Opinion: 20 Years Ago… 20 Years From Now

It’s hard to look at the gaming industry and see where we’re going. A couple of months ago, the Ouya didn’t exist, the PlayStation Vita still had hope (let’s face it – it’s dead), and E3 still meant something. Now all of those things have changed. 20 years ago, arcade gaming was still relevant, Sega was a household name, local multiplayer was a tradition, and the Super Nintendo was on the ropes to the Genesis. Looking back through that nostalgic mirror glass, where will we be in 20 years? Let’s look at current trends and take a wild guess.

Will Sony still exist? That’s hard to answer. One has to realize that Sony – once the world’s largest brand – is now only sitting on around $15 billion in cash. They’re already on their last leg – the PlayStation. It’s the last profitable division of the company. Previous CEO Howard Stringer hated gaming and wanted to preserve Sony’s legacy as the premiere maker of consumer electronics. That legacy is dead. Apple is rumored to be expanding into television manufacturing — yet another component in their quest for world domination — and Sony is no longer an issue. Names like Vizio and LG have taken its place. Sony’s future is totally dependent on the success or failure of Sony Computer Entertainment. Either Sony will have long since transformed fully into a provider of video gaming, or will have long ago been swallowed up by Apple’s ever-growing mass.

Will the Apple TV attempt to integrate gaming into the television itself? Who knows. Either way, Sony is in more trouble than anybody else.

Microsoft has finally shown signs of old age and disease. Far too long the company has been a destroyer of corporate individuality and hesitant of new ideas, dependent almost entirely on their massive Windows install base of users entirely dependent on the familiarity of the OS, and the fact that every new Dell has Windows pre-installed, indoctrinating new users with every PC purchase. Times are changing. In the open OS world, Android has shown to be the future of mobile computing (no matter how sleek Windows Mobile is), and both Apple and Google are breathing down Microsoft’s neck in the PC world. Never mind the fact that Steam is actively helping developers port their Steam software to Linux since Microsoft is closing off Windows development, partly out of fear of losing their established dominance. As for the Xbox, Microsoft has successfully transformed the Xbox brand from what was once a dedicated gaming powerhouse, to a living room multimedia box that reports have shown more people use for Netflix than actually playing games. It’s hard not to just jump into an episode of Community when “games” are the 5th option on the start-up screen. The question is though, after years of Microsoft destroying first party variety and squashing creativity as well as turning the focus away from games entirely – will the hardcore community still be willing to spend $350 on a brand that has essentially turned it’s back on them? You can bet that your average Xbox Netflix surfer isn’t going to spend that kind of cash on a box that let’s them watch movies in 1080p. Hint, hint – they’ve already got one. Microsoft is going to have to re-earn the trust of the hardcore gamer if they expect to launch a successful successor to one of the longest running consoles in the history of the business.

This is actually a lot more likely in ten years than playing Mario on an Xbox.

As for Nintendo? They’ll still be here in some form or another. By this time, Miyamoto will have retired to the role of “shareholder” and the changing of the guard at Nintendo will have long since taken place. Will they still be making consoles? Well, I don’t know if we’ll even still be calling them consoles by this point, but they’ll certainly be making something. Nintendo’s direction is leading them away from the television and into something else. I’d wager a guess (as far out as it sounds) that once the idea is cheap and accessible to more than the tech-whore market, Nintendo will eventually fuse their portable and console lines into one tablet like product – much like the Wii U, but smaller and self-sustainable. Once doing this, Nintendo will tap into past spirit as an innovative toy maker (they made amazing toys in the 60s& 70s) and delve into more radical experimental forms of interactive gaming. Remember those table-top holograms Nintendo patented back during the N64 era? Most don’t, but seeing as Nintendo typically patents ideas long before they ever use them (3D without glasses and “and early version of the Mii were dreamed up during the days of the NES), you can expect Nintendo to be the first to move gaming from beyond the television screen.

Apple will likely forge into the gaming world now that Steve Jobs’s notorious anti-gaming presence is no longer around to stand in the way. Will they succeed? Will, a touch screen exclusive based platform is never going to supplant traditional gaming. Such devices already co-exist successfully with the current crop of technology. More likely, if the Ouya is a success, Android’s open nature could lead a PC like console gaming revolution. If Ouya serve as a console-based benchmark standard for Android based tech, and can thus successfully garner quality ports of major titles, it’s very likely that those games could be reverse ported to other Android based platforms, thus making Android a major PC-like platform in the face of Apple’s resistance to embrace the medium’s traditional elements. It’s a long shot, but who knows. Maybe Apple just uses it’s $65+ billion to buy out the whole damn industry before any of this happens. Simply buying Sony could give them that kind of power.

Can this little silver box shake up an industry that has shut out the independent developer and tied the hands of old masters based on questionable market research in a quest to reach the mainstream dollar? It’s a long shot, but Android could be the next platform for the games that no longer make it to Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii because of exploding budgets.

I’d also wager that sometime in the next decade, we’re going to see a major crash that will shake the business up. You can’t have publishers squashing originality while artificially bloating budgets to astronomical extremes forever without the house crashing down at some point. Will it destroy the industry? No, but much like the American anime industry collapsed in 2006, gaming will rise from this crash smaller, and more focused on the consumer’s tastes and variety rather than trying to do as much as possible other than play quality games. We’ll loose a few major bloated third parties and maybe a hardware manufacturer (or two), but the survivors and the newcomers will push us forward. Will we recognize the major brands in 20 years? I’m sure they’ll be plenty of familiar names, but they’ll be standing alongside plenty of new ones.

20 years is a long time ago, and it’s also a long time ahead, but lots of interesting stuff is going to happen in the near future. The most important element however is – will we still even be playing games by that point? I’m sure a few of us will, and a few of us will retire. Imagine a time when the typical Call of Duty player is considered a “retro gamer”. By that point, the Atari generation may either be dead, or in the nursing home. It’s always weird on the other side of the looking glass. Thus the cycle of progress continues.

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