Gaming is more popular than ever. It is a fact backed up by the economics of the industry, as well as the fact that the industry is multi-faceted. Gaming used to conjure up images of kids on Ataris and Nintendos, whereas today it could mean anything from playing on a 9th-generation console to esports tournaments to live games on TikTok to streaming on Twitch. It’s a broad church.
And yet, we are also told that gaming is on the verge of being disrupted. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and web3 (the next generation of the internet characterized by blockchains and cryptocurrency) are regularly deemed to be the future of gaming, yet it is not guaranteed that this will ever happen. Indeed, we have been hearing about VR gaming since the 1990s, and the breakthrough – the mainstream breakthrough – has yet to come.
Tech is changing gaming
Of course, nobody should be as complacent to think that these technologies won’t change gaming – they already have, to varying degrees – but the proponents of these industries believe that they will offer fundamental change, and it’s not quite clear whether there is an appetite to accept that.
Each technology is different and might impact gaming differently, but changing the fundamentals of the activity is a big reach. Here’s a brief overview of how proponents of these technologies believe they will disrupt the gaming sector:
AI – Make gaming more intuitive, extend the lifespan of games by constantly changing content, and offer non-experts the opportunity to create games.
VR – Change the visual dynamics of games, offer enhanced experiences in virtual worlds (metaverse), bring more reality to gameplay
Web3 – democratize gaming, allow players to take control of their digital content, experience new forms of gaming markets like play-to-earn
All of the above seems attractive, but it is not just as easy to implement as some supporters would have you think. An important aspect to consider is that, while gaming has improved over the years, the fundamental experience remains the same. Consider casino gaming as an example. If you play casino table games online, you’ll know that many of the games – blackjack, roulette, poker – have been around for decades, centuries even. In the 1990s, you could play virtual versions of these games on static casino websites, then the smartphone and tablet experience came along, followed by the advent of online live dealer games in the 2010s. But while the experience improved, the game fundamentals stayed the same, while also remaining steadfastly popular.
The gaming experience remains largely the same
The point about casino games is that much of the gaming world follows the same pattern. FIFA 23 and NBA 2K 23 are infinitely better than the first soccer and basketball games on 8-bit consoles, but they broadly follow the same structural pattern. You use your controller to control the players and indulge in a bit of escapism. People don’t really want a VR version of a soccer game because, well, why wouldn’t they just play soccer?
Web3 is an interesting case study because some of the ideas sound wonderful. Broadly speaking, web3 gaming is about putting players in control of the game. Web3 is synonymous with decentralization, meaning the management of the game – and the profits – are outside of the control of the centralized authority, i.e., the publisher like Konami or Activision. The concept would mean, for example, that players could sell their skins and other content in tokenized (cryptocurrency) forms. However, to date, most web3 games are frankly terrible, and the game creators seem to be more focused on the marketing of tokens than actual gameplay.
AI gaming is also an intriguing one. It should be noted that AI will likely be used to build games, allowing people to code faster and quicker, and even giving the non-experts the chance to build games. However, it remains to be seen whether AI can impact the experience of gaming in a significant way. You might see an argument that AI can lead to more personalization, with the AI being able to better reflect your own traits. But customization is already part and parcel of gaming, and AI will only likely improve it rather than render it into something else entirely.
There is a consensus that these new technologies will take hold of gaming as they become more fleshed out. And it’s hard to argue with that, particularly in the case of AI, which has seen rapid progress in recent months. But web3 technology has been available for years, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that there isn’t one quality blockchain game that could hold a candle to a title like God of War. As for VR, well, you only have to look at Sony’s sales figures of the VR2 headset to see that it remains niche.
None of this is meant to suggest that these technologies can’t change gaming. As mentioned, they already have to an extent. But the fundamentals of gaming – how you, as the player, experience it – have remained largely intact since the 1970s. Gaming has improved since then, and you’ll find a wider choice of options. But there is arguably no need to reinvent the wheel.