Ten years ago, on the cusp of a new decade, game industry insiders—journalists, developers, publishers, analysts—all had their video game predictions. While the seventh generation of consoles—the Xbox, the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii—were making waves with advances in interfaces and visual fidelity, faster Internet was looked at with much promise for their potential to unlock new services and business models.
But what’s so much fun about looking at the predictions of yesterdecade isn’t seeing where they were mistaken, but the insight to be had about the gaming world back then. For the purposes of this piece we’re not going to name and shame the people who made the predictions here, just because they couldn’t get the future with one hundred percent accuracy.
Here then eight of the wildest predictions made for video gaming, how much missed the mark, and where they might have gotten stuff right.
We’ll control realistic replicas of ourselves
EXPECTATIONS: That’s the prediction made by one writer from TechRadar. Computer rendered visuals are constantly improving year after year, but the leap between the last generation of gaming hardware and the one before it was so massive, people were convinced that by 2020 video games would look so good they’d be almost indistinguishable from photographic reality.
REALITY: Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from that pipe dream. While today’s games look better than they did ten years ago, the amount of art production needed for current games has also grown. In effect, games being as photo-realistic as they are now has begun to hit the limits of how much resources studios can actually spend.
Conversations will become indistinguishable from reality
EXPECTATIONS: One experienced executive from the independent space expected a future where conversations with AI characters would become so advanced that voice actors would become obsolete. That’s because code would generate incredibly realistic NPC voices that can engage in intelligent conversations.
REALITY: While there have certainly been advances in AI over the years, scripted narratives remain the foundation for most videogame stories and characters. Meanwhile the demand for quality voice acting (as well as experienced motion capture performers) is only increasing.
The mouse, keyboard or controller will disappear
EXPECTATIONS: We’ve been using basic peripherals to play for most of the medium’s history, but one executive at a large publisher maintained that hands-free motion gaming would be the future. For a brief time that felt incredibly plausible with motion-based inputs like Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect and the Nintendo Wii.
REALITY: The future of Minority Report-style inputs did not come to pass. Move fell into disuse due to lack of support, while the Kinect was doomed by its cost. Today, we’re back to controllers, keyboards and mice. Even the newest versions of the Xbox controller and the PlayStation Dual Shock uphold convention rather than breaking it.
Nintendo remains the only major company interested in futuristic motion controls. Their latest device, the Nintendo Switch, makes use of motion controllers called Joy-Cons similar to the Wii remote. And their latest peripheral is Ring Fit Adventure, which transforms the controllers into exercise fitness trackers.
3D gaming will become mainstream
EXPECTATIONS: Here’s another blink and you missed it fad. When major television manufacturers began selling a full lineup of 3D TVs at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2010, there was overflowing enthusiasm from tech sector pundits. “It’s safe to say most games will be authored in 3D by 2020,” said one analyst from Insight Media.
REALITY: 3D TVs ended up being a flop. While the Nintendo 3DS was a successful device with 3D features, they hardly played into its popularity. Meanwhile nobody liked wearing the polarized glasses or allotting extra resources and code to support what was largely seen as a boondoggle feature.
Video games will be streamed on demand
EXPECTATIONS: Just as Netflix began to popularize the idea of streaming entertainment, platforms like OnLive and Gaikai were poised to do the same for gaming. Expensive Internet connections rather than expensive hardware would be the portal to deliver games to any display. However, neither service really made an impact.
REALITY: Both companies were acquired by Sony then folded to integrate their tech into PlayStation-exclusive services like PlayStation Now and Remote Play. Ten years later, the idea of streaming games has resurfaced. Google’s Stadia has had a rocky launch while Project xCloud from Microsoft shows promising signs.
Apple will enter as a new challenger
EXPECTATIONS: One former senior editor at Mashable declared “Apple will make an entry into the console market,” and that “for Apple, this should be easy.” Another in Forbes supported this possibility in the face of an inevitable decline for PlayStation or Xbox, “opening the door for another console manufacturer to get in on the action.”
REALITY: Apple proved to be more conservative than these predictions hoped. While the iPad became the company’s most impactful new hardware, the House That Steve Jobs Built kept its distance from gaming. It continues to offer games via the App Store and the Apple TV, but the most its gone is its new subscription service, Apple Arcade.
Games on physical media will cease to exist
EXPECTATIONS: It was fairly common for pundits to predict the death of physical media. With the growth of online distribution via Steam, Xbox Live, the Nintendo eShop and the PlayStation Store, the assumption was that packaged games would be gone by 2020. Forbes predicted that physical games stores would go the way of Blockbuster.
REALITY: The increasing file size of video games grew with Internet connection speeds such that while physical video game sales plunged, they remain a significant portion of the market in places where Internet connection speeds remain slow. People still line up to stores like DataBlitz and iTech for big new releases.
Online service games will replace single-player games
EXPECTATIONS: This seems to have been more of an executive pipe dream than a prediction based in market reality. A leading executive at a big MMORPG publisher / developer said, “I think potentially you’ll look back on the idea of connecting to small numbers of players like we have right now as kind of quaint.”
REALITY: Truth is while connected games have flourished in the past 10 years, single-player games remain as popular as ever. Even the notion of the MMO as a distinct genre is fading, with some games being pushed as live services or “ongoing games.” Still, single-player games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 form the bulk of the top-selling games of recent years.
What are your video game predictions for the 2020s?