The participants in the Year 2 interviews provided some strong and compelling future visions and desired future scenarios for emerging technologies in the Games sector which are described and analysed here.
The collection and analysis of user/player data was seen as potentially the largest growth area in the games industry by numerous interviewees. Understanding more about players' habits can influence development processes as well as marketing. Analysis of generic habits such as buying and downloading to when and where they play, how long for, with whom etc. are seen as crucial factors in targeting games at key markets more effectively and driving revenue creation.
As in-device computation capabilities increase, there is also huge scope for user data to drive generative and dynamic gameplay itself. Applying cutting edge neuro-mimicry techniques of individual user behaviours (from on-the-fly data analysis of player behaviour) could create more complex immersive experiences. Such Predictive Analytics could influence narrative elements (such as characters) within games and experiences in real time, making gameplay more naturalistic and reactive to location and context.
However, data vulnerabilities and the increasingly complex issues of privacy & security remain major critical problems to be addressed. Games developers will need to have access to sophisticated security technologies to prevent hacking of their software and systems. Developers will also have to address the issue of who owns the data from user behaviours in games and experiences and what rights different parties (users, developers and others) will have.
Embedded Sensors & Augmented Reality
There was a clear desire for future technologies that would, in most cases, enable people to participate in games “unencumbered” with head-mounted-displays and other such physical paraphernalia. This would require networks of embedded sensors and sensor arrays in the fabric of the built environment and public places that could capture whole body interactions as well as more subtle cues such as mood and emotion. To achieve this, developments in sensor technologies to make them embedded, ambient and transparent to the user will be required. Sensors which can track mood and emotion are also seen as particularly important for the development of intelligent adaptive games. It would also rely on systems that could draw on and combine sensor telemetry from a range of different sources (both personal devices and from the immediate vicinity) to modulate in-game experiences dynamically. This shift towards enhanced Augmented Reality [AR] “enveloping” experiences over Virtual Reality [VR] “immersive” experiences was seen as being key to weaving gamification into everyday life situations more fluidly and naturally.
Improving the telemetry of motion capture, gesture, eye and facial muscle tracking would help solve many of the existing latency issues experienced with current Virtual Reality technologies (such as head-mounted displays [HMDs]) as well as side-effects such as motion sickness which have been widely reported and have become a significant limiting factor in adoption. Such improved spatial perception capabilities would also have the benefit of providing safeguards for users when using immersive VR technologies both in public places as well as in site-specific contexts. Validation feedback included the vision that emerging technologies such as HoloLens and Google cardboard would help to stimulate the market and that improvements in hardware and communications technologies would eventually overcome latency issues.
There was general concern that current solutions are single-player based when society will be better served by VR and AR solutions which can successfully allow multiple players in multiple locations to interact in a truly immersive way. Further into the future, there was a desire for sensor technologies that would allow for crowds or groups of people to collectively modulate games and experiences in communal settings. This could open up potential for the more “socially inclusive” game experiences that are seen as beneficial in challenging the well-known issues of social isolation common with single player and traditional video gaming.
Better & Faster Wireless Technologies
The shift from stand-alone and console games to mobile platforms (smartphone and tablets) will require far greater interplay between devices and cloud-based platforms. As work, play and learning become increasingly mobile, it will be important to reduce the computation load on personal devices which will continue to lag behind PCs and consoles in graphics and processing capabilities. The increasing interplay between personal mobile devices and external sensor technologies in games will require speed and persistent connection improvements in body, local and wide area networking technologies. Improvement in mass telecommunications systems (5G mobile telephony and next generation wireless) is therefore seen as critical.
Mobile platforms are accepted as an on-going major growth area that will stimulate the demand for mobile games that are short, bite-sized experiences that can be played on demand and are essentially “disposable”. The challenge for the growing army of SME developers is how to gain visibility and revenue for their products in such a competitive market (see smart stores)
Enhanced Immersive Experiences & Technologies
In the “Out of Home” and Amusement niche of the games sector, where games environments are predominantly custom-built machines and sites, there is a growing need for more robust and ergonomic VR and AR technologies that can be used by multiple users of all ages (ranging from 12-60). Such technologies will be required to provide site specific high end experiences both for pleasure (amusement arcades and theme parks) as well as in mission-critical learning environments such as hospitals or other specialist skills/places. These may include technologies such as instrumented body suits for interaction (including haptic feedback), as well as HMDs. The increased use of robotics within this sector was also referred to.
Enhancing experiences through technologies which “envelop” the user's lifestyle were seen as highly desirable. In this case technologies which allow the game or experience to operate in tandem with the user's actual life, by adapting to their current situation and context, playing out in the real world across whatever devices or technologies are at hand. This in contrast to more traditional “immersive” experiences where players deliberately choose to immerse themselves in a game world that is separate to the real world around us (either through VR technology or simply through narrative engagement). Increasingly games will blur the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds with interaction between both world—i.e. digital states will influence physical objects and physical object will impact digital environments within video games.
It was also considered highly desirable for in-game interactions to become dynamically modulated by the use of emotion or mood tracking as well as physical tracking or scanning. This could be achieved through advances in data analytics of user behaviours to anticipate and adapt game elements to a user's mood, as well as by the emergence of high resolution scanning technologies of eye movements and facial muscles that could “read” unconscious indicators of a user's mood or emotional responses. Motion tracking technologies may also prove a powerful productivity tool in video game creation for realistic character animation. The primary focus of these technologies, however, is likely to be for in-game interactivity and adaptive games based on the behaviours and context of the players.
Devices as Companions
There is an anticipation that advances in both Artificial Intelligence and so-called “neuro-morphic” processors that have “human-like” learning capabilities would enable personal devices to become more like pets or companions in their ability to respond and react to their individual owner's behaviour, tastes and interests. This kind of advanced affective computing would make such devices behave more like agents that learn from, anticipate and respond to an individual's complex behaviours (as a pet animal might). There could be other desirable effects such as shifting the emphasis on learning from data analytics back to in-device and on-chip away from the current use of cloud-based platforms in terms of responsiveness and speed as well as resolving issues of data security and ownership, putting the individual user back in control of data gleaned from their behaviour.
Real-time Generative Platforms
Future technologies and platforms which empower user authoring of games, and which allow for “procedurally generative” games – which would change every time a particular user plays the same game to provide freshness – are also desired. Smart AI and other learning systems are considered pre-requisite for enabling rich generative effects, with particular regard to elements such as dynamic audio. There was a recognition that Artificial Intelligence will be an important component of future adaptive games as well as reducing some of the more mundane repetitive creative processes.
In a world where the limits of video and audio fidelity detectable by consumers will be reached by ubiquitous commercial devices, brilliant graphics and sound will no longer be a prime differentiator and games developers will need a greater focus on good narratives and storylines to succeed.
Multiplayer, Location Agnostic Experiences
As alluded to above with respect to new interactive technologies, the potential to create multiplayer location-agnostic AR and VR games was considered an obvious future direction. Such technologies would allow groups of people, in different places, to collectively play the same game or experience no matter where they happen to be in the real world, sharing a communal VR or AR environment. In VR experiences, the players might simply be connected across separate VR Cave-type or instrumented locations; in AR experiences, the players would find the game world environment seamlessly projection mapped onto their individual vicinities to enable them to play together as though in the same place.
Games as learning environments
The role of games as a learning mechanism to achieve socially productive outcomes fuelled the desire for technologies that allow people in all walks of life and situations (formal and informal) to help them embrace change through “productive failure”. Making use of the game environment as a space where skills and techniques can be “rehearsed” over and over again, through the “failing” to “win”, can provoke self-reflection on the nature of human and social systems and models through the game structures themselves. Such technologies that enable the creation of games and experiences which encourage the appreciation of trial and error could see gamification bleed across from leisure and entertainment into others areas of human activity which are seen as more directly productive and useful.
Niche distribution platforms and engines
Validation activities highlighted additional visions for smart, open-source, niche distribution platforms and engines. Currently, games engines such as Unity and Unreal dominate the market across most platforms but the participants expressed a desire for both open source and niche games engines to address specific sectors such as applied and casual games.
Particularly for SME developers with small teams and limited resources, smart e-stores capable of matching the characteristics of consumers with the attributes of new games was seen as a necessity for the future, mirroring the way that organisations like Amazon are able to prompt consumers to look at products that consumers with similar profiles have bought.
Finally, the growth in the internet of things (IOT) and wearable devices which capture personal data are seen as an opportunity to develop niche platforms: new forms of applied games that use gamification and big data within a games environment to both engage and influence the player.
Key Future Trajectories
The following is a distillation of the desired future technologies across data collected during the whole project.
Collaborative development platforms
Networking, AI & Neuro-morphic Processing Technologies
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