When I was at university nearly 20 years ago I wrote an article for a local paper about how gaming wasn’t just a fad and would grow to become the predominant form of entertainment. My friends read it and laughed; even those that played for hours every day on my Mega Drive.
When I began my career as a games analyst 14 years ago, I began to reiterate this belief to any that would care to listen. However, this was typically met with silence accompanied by a polite but dismissive smile. Far from backing down, my view became more extreme and I evolved my hypothesis to the belief that gaming would not only become the predominant form of entertainment but will subsume all other forms of entertainment media. Since then the games industry has more than tripled in size, undergone a demographic metamorphosis and the dismissive smiles have, ever so steadily, begun to give way to brief contemplative reflection invariably then followed by the same dismissive smile.
In the last few years, my statement has finally begun to elicit some debate. However, I have yet to find anyone that completely concurs. So let me see if I can persuade you.
The evolution of the games industry is not just one of appreciating dollar value or units sold. It has precipitated and been accompanied by changes to the definition of a gamer.
The original PlayStation popularised gaming amongst twentysomething males and diversified the industry from its teen and pre-teen market. Peripheral-based gaming such as SingStar and Buzz resulted in a smaller scale but equally radical demographic shift, widening the games family to include more female and older gamers. This process has been dramatically accelerated by the Wii, DS and casual online PC gaming forcing average ages further upwards and creating greater gender parity.
With household penetration of gaming still 20 points behind TV I believe this process still has a long way to run, but its trajectory is clear: the social acceptability of gaming will only increase. Games may well suffer temporary cyclical dips but will continue to grow, eventually encompassing everyone capable of playing. Getting everyone to play games and play games regularly is not, though, the same as having games devour all other entertainment media. TV, after all, has been both ubiquitous and universally adopted for decades now.
What games have which TV does not is flexibility. The definition and boundaries of gaming have changed beyond all recognition in the last decade; it now spans MMOs and other virtual worlds, motion control and gesture-based gaming, mass-participation gameshows, alternate and augmented reality games. You can even play a game while driving a hybrid car that rewards your environmentally friendly driving with more leaves to a virtual tree on the dashboard. The proliferation of platforms on which games can be played, and methods to access and interacted with them, has accelerated over the last decade and shows no sign of slowing.
Key for my hypothesis is that these changes are enabling a gradually increasing technological overlap with traditional entertainment. Mass participation TV such as the various Idols and Big Brothers – built around audiences controlling the outcome – have dominated ratings in recent years. Music games were unheard of five years ago, but a generation of children are now growing up expecting the most popular songs to be released in interactive format. No blockbuster is complete without a games tie-in and developer co-operation with the movie studios is enabling more asset and technique sharing.
CONTROLLING WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Whilst the definition of a game and the way in which games are played has changed, the core concept broadly remains the same: challenge-oriented entertainment-based interactivity (or even just entertainment-based interactivity). I believe that, as has happened with pop music, the concurrent development of interactive and non-interactive media will increasingly become standard in other major entertainment media over the next decade or two.
Connected TVs will become standard and, combined with more intuitive interfaces, will enable all ‘broadcast’ shows to be interacted with. The process of visual media and games development will continue to merge delivering movies and games which are increasingly indistinguishable. Fast forward 20 or 30 years and it is easy to see a future where all major entertainment media has both interactive and non-interactive forms.
I believe that interactive media will increasingly be designed for optional passive consumption allowing, as some music games already do, the media simply to be played rather than interacted with. At this stage, however, why would you develop a separate non-interactive version? Interactivity delivers greater engagement, fun and monetisation potential. Add to this the inevitable ubiquity of games platforms, universal connectivity and social preference for gaming and it is hard to see how games will not eventually dominate all entertainment media, if not become, in some capacity or another, the majority of entertainment media. It is not to say that games companies will subsume other entertainment media businesses, but that gaming concepts and practices will increasingly lead and ultimately dominate all entertainment media creation and delivery.
Do I detect a dismissive smile there?