After the fall of Atari, no one would have thought that Nintendo would launch an era of video games that would dominate the media industry of today. But that’s exactly what has happened over the last 35 years.
Now, video games are more than just a niche market for children and social outcasts; they are a cultural phenomenon, embedded in households across the world and crafted for EVERY member of the family. From casual iPad games to AAA console releases, games now cater to every demographic.
Last year, Jessica Rovello – creator of casual adult gaming site Arkadium – noted that “a decade ago, the industry generated $11 billion annually; in 2019, that number will be $150 billion, more than TV and movies combined”. It’s already climbed roughly another $10 billion dollars by the end of 2020.
So why does our culture seem to be so obsessed with the video game industry? How has it blown up so rapidly?
A Shift in How Games Are Developed
Previous decades seemed to focus on technical improvements for video games: enhanced graphics, lossless music, unique mechanics, etc. But as we started to reach a 3D threshold, games began to plateau. For instance, a game can only look so realistic before visual improvements become less and less noticeable.
In order to attract a new generation of gamers, video games had to evolve. Since 2010, games have shifted from technical improvements being the primary focus to accessibility being the end goal.
Erasing the previous stigmas attached to video games by allowing the medium to grow has pulled new people into a hobbie traditionally advertised exclusively to children. A Canadian study discovered that “the average age of a Canadian gamer in 2018 . . . was 39 years [old], up from 36 in 2016”.
There’s been a shift in the demographics. The predominant white male hero one would play as throughout the ’80s and ’90s has grown to now include a diverse cast of characters from different genders, races, and even social/cultural backgrounds. As a result, we have a much more inclusive medium with millions of different choices.
Since 2010, video games have placed a large emphasis on intricate plots with dynamic choices that influence the world around the main character. Many games feature expansive areas with realistic non-player characters (NPCs) to enrich the immersion a gamer experiences, to make it feel like it’s actually their own.
Like the best movies and television series, games now allow us to build strong emotional connections with characters. It’s not uncommon to play a video game and cry at the ending, even! Mass Effect 2, Assassin’s Creed III, Red Dead Redemption, and The Last of Us, for instance, all feature rich worlds, backstories, and characters that resonate with the player by the end.
Another reason the gaming industry has grown exponentially is the rise of indie game development. Small companies – sometimes even individuals – are able to develop and release budget titles without the need for costly distribution from massive publishers such as Electronic Arts (EA). Video games are now sold on online platforms for the most part, so physical copies have declined in recent years.
Of course, there’s also the matter of social media. It existed before 2010, but people are now easily able to share video game commentary, reviews, and general discussions over social media platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook that weren’t really there before. Gamers can find and bond with communities through social media or online games in a way that was practically impossible in the past.
As if this wasn’t enough, game developers are still finding innovative ways to help gamers engage with their content through hardware/software upgrades. Virtual Reality (VR) has played a massive role in game development over the last few years. Educational games like Rocksmith 2014 are now incredibly common, a game that actually teaches you how to play guitar. Even the military has developed combat simulations using video game technology to train soldiers!
So what does this all mean for the future of video games?
Well, if the last decade was one of destigmatizing video games, then we can likely look forward to a decade of immersion during the 2020s. The medium, having reached its audience, can focus on how to best immerse the player into a realistic virtual world using VR and AR technologies. We can look foward to less clunky headsets and more diverse and seamless gameplay.
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