Data streaming, storage developments and voice technology adoption could have outsized importance to gaming development according to members of Protocol's Braintrust.
Games Industry Ambassador, Game Developer, Consultant, Tool Developer
I have a feeling AI and data streaming will both have an increasingly large impact on game development. It's already used in increasing amounts during development — sometimes in small ways, such as generating certain areas or trees or characters; sometimes in staggering ways, like Flight Simulator 2020 containing Earth and almost every building on it. No single development team would've been able to generate that content, and no computer would've been able to contain that amount of information. By using both AI and streaming, it is now a consumer product.
As internet speeds increase, AI combined with data-streaming technology will allow entirely new forms of content and play — ways of interacting we currently do not practically imagine. I can't wait for independent developers to get their hands on this technology, because that's where we'll see some utterly unpredictable uses of it.
Extrapolate that, and you see how a lot of things impossible now might seem very plausible even in the nearby future.
Principal Analyst at SuperData, a Nielsen Company
It's been a gaming trope for years: The player's character, after exploring a wide open space, needs to shimmy through a narrow crevice to get to the next area. Elements like this, as well as a game simply pausing, are used to load game data (like a new level) from storage (e.g., a hard drive or disc) to memory.
Modern consoles have relied on traditional hard drives to store data. For many consumers, a game console is the only device they still use with a hard drive. Everything from smartphones to modern laptops use faster (but more expensive) solid-state drives.
Now, with the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, storage prices are low enough to allow for the inclusion of high-speed SSDs in consoles, and this will be a game changer. This should translate to things like more expansive and detailed game worlds because information can be moved into memory faster than before. Games on platforms like PCs and cloud services will also benefit because titles will be developed with the faster consoles as the new "baseline."
Gaming habits are also poised to change. It is now possible to start up a big game in seconds instead of minutes. This will make it easier for players to squeeze in a quick game session if they only have a few spare minutes of free time.
This inclusion of high-speed SSDs might not seem as significant as past console transitions, but the impact will be noticeable.
Dr. Mitu Khandaker
CEO at Glow Up Games and Professor at NYU Game Center
In thinking about what developments will most shape the games industry over the next few years, I believe that improvements in accessibility in game production and a better understanding of the growing diversity of the market go hand in hand.
We know that almost 70% of the $80 billion mobile game market is spending driven by women, in a space that has only grown massively since COVID-19; but there is almost no data known about racial demographics of players, as the games industry has historically not collected this data. Meanwhile, we've seen the power of addressing diversity in Hollywood and TV, with the shift toward creators of color and other marginalized identities being empowered to tell their own stories and dominating the box office, with IPs ranging from "Black Panther" to "Get Out" to "Insecure." These are successful diverse stories that speak to underrepresented audiences but draw in huge mainstream audiences, too.
This is what we're thinking about at Glow Up Games, where we're seeking to set the standard for understanding the data behind women players of color, and creating games that address this demographic. Other companies in the space, such as Brass Lion Entertainment, Outer Loop Games and more are also creating diverse games within the PC and console markets — as well as Insomniac Games, with the PS5 launch title Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
This is where improvements in production tools come in — specifically, the growing need for better tools for improving the writing pipeline within games, such that a greater diversity of creators can contribute to the games ecosystem. After all, this is a problem that extends beyond simply adding avatars of color to existing styles of games; instead, we need to create experiences deeply grounded in our cultural experiences.
At Glow Up, we're working with a number of talented diverse creators from other creative mediums — but the unique affordances of games mean that writing for games without a robust set of prototyping and production tools can be more difficult for those without traditional coding backgrounds. There's an opportunity here for a more accessible ecosystem of authoring tools and technology, and I believe that developments in this space will have a huge outsized impact on the potential for unlocking this hidden diverse market within games.
General Manager at Gaming Vertical at Microsoft
One of the hidden costs of game development is poor support for storing and managing large binary files. Games are basically two things: art and code. Code is essentially a solved problem at this point; modern source control systems, like GitHub, are awesome at helping teams collaborate and manage source code. But art and in particular, art pipelines, are still an unsolved problem.
Source control systems just don't handle large binary files well. And the COVID-19 pandemic that forced everyone to work from home really exposed this weakness. As much development work moved to remote conditions, among the first aspects to break down were sharing and transferring art assets. It was not unheard of for work-from-home developers to spend a big chunk of every day waiting for large files to get uploaded and downloaded, and even then, versioning and roll-back are hard to do. Teams struggle all the time to find lost art files.
I predict we will see this solved in the near future, and this will have a major impact on how video games are built, allowing game production pipelines to fully move to the cloud, and dramatically accelerate game production. We recently announced a partnership with Hollywood to help solve this problem for film production, and this same solution can be applied to game production. Once we have proper asset management across the entire game production pipeline, along with strong collaboration tools, it will save time and money in production. This sort of innovation at the plumbing level may not be super sexy, and may be invisible to gamers, but the net effect will be better games delivered faster, so everyone will win.
CEO and Co-Founder at Finji
For gaming development, specifically the making side of games, there are several things on the horizon but the one that feels the most uncertain from the studio side of things is the advent of a useful subscription model and the release of hardware designed to make the most of it. This feels like a weird answer because I am not going to shout about 8K display or load times — but I don't think the industry really likes to talk about accessibility and economy.
I bring this up because subscription models and the machines the players use to play change the types of games we create. The constraints of the player will ultimately provide constraints on the design, and those future limitations will be felt across platform and storefront in the same way the free-to-play economic model changed an entire mobile market.
If lower-cost subscription boxes are available, who will our new players be? If players consume content on a month-to-month subscription, what kinds of games will we be making? How big will the industry grow or how small will it constrict within these new economic, technological and design constraints? It isn't sexy to talk about those who don't want to buy individual content or get the most expensive hardware, but this is a demographic that will push the industry in huge ways.
Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies
I am sure if you ask this question to anyone who follows tech, top of the list would be technologies such as 5G, AR and VR. While I have no doubt these three will impact gaming over time by delivering a more immersive experience from anywhere, there are two technologies that can improve your gaming experience today and do more over time: voice and artificial intelligence.
Voice is becoming more pervasive in our interactions with devices all around us, and adding it to gaming will make some interactions more natural as well as more inclusive. Being able to give commands to your characters like jump, duck, run can add to the experience especially on console when being noisy is usually not a concern. Gamers with motor impairments could use voice to lower the barriers to a fully immersive gaming experience that goes beyond what even an inclusive controller like the Xbox Inclusive Controller can do.
AI and machine learning have already been used mostly to try to achieve a high level of realistic game play. AI can also be used to elevate your overall gaming activity by having the game predict and respond to your moves. But AI could take the development of the game itself to the next level by cutting down development time and doing the heavy lifting for the developer. AI could create a new game level or even an entire game based on data analysis generated from watching other games being played.
Managing Director at Wedbush Securities
Nobody is talking about Amazon shifting to a console maker. The chipset in the Xbox One costs around $25 to make, and an Amazon Echo could have a CPU/GPU and a SSD for around $50. I expect that we will see "cheap" consoles priced at $100 or so, offered to Amazon Prime members sometime in the next year. Amazon could then sell games (not cloud gaming, but true console gaming) at full retail, charge $150 for Prime (instead of $120) and pay the developers a share of multiplayer.
Because Amazon is creeping up on 200 million Prime households with no limit in the foreseeable future, it is likely the company could expand the market for console games by 100 million relatively quickly, and ultimately could expand the market to 1 billion to 1.5 billion if it can get the cost of a console low enough; it can also just build console hardware into all Alexa-enabled devices and stealthily penetrate this 1 billion untapped consumer market. While these households are not likely to be hard core, it is highly likely that each would buy one to two games a year, meaning that all developers are likely to see sales increase by 100% or more over the next few years. That's probably the lowest-hyped project being worked on by Amazon, and we expect it to happen sooner rather than later.
The side consequence of this is that Amazon is likely to charge developers less than 30% of the sales price for games sold, so it should be a more profitable partner for them than Microsoft or Sony.
See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Nov. 9, 2020).
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Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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