Table of Contents
- Types of Video Games
- Video Game Graphics Design
- The Video Game Development Process
- Gaming Industry Trends Driving Innovation
- AI in Video Games
- VR in Video Games
- What Will Shape the Future of Video Games?
The future of video games is bright, with billions of gamers worldwide and revenues in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Some key statistics:
- The games and interactive media marketearned more than $120 billion in 2019, according to SuperData; mobile games generated more than half that PC and gaming consoles generated $29.6 billion and $15.4 billion, respectively.
- There were 7 billion gamers worldwide in 2020 — about 35% of the world’s population — according to Statista.
As the gaming industry evolves, companies such as Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft continue to advance innovation in the game console space. The market has attracted tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, all with gaming products of their own and offerings that extend gaming to the cloud.
Understanding the industry’s history can help offer a glimpse into the future of video games. This brief timeline of the evolution of video games spans from their origin in the 1970s to the present:
- 1970s: Home and arcade gaming grew in popularity. The decade’s hits included Atari’s arcade game Pong, computer game The Oregon Trail (developed by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium), the Atari Video Computer System, and arcade game Space Invaders (made by Taito).
- 1980s: The video game market boomed in the ’80s, starting with the arcade game Pac-Man (Namco), quickly followed by Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, which introduced Jumpman, known today as Mario. Nintendo dominated the rest of the decade, debuting its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, the role-playing game Legend of Zelda in 1987, and the handheld Game Boy in 1989.
- 1990s: Microsoft included Solitaire with Windows 3.0, introducing gaming to millions. Sonic the Hedgehog and the Sega Genesis game console dominated the early to mid-’90s before Sony released its PlayStation in the U.S. market. The decade introduced Mortal Kombat (Midway Games), which brought video game violence to the U.S. Senate’s attention, resulting in hearings.
- 2000s: The Sims, a life simulator game made by Electronic Arts (EA), kicked off the decade. In 2001, Microsoft entered the game console market with Xbox, and in 2005, the software giant became a major player with the Xbox 360. Nintendo maintained dominance in the handheld market with the Nintendo DS, introduced in 2004. The company then introduced the Nintendo Wii, which included motion sensors. Games such as Rock Band and World of Warcraft were among the most popular. FarmVille and Angry Birds, both mobile games, also stirred up the market.
- 2010s: The popularity of mobile games grew, thanks to the rise of smartphones. Games such as Minecraft, created by independent developers, and Pokémon Go, which laid the foundation for augmented reality (AR) in video games, transformed the video game market. Nintendo responded with the Switch in 2017, allowing players to take the same games they play on their home TV screens with them anywhere they go. Sony dominated the 2010s with its best-selling PlayStation 4 game console, surpassing all other game console developers in the decade. In 2018, Fortnite, an online cross-platform battle game, earned $2.4 billion.
Today, technologies such as AR, virtual reality (VR), and 3D graphics and trends such as streaming services and mobile gaming continue to transform the future of video games. Other drivers include innovative game consoles, mobile devices, and technologies such as facial and voice recognition, gesture control, high-definition displays, and wearable tech.
Types of Video Games
Video games are typically categorized by type, or genre, depending on how players interact with them. Below are six popular types of video games:
1. Action Games
“Action” is a broad term referring to games that require high reaction speed and strong hand-eye coordination. The player is often under time pressure to overcome physical challenges, including combat, while partaking in activities such as solving puzzles.
Popular subgenres of action games include fighting, first-person shooter (FPS), and survival. Early action titles include the Super Mario Bros. series. More recent action series include Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil, and Saints Row.
- Fighting: Close combat between two or more characters or groups. Titles: Street Fighter IV, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Tekken 7, Virtua Fighter 4, Soulcalibur VI.
- First-person shooter: Weapon-based battle from a first-person point of view. Titles: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Halo 5: Guardians, Wolfenstein II: A New Colossus.
- Survival: Gathering of tools, weapons, and other resources to survive in various environments. Titles: DayZ, Subnautica, The Forest.
2. Idle Games
Idle games, also called incremental games, require little to no interaction. Players progress through basic actions, such as clicking, to receive rewards. Rewards can come in the form of in-game currency or opportunities to build upon their success.
For example, players of AdVenture Capitalist start with a lemonade stand, but over time, through minimal actions, they can grow their business into a thriving, lucrative enterprise. Titles: Realm Grinder, Cookie Clicker, Clicker Heroes, Idle Miner Tycoon, Plantera.
3. Role-Playing Games
Role-playing games (RPGs) often allow players to create customized characters who represent them in a fictional space. The player inhabits the character to interact with companions and others in the game and makes decisions that can lead to rewards such as skill points and inventory. The key characteristics of RPGs include combat, a developing storyline, exploration and discovery, and choices and consequences.
An early example of an RPG is 1987’s Dungeon Master. More recent popular RPGs include Final Fantasy XV, Pokémon Yellow, and World of Warcraft. Popular subgenres of RPGs include massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and sandbox RPGs:
- Massively multiplayer online role-playing games: Large numbers of players in perpetual online worlds play MMORPGs. Titles: EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, RuneScape, The Elder Scrolls Online, Star Trek Online.
- Sandbox RPGs: Game play in sandbox RPGs is open-ended, allowing gamers to roam a virtual world at will and make changes without much limitation. Titles: Astroneer, Minecraft, Roblox, Surviving Mars, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
4. Simulation Games
Simulation games, also known as sims, are played in a simulated real-world or fictional experience. Examples of real-life experience sims include flying a fighter plane, cooking like a chef, or driving a truck. A fictional sim might involve taking part in a historical event or living life as an animal. Sims offer gamers authenticity and entertainment at the same time.
Popular subgenres of simulation games include the following:
- Life: Players control the daily lives of virtual characters in real-world and fictional settings. Titles: Animal Crossing: New Horizon, The Sims 4, Second Life.
- City building: Players plan, build, and lead a city, town, or world. Titles: Aven Colony, Frostpunk, Jurassic World Evolution, Skylines, Surviving Mars.
- Flight: Users get an in-the-cockpit experience. Titles: Kerbal Space Program, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, X-Plane 11.
- Vehicle: Players get behind the wheel. Titles: American Truck Simulator, F1 2020, SnowRunner.
- War: From strategy to making life-defining decisions, a simulated experience of war. Titles: Brothers in Arms, World of Tanks, World of Warships.
5. Sports Games
Sports games simulate real-world sports, such as soccer, basketball, boxing, or football. Some sports games aim to realistically depict game elements, including physics laws. So-called arcade sports games are less concerned with accuracy and include impossible physics and unrealistic settings. Others include elements such as franchise management and player development.
Popular subgenres of sports games include the following:
- Racing games: Users compete on simulated raceways. Titles: Need for Speed Heat, iRacing, Forza Horizon 4, Asphalt 9: Legends.
- Pro sports: Users manage teams, make trades, and play as their favorite athletes. Titles: ESPN NFL 2K5, NBA 2K11, FIFA 13, the Madden NFL series, PGA Tour 2K21.
- Arcade sports: Taking sports to unrealistic — and entertaining — extremes. Titles: Mario Tennis 64, Rocket League, Windjammers 2.
- Extreme sports: Users play virtual sports that involve a high degree of difficulty and risk. Titles: BMX The Game, Riders Republic, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.
6. Strategy Games
Strategy games allow players to make important gameplay decisions that determine the result. Thinking, skillful planning, and managing resources are essential to success. Themes often include military scenarios in which players plan battles, gather essential resources, build bases, and recruit and train troops. In peacetime strategy games, a player may have to make important decisions to hunt down treasure or save humanity from impending doom.
Popular subgenres include the following:
- Multiplayer online battle arena: MOBA games involve two teams competing against each other in a predefined environment. Titles: Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, Smite, Strife.
- Real-time strategy: RTS games involve fast, strategic decisions to defeat an opponent against a ticking clock. Titles: Age of Empires 2, Command & Conquer, Company of Heroes, Rise of Nations, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.
Resources: Video Game Genres
The evolution of video games has led to a range of genres and subgenres.
- HP, “Video Game Genres: Everything You Need to Know” — An extensive overview of genres, from sandbox to platformers
- Gaming Shift, Top 5 Most Popular Mobile Game Genres — An explanation of five of the most popular mobile game genres: MOBAs, MMORPGs, card games, puzzle games, and RPGs
- Hacker Noon, “Video Game Genres” — An explanation of the alphabet soup of acronyms gamers use to describe genres
Video Game Graphics Design
Video game graphics have come a long way. The limited processing power of first-generation home consoles, such as the Atari 2600, only allowed for simplistic graphics. Arcade games, such as Space Invaders — an FPS in which the player defends the planet from pixelated spaceships — bolstered the popularity of gaming worldwide, and game developers sought new ways to cash in.
As bit technology advanced, video games transformed to include better graphics and more complex features in the decades that led to the modern era of 3D graphics.
Graphics Evolve from 8 Bit to 64 Bit
In 8-bit games, each pixel consists of 8 bits (1 byte) of image information in a computer’s memory. Early video games only offered a maximum of 256 colors and resolution of 8-bit graphics, limiting the ability of game developers to simulate realistic visuals.
As hardware and software evolved, games incorporated 16-bit graphics that offered 65,536 colors, resulting in the massive popularity of Nintendo’s Super NES and its catalog of 16-bit video games.
The introduction of 32-bit graphics allowed for 16,777,215 colors. Using strategic placement and integration of 2D bitmaps called sprites to create the visual effect of 3D, the Sony PlayStation became the most popular console of the era.
The Nintendo 64, which used 64-bit technology to create even more realistic 3D images, enabled higher color depth and advanced visuals, such as gradients and transparencies, but also required more processing power and memory. The advantages of 64-bit technology offered improved ability and speed in processing high-end graphics.
The progression of bit technology ultimately led to the development of true 3D graphics. Throughout much of video game history, game developers used 2D technology to achieve a 3D effect. The 1996 release of id Software’s 3D polygonal graphics engine for its game Quake marked the beginning of a new era in gaming: true 3D. 3D graphics allow games to operate in three dimensions, simulating the natural movement of characters and objects. Since Quake, 3D gaming innovation continues to evolve.
Resources: Video Game Graphics Design
These resources provide information and insights on the evolution of gaming and graphics over the decades.
- Gaming Shift, What Are Sprites and How Do They Work In Games? — A discussion of sprites, the 2D bitmaps that preceded modern 3D graphics
- The Logo Creative, The Evolution of Video Game Graphics — A history of games that stretches back to 1947
- Interesting Engineering, “7+ Technologies That Changed Video Games Forever” — A discussion of the transformative technologies that changed how video games are played
The Video Game Development Process
Whether it’s a triple-A title with a massive production and marketing budget or an indie game with a tiny development team, a lot goes into developing a video game. The process involves working with various artistic media — music, art, animation, video — programming, and marketing. The following key steps make up the development process.
A game’s vision is born in the idea stage. Developers determine the type of game it will be, imagine the storylines of heroes and protagonists, establish game play principles, and develop themes and environments. Bringing an idea to fruition requires a proof of concept, a process that gathers ideas from various stakeholders to determine the feasibility of producing a viable game. At this stage, development teams address the cost, timeline, and technical capabilities and set expectations.
The FPS game Duke Nukem Forever spent 15 years in development, but all that time and effort didn’t translate into critical or financial success. Most games don’t take that long, but game development is a resource-intensive and costly process, and an expensive game that fares poorly costs developers time and money.
Market analysis helps determine if a game will sell and identifies the audience’s desires. During this stage, game developers examine gaming trends, follow fan sites, and may interview or poll gamers regarding what they’re looking for in a game.
Market analysis provides useful information about what features players want to see, paving the way for preproduction. During the preproduction stage, designers, developers, writers, and programmers work together to outline game mechanics, create prototypes, set project deadlines, create documentation, and develop a test plan. The development team brainstorms story and character ideas and determines the elements of game play.
Because so many pieces are involved, production can take years to complete. During the production stage, the development team executes the elements established in preproduction: user interface, characters, audio, storylines, and programming. After months or even years of work, some aspects of the game may be changed or scrapped for various reasons, such as cost overruns, design changes, limited resources, or poorly received demos.
Before releasing a game, developers work to ensure that it functions correctly. Quality assurance (QA) testers identify bugs, looking for vulnerabilities or broken features, such as characters walking through walls.
The testing phase also determines whether the game’s progression works, also known as flow analysis. Does the story match the player’s journey? Answering this question can help improve the game. Sometimes, game developers release an alpha version to a very limited audience, widening the pool of users reporting bugs and suggesting possible enhancements.
After fixing bugs and implementing feedback, game developers take the next step: releasing a formal beta version as part of a prelaunch. The beta phase opens up the game to a wider audience, spreading the word about a game and appealing to influential users for their opinions and feedback.
After the beta phase, developers incorporate final changes and continue to address bugs before finalizing a launch version that can be sent to factories to produce physical media or released online. The final key step of launching a game is marketing, including advertising, promotional activities, and sometimes playable demos of certain levels.
The postlaunch phase involves assessing the launch’s success and identifying ways to improve the game. Postlaunch work can include providing regular software updates, refreshing content, adding new features, and fixing bugs through patches.
Resources: Video Game Development
These resources can provide additional context and information on the video game development process.
- Learning Hub, “The 7 Stages of Game Development” — A detailed walkthrough of the process of taking a game from concept to store shelves
- Perforce, Game Development Process: How Game Development Works — Tips, best practices, and essential tools for game developers
- Room 8 Studio, Step-by-Step Process of Game Development Pre-Production Phase — Comprehensive insights on what to look out for at the critical preproduction stage
Gaming Industry Trends Driving Innovation
From triple-A big budget titles to crowdfunded indie games, successful developers follow trends to learn what audiences are looking for and anticipate future video game development trends. Below are six gaming industry trends worth noting:
1. Cloud Gaming and Streaming
Increased smartphone use, faster Wi-Fi and internet service, more reliable mobile networks, and larger hardware storage capacities in mobile devices have been primary drivers of people’s consumption of more digital content. Typically, users download games to their devices.
With an internet connection, gamers can then interact with others anywhere in the world as they play, but the games are still running locally from their devices. Over time, this can impact the performance of a player’s device. With cloud gaming and streaming, users play games from their devices, but the games actually live somewhere else, such as in a data center.
2. Digital Distribution
Companies such as Netflix and Amazon have upended the home video market, and the video game industry is headed in the same direction. While game revenues are up, brick-and-mortar video game stores are in decline, thanks to lower sales of physical games.
Digital distribution of games via services such as Steam complements the marketing strategies of publishers, allowing companies to deliver continuous messages to users, consistently introducing new features, updates, and games.
3. New Business Models
Business models making their mark on the industry include free to play and gaming as a service (GaaS). The free-to-play model allows players to play games for no initial charge. The games, typically available on mobile devices and gaming PCs, then introduce opportunities for monetization. For example, players can purchase credits to remove ads, interact with other gamers, or get unobstructed play.
GaaS is primarily a subscription-based, on-demand streaming service that enables users to play games on the hosting servers of a video game publisher. GaaS, combined with additional monetization opportunities, helps expand a game’s lifespan over the long term.
4. Increased Diversity
The idea that gamers are strictly young males is a myth. According to Gamify, 17% of men and 10% of women ages 18-35 in the U.S. play video games. Among those 50 and older, 13% of both men and women play. Additionally, with the rise of cloud gaming and similar trends, the video game market continues to become more diverse. For example, users with lower income can participate without buying high-end gaming PCs or consoles, according to a Deloitte Insights report.
5. Mobile Gaming
Mobile is becoming the go-to platform for consumers looking for new ways to stay entertained. With more than 2 billion people worldwide playing mobile games, according to Deloitte, mobile is the largest driver of growth in the video game industry. Amid COVID-19 lockdowns, mobile gaming surged because it offered users increased accessibility to video games. The mobile game user population in the U.S. and Canada has increased by 12% since 2019, according to a Deconstructing Mobile & Tablet Gaming report.
6. Next-Generation Consoles
Gaming has reached a lot of new audiences, thanks to trends such as mobile game users, distribution digital models, and cloud gaming. In response, the primary game console manufacturers have embraced that change by introducing next-generation consoles that enable players to use physical and digital games. For example, Xbox Series X provides subscribers with access to a constantly updated library of hundreds of games. With state-of-the-art graphics, lightning-fast load times, and easy access to new games, next-generation consoles will continue to push the envelope in the video game industry.
Resources: Gaming Industry Trends
Find additional information about the coming developments in the video game industry.
- Exploding Topics, “7 Huge Gaming Industry Trends for 2021” — The trends impacting today’s video game industry
- IGN, “The Games Industry on the Biggest Changes in the Last Decade” — Insights on the biggest challenges facing game developers from video game industry veterans and experts
- Investopedia, “How the Video Game Industry Is Changing” — A look at where the business of games is heading
- Think with Google, “6 Key Marketing Trends Changing the Gaming Industry” — A discussion of how marketing affects the video game industry
AI in Video Games
Artificial intelligence (AI) describes computer algorithms that allow machines to think and learn like humans. In video games, AI can teach itself to be unpredictable in the way that a human player would, finding ways to outsmart human users.
AI may also deliver benefits in the game development process. Game developers are experimenting with using AI to create games that evolve automatically based on player feedback. For example, an AI algorithm can respond to a player’s choices to quickly and automatically develop new challenges, characters, worlds, and elements in a game, creating levels and challenges for players to explore.
Resources: AI in Video Games
These resources offer additional information about AI’s role in video games.
- Experfy, “Artificial Intelligence in Video Games” — How AI is revolutionizing gaming
- Experience, “Why AI Will Make Your Video Games Better” — How developers can use the power of AI to improve video games
- The Verge, “How Artificial Intelligence Will Revolutionize the Way Video Games Are Developed and Played” — How AI can change how game publishers design and develop video games
- Time, “How Artificial Intelligence Could Help Video Gamers Create the Exact Games They Want to Play” — Current innovations in AI that may simplify game development
VR in Video Games
The terms AR and VR are often used interchangeably, but they offer different experiences. VR games immerse players in worlds created by software using hardware such as headsets from Samsung, HTC, Google, PlayStation, and Facebook. AR games add a digital layer to the real world, superimposing video and graphics on top of reality.
Top VR games available today include the following:
- Beat Saber: Music-based movement/dance game
- Catan VR: Video board game
- Falcon Age: Adventure game
- Superhot VR: First-person shooter
- Skyrim VR: Adventure game
- WipEout Omega Collection: Futuristic racing experience
The future of VR is promising. An area of potential growth is education. Some medical schools, for example, already use high-quality VR applications to help students immerse themselves in simulated surgical experiences without risk of life.
While VR is relatively new — the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation’s PSVR all launched in 2016 — it’s already resurrected a classic video game experience: going to the arcade. VR arcades give players room to play without harming themselves and turn gaming into a social affair. While VR arcade locations had been popping up across the U.S., pandemic lockdowns have affected expansion.
Resources: VR in Video Games
Learn more about VR in video games, gaming technology, trends, and predictions for the future.
- TechRadar, “Best VR Games 2021: The Top Virtual Reality Games to Play Right Now” — A regularly updated list of the latest immersive experiences in VR gaming
- The Ringer, “Waiting for the Future of Virtual Reality” — An examination of promise and setbacks in VR gaming
- Tom’s Guide, “The Best VR Games in 2021” — From FPSs to rhythm games, a list of 28 VR games available today
What Will Shape the Future of Video Games?
The gaming industry has progressed rapidly in the past few decades. Thanks to technological advancements such as 3D graphics, VR, and AI, video games are continuously evolving. As developers introduce new innovations, players will discover more realistic, fully immersive simulations on screens and lenses and will be able to connect further with others. The future of video games will be shaped by our desire to create awe-inspiring experiences and increase our opportunities for social interaction and engagement.