitter that could never exist back when it required advertising and getting your cartridge carried by Sears and kMart.


Perhaps that is the new Turing test? Artificial Intelligence will have arrived when Zygna finds it cost-effective to seed their new social games with AI programs that simulate a person well enough. Curremt AI software could certainly simulate Barrens Chat :-).
"Curremt AI software could certainly simulate Barrens Chat :-)."

Yes, but that's been possible for decades:

'Chuck Norris once...'
Clearly the future of digital entertainment lies in interactive movies!
Really good post. To think how way off people were less 5 years ago. I think the issue is the general short term memory in the gaming community.

There's been some conversation around the establishment of a video game canon, and I've added my voice on those sites:

A canon can serve as a long term memory, if we remember the innovations of the past then the fads of the day can be looked at within their proper scope.
I think the future of social games is already evolving into virtual city environments like pac-manhattan.

On another note, some Russian guys are developing a game-globe where you stand inside it as you experience a virtual reality world. It allows full motion like walking and running making the effect far more realistics --- and yes, multi-player is doable.
Good games will prevail.

I'm glad to see that great games like SC2 are still selling well.

Sure shitty games like deer hunter also sell but overall great game still sell.
I'm interested in two future trends:

1) How 3D home technology spreads out and its impact on gaming.

2) As computers and television become more and more synonymous, will we see the power of mainstream home PCs decline or stagnate to more of a word-processing/netbook level, while home video gaming systems become the new power machine?
Interesting premise, and interesting links! Now i regret throwing or giving away my vectrex, Commodore and spectrum. And as bad as FMV games probably were i had alot of fun with phantasmagoria 1 and even the sequel.
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