The games industry is undergoing a huge transformation. The advent of the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox has opened new areas that were unavailable on less powerful devices. A truly cinematic gaming experience seems only years, not decades, away. The evolution is so fast that future consoles will no longer be limited to playing games but will incorporate other features as well. They will offer video-on-demand, online capabilities, and e-commerce integrated into a simple, cost-effective, and easy-to-use solution. The game console will evolve into a completely integrated, general-purpose home entertainment device.
On the other hand, the handheld business is still exploding. There are three contenders (cell phones, palm computers, and handheld consoles), and it now seems clear that they will have to merge and integrate to offer a unified, personal electronics device. After all, consumers don't want to carry three devices in their pockets when their functionality is really not that different. Will one of the three dominate and win the battle, or will new devices surface and take the market by storm? Although the latter seems unlikely, the unexpected awaits where no one is watching.
The ultimate decision will be in the hands of the consumers as to which gaming platforms will succeed. In the last 30 years, we have seen many products flop simply because people didn't embrace them. Other products that did not look very promising became serious hits when consumers accepted and supported them.
To get a glimpse of what the future might bring for the game industry, we need to extract valuable lessons from our past, understanding what made some gaming platforms successful in the first place. The ability to convey a rich, engaging game world is fundamental. Thus, presentation values and the multimedia experience will likely continue to grow for years to come. Excellent gameplay is even more important than sharp graphics and sound. Many games (such as Tetris) have triumphed with little presentation values but good gameplay. But no game has ever become a big success if it simply wasn't fun or engaging.
In addition, the ability to break boundaries between the real and the virtual, and between users and developers, is becoming increasingly relevant. From user-created content to games that stream data from the real world, integrating the user more tightly into the game experience is certainly a trend to keep an eye on.
But wait, did we need 20 years to learn this? Wasn't this what the movie Tron was all about?