Whatever you think of computer games, one thing is certain: they’re big business. The computer game industry is worth more than £18 billion and is growing rapidly. To maintain this expansion, however, the game makers are always looking for new ways to develop their product. Consider, for instance, the recent promotions of games linked to fitness and exercise. What, then, does the industry plan to give us in the future? And how does it intend to make games an even bigger part of our lives?
One thing the computer games industry is determined to do is lose the image of the average player as male and socially inept. To help achieve this, games companies will continue a trend of recruiting more women into every aspect of their business. Television and magazine adverts will also focus less on men sitting on the edge of a sofa clutching a games controller, and more on mixed gender and family angles.
In spite of this, there’s no suggestion that the main themes of games will change. Many of the top 100 bestselling titles of 2008 are about war and urban street battles. Other subjects include sport, rock music…and yet more “shoot ’em ups”. With development costs starting at around £2 million, games companies are tight-lipped about any products in the pipeline, but these are likely to follow current demand.
Perhaps the only comfort for those concerned about the violent bias of some themes is the success of The Sims. This gentle life-simulation game has sold more than 70 million copies, making it the number one seller to date.
As computers become more complex, games technology advances. For example, developers are not content with players regarding games as computer-generated fantasy. Instead, the developers are steadily improving realism, and refer to this in their jargon as creating an LBW (living breathing world).
Games companies make no secret they want graphics to be as authentic as possible. In other words, they hope that when players see a computer-generated tree, for instance, they won’t be able to tell its features from genuine bark, twigs and leaves.
As part of this, lighting and shadows in the games will not just look as real as a photo: they’ll change in the same way that light and shade varies throughout the day. Effects such as rivers, storms and blizzards will also seem lifelike.
Games companies want this realism to make players feel at home with their gaming environments. Whether this is advisable for action scenes where the current quality of images can at least remind people they’re playing a game is a matter for debate. Nonetheless, graphics quality will improve in the next five years.
What is less sure is the way developers will use artificial intelligence (AI) in games. It may soon be possible to have a chat, debate, and of course a fight, with a computer character that looks and acts like a normal person. The prospect of speaking to and interacting with fabricated AI individuals may seem fun, but how will this affect human relationships?
Perhaps the good news is that computer games are not dominating leisure time at the expense of other pastimes. In 2007, the UK book market was worth £4.1 billion, and during the course of the year UK publishers sold 855 million books, an increase of 9% on 2006. Computer game sales may be rising at 10 – 11% a year, but the printed word is not far behind.