Into the Future: a brisk look at predictions about the future of the video games industry
The video game industry has come a long way. As graphics rapidly improve year on year, and innovative technologies such as Virtual Reality emerge, it’s quite nice to take the time to look back and see what people from the past predicted what the games industry would be like...
In 1900, Smithsonian curator John Elfreth Watkins Jr wrote an article called “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” for the American Ladies Home Journal.
Published before the devastation of two world wars, this ladies’ housekeeping journal had some interesting predictions. Of course, during this period, television was still yet to be invented, let alone video games. Watkins did predict, however, the idea of home audiovisual entertainment. He suggested that concerts and operas from far away lands could be enjoyed in your very own private home, sounding “as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theatre box”.
He also dreamed of a time when photographs would reproduce “all of Nature’s colours”. Today, as we all know, Rainbow Road on Mario Kart does this perfectly.
Predictions concerning home entertainment continued during the initial frostings of the Cold War. In 1950, the newspaper Robesonian (North Carolina, US) published an article titled “How Experts Think We’ll Live in 2000 A.D.”, penned by various Associated Press contemporary “experts”.
The predictions are fanciful and forceful, reflecting plucky American post-war optimism and perceived rapid advances in technology. However, they are tinged with hope and self-awareness as well, with the article’s introduction declaring that the last half of the 20th century was “dawn[ing] with fantastic promises shining through dark clouds.”
One contributor’s predictions perhaps suggested the rise of Virtual Reality. He claimed that “third dimensional color television” would be “commonplace”, and that a “small device will project pictures… so realistic they will seem to be alive”. Not only that, but the author even suggested an innovation that may pique the modern interest of some ambitious developers today; he predicted that these immersive televisions would have an olfactory aspect to them, with “the aroma of the flower garden” matching the visual one “being shown on the screen”.
An intriguing concept, but I’m not sure how desirable it would be to smell the environments of some games today...
With the 1970s came the rise of arcade games, and with it, a growing number of predictions specifically concerning video games. Gus Bally, owner of Arcade Inc. is once said to have scoffed: “People won’t want to play these electronic games for more than a week, not once we start selling pinball machines for the home.”
There isn’t much else to say here.
As the 1980’s drew in, the video game industry was in full swing and achieved its first Golden Age. The popularity of arcade games reached dizzying heights thanks to games such as Space Invaders.
Sadly, the bubble burst in North America in an event which is now entitled the Video Game Crash of 1983. But despite these woes, innovation continued with the advent of home games computers like the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and the Nintendo Entertainment System - and British bedroom coders continued to cobble games together up and down the country.
In 1982, the ‘Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games and How to Win’, was released by British publisher Usborne and written by Ian Graham. Inside, Graham penned predictions as to what video games would be like in the future. They are incredibly accurate.
Graham noted that contemporary games could only handle two players at most. But, he said, in the future, “more powerful computers” would be able to “cope with instructions from a number of people at the same time, either as teams against each other, or against the computer”
Graham’s prediction was uncanny - but did he ever imagine the amount of players capable of playing in one game today? Would he have guessed that games such as ‘Fortnite’ would have matches of up to 100 players? And if he did, what about Massively Multiplayer Online (MMOs) games such as World of Warcraft which, in 2009, had a player count of nearly 10million?
Graham also predicted that sports games would eventually allow players to control “each of your team members individually”, and the referee would even tell you “when you are offside or given a free kick”. Today, the ‘FIFA’ series not only includes referees but also personalised commentators who commentate on your matches in real-time.
Last but not least, Graham announced the “ultimate game” - a “super realistic computer simulation which takes place all around you in a special games cubicle”.
Though this prediction hasn’t come true yet, with how accurate all of his others were, perhaps we are not too far off.
The 90s saw dial-up, chokers, and the Rachel haircut, but also the first 3D graphics in games, the analog controller stick, and the dawn of groundbreaking games genres such as the First Person Shooter (FPS). With games becoming more sophisticated, home games consoles began to outpace the slowly dying arcades, and the world’s largest games trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (colloquially known as E3) was established. Meanwhile, more dedicated games publications appeared.
In 1993, British games magazine ‘Edge’ released for the first time with a feature piece titled “The Shape of Things to Come”. In it, various distinguished tech sector people, sci-fi lovers, and writers mused as to what the state of games would be in the far future.
Jez San, a prominent British games developer who worked with Nintendo as a teen, predicted that the world would see “cable and satellite direct broadcast games” where players could “select from a menu of games and it’ll constantly download new parts of the game into your machine while you’re playing.”
Jez’s prediction was on the mark. Though games aren't being downloaded by cable, the emergence of cloud gaming - as seen in PlayStation Now - is becoming more prominent.
2010 was nearly ten years ago (yes!), and whilst N-Dubz topped the UK charts, Paul Tessi of Forbes published an article titled “Predicting the Console Generation of 2020”. What did he predict for games today?
Paul predicted that games would “eventually eclipse the movie industry in sales”. This appears to be correct. In January this year, the BBC confirmed that the video games sector made more money than video and music - combined. The highest grossing entertainment product of all time isn't a film, but ‘Grand Theft Auto V’, with over 90 million units sold and $6billion generated in revenue. For comparison, the highest-grossing film of all time is currently ‘Avatar’ at nearly $3 billion. Even the highest-grossing film when adjusted for inflation, ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘only’ grossed just over $3.7billion. Hopefully, this places the popularity of games into perspective…
But what else was predicted? Paul suggested that franchises “like Mario, Zelda, Halo, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty will still be running strong in ten years”. So far, so good. The next part starkly shows how much has changed in ten years: “hopefully, titles like Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed cement their franchises as well and continue producing titles”
The yearly release of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ has become a fixture in the games calendar - it’s hard to remember the time when the series was not the blockbuster franchise it is today. 2009 saw only the second game in the series released, Assassin’s Creed II. Now, there are eleven main instalments, not including the spin-offs and portable games. And ‘Mass Effect?’ Well…
And finally, one last prediction for 2020:
“Video games in general will be increasingly taken seriously and there will be less of a stigma attached to be a "gamer" than ever before… it will become ingrained into the culture of nearly all age groups, from old to young, as a generations raised on games grow up.”
The early twentieth century gave us predictions which were lofty and hopeful, but as video games grew technologically and in popularity, the predictions have become more focused. The recent prediction is telling - the focus is less on the technicality of what games could do, and more on how society could view video games.
The hope for games in 2010 wasn’t on technology - but that it would finally be taken seriously as an entertainment form. Has this prediction come true? We think it might have done, but that there’s still plenty of work to be done on that front.