How are VR and AI driving the future of video gaming?

Gaming has blossomed into one of the world’s most lucrative entertainment industries since its commercial inception in the 1950s as a scientific oddity at a science fair.

In recent years the mobile technology boom has revolutionized the industry and opened the doors to a new generation of gamers. In reality, gaming has become so intertwined with mainstream popular culture that even grandmas now know what Angry Birds is, and more than 42 per cent of Americans are gamers, and four out of five U.S. households have a console.

For the record, Dr Edward Uhler Condon introduced the first known example of a game machine at the 1940 New York World Fair. The game, based on Nim ‘s ancient mathematical game, was played by some 50,000 people over the six months it was on show, with the machine supposedly winning over 90 percent of the games.

Fast forward to the present and major tech giants are catching the moment: Apple, Google and Amazon are all development gaming devices. In fall 2019 , Apple launched Apple Arcade, a subscription to the gaming service. Google launched Stadia shortly afterwards, which allows users to play major game titles directly from the cloud, rather than fussing notifications or a physical console. And it is speculated that Amazon — which acquired Twitch, the most popular platform to watch gamers play in 2014 — will soon launch its own game-streaming service. Such room newcomers must battle for market share with gaming mainstays such as Sony (Playstation), Nintendo (Switch) and Microsoft (Xbox).

The rising tide lifts all boats. Mobile games raked in over half of the dollars invested last year on games. Though comparatively small, virtual reality and augmented reality games do continue to increase in revenue.

What, then, is next? Culturally, gaming seems to have broken out of the world’s niche corners, and will only continue to become more popular. But what technical advances shape the future of video games, and how do they affect the gaming experience?

The move to mobile technology has characterized the recent gaming book, but while on-the-go gaming is well suited to millennials’ busy lives, gambling on mobile devices still has its limitations. Mobile phone screens are tiny (well, at least before the iPhone 6s came out), and processor speeds and internal memory on most mobile phones limit gaming.

While mobile gaming has triggered the death of handheld gaming devices, consoles keep booming and every new console generation celebrates a new age of technology and capabilities. Digital reality and artificial intelligence technologies are two sectors which may well play a key role in gaming ‘s future.

For decades , the concept of AI was reflected in gaming — most commonly in non-player characters (NPCs), such as the quirky ghosts in Pac-Man or the helpless victims in Grand Theft Auto.

Characters like these are typically programmed with what designers call a “finite state machine.” In the plainest possible terms, this means that NPCs follow a script, or an if-then statement. “If the game is on, then chase Pac-Man,” the ghosts’ script might say. “And if Pac-Man eats a Power Pellet, then run away from him.”

In recent years, gamemakers have taken a more sophisticated approach to NPCs. For example, some are now programmed with a behavior tree, which enables them to perform more complex decision-making. The enemy aliens in Halo 2, for example, have the ability to work together and coordinate their attacks, rather than heedlessly beeline into gunfire one by one like they’re in a cheesy action movie.

Next on the line is AI. Artificial Intelligence isn’t just part of the gameplay experience. It’s part of the game-making experience. For several years now, designers have been using AI to help them create games.

AI can generate game assets, which frees up designers from painstakingly drawing each individual tree in a forest or rock formation in a canyon. Instead, designers can offload that work to computers by using a technique called procedural content generation, which has become fairly standard practice in the industry.

Procedural content generation is also used to create game levels — sometimes randomly — so the player can enjoy a fresh experience each time. For decades, virtual reality has tantalized gamers with the prospect of a fully immersive experience. But the technology has yet to deliver on this promise.

Tech companies are looking to change that. Huge firms like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Sony — and startups like Magic Leap — have invested considerable resources to develop VR hardware and games.

That’s partly why AR is taking off faster than VR: People have an appetite for games that interact with reality, not remove them from it.

If you’ve ever used your phone to stream a movie or play an online game, you’re likely well-acquainted with the spinning wheel indicating your content is loading. That’s because internet speeds are slow. It’s kept mobile gaming’s ceiling lower than it could be.

To remedy this, telecommunications companies are in the early stages of rolling out 5G for mobile devices. Soon, smartphones will be much faster, and laggy game experiences will be a thing of the past.

This is not just great news for mobile games in general, which currently chew through a phone’s computational power. It’s also great for AR games specifically, which, without real-time data input, aren’t worth playing.

For 5G technology, you’ll be able to pull up an AR video, look through your phone, and get instant data about the world around you, for lightning speed.

That aims to tackle the technology behind 5G. Not only will this innovation boost mobile gaming, it will possibly generate a network effect in which more and more people get into mobile gaming — especially AR — because of an increase in cultural hype about the high-quality AR gaming experience.

Check out my related post: Will your smartphone be your future computer?


Interesting reads:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/covid-19-taking-gaming-and-esports-next-level/

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52210938

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ilkerkoksal/2019/11/08/video-gaming-industry–its-revenue-shift/#1dab6ccc663e

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/05/12/video-game-industry-coronavirus/

https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/the-global-games-market-will-generate-152-1-billion-in-2019-as-the-u-s-overtakes-china-as-the-biggest-market/

https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/25/heres-where-top-gaming-vcs-are-looking-for-startup-opportunities/

https://techcrunch.com/2015/10/31/the-history-of-gaming-an-evolving-community/

https://builtin.com/media-gaming/future-of-gaming

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