Bestselling Futurist + Trends Expert – CEO, Intl. Association for Business Development
Gaming as we know it is evolving and innovating at a rapid pace all around us. Scott Steinberg, award-winning strategic consultant, futurist, and best-selling author, discusses what’s next in cloud gaming, and how the industry shifted from niche to norm. From augmented reality to the rise of Esports and international communities, gaming opens up the world to exciting possibilities, no matter where you live or who you are.
I came to games very early on. I started playing about six or seven, probably began with the Atari 2600. It was an early gift, but I probably was most connected to games when I stepped into an arcade and I saw Dragon's Lair running, probably about 1983. And, let me tell you, that was a live-action cartoon compared to little tiny pixels, very primitive stuff. That made an impression.
I don’t know that there is one single factor that was responsible for the explosion of gaming into the mainstream, so much as it was a confluence of different factors all coming together at once that really served to popularize the medium. So, on the one hand you had the explosion of growth in consoles, like the PlayStation 2, that really helped put gaming on the map and establish it as a hobby for adults as well as children. Whereas, maybe in the past Nintendo, Sega, those systems were seen to appeal to younger audiences. You also had a number of game designers who were exploring edgier topics, like the designers of Rockstar Games who made Grand Theft Auto. And they were building topics around adult-themed or very edgy items and pushing the envelope. And beyond that, by the time you hit the early 2000s, you’ve got entire generations who’ve grown up with a joystick or gamepad in hand — men [and] women. And so, with it being an intrinsic part of childhood, it was only natural that they would share their love with future generations. And, by the way, many of them are parents now. And so overtime it's only bled into the mainstream because now you don't even give [video games] a second thought.
Games are still a priority for many console manufacturers and for many major players in the technology business. What’s happening is that they're also realizing a lot of the [potential] money is in services. Because, what happens is, if all your friends are online and playing in one ecosystem and if you own a huge library of content that only plays on one device, well guess what, you're largely captive to that system. And no matter how many different iterations of that specific gaming device they introduce, you will migrate with it because all your games and all your friends are there. So, once you've entered the web, so to speak, I don't want to say that you're stuck but you're much less likely to leave. So services are being built by virtually every major console manufacturer and virtually every major player in the gaming space, even game publishers themselves, because they want you coming back for more.
So, traditional consoles have been something of what we call a “Walled Garden” in that you have to own one to play certain games and only certain games that are compatible with those systems, which are qualified by the manufacturer will actually work. So, if you own an Xbox versus a PlayStation you're going to own an entirely different catalog of games unless you happen to buy them from third-party developers who are creating for both systems. But, by and large, each is going to have exclusive titles. And these types of systems take a significant upfront investment to get involved because you have to buy the system, you have to buy the games. It’s just like the old razor and blades business model.
However, what happens when you switch to cloud and streaming and on-demand games is it doesn't really matter what device you're playing from because all the computing muscle, all the graphics muscle, all the processing, that's elsewhere. Somebody else is doing that up in the Cloud and now we have internet speeds so fast that you're beaming back these top quality gaming experiences on demand for next to nothing to a variety of devices, even devices that they weren't necessarily originally designed to be run on.
It definitely boggles my mind the fact that we now have these glasses that you can wear and you can command them with your voice. You can pull up augmented reality displays with them. You can be playing games; you can get digital pop-ups just about anywhere you go in the real world. They're here, they're in different areas of the world. They've just started to take off, but very soon we're going to be interacting with a digital world that’s layered atop our actual real world and physical world space.
And, beyond that, the possibilities of cloud streaming games, while they've yet to take off quite like many developers would have hoped, again think about that — it's getting to an age where you don't even have to own a computer; you don't have to own a console. You're not paying all these upfront costs. You’re not having to upgrade regularly. You can beam these top-quality games streamed at the highest possible quality right down to any device from your computer to your smartphone to your tablet — on demand virtually anywhere you travel. So, it really kills any barriers to entry that you had. It opens gaming up to a much broader audience and opens up so many more possibilities in terms of play.
Latency is actually the number one biggest source of frustration, surveys tell us, for video gamers, especially players of online games, worldwide. Latency can completely and utterly decide what kind of gaming experience you're going to have. If it’s a fast action game, if it's racing, if it's a shooter, if it's arcade you need those instantaneous response times. So it’s almost an arms race that's happening behind the scenes as companies are working to roll out faster and faster systems and provide edge-computing solutions that allow you to get a lot closer to the sources that are streaming that information to you. So, basically, you can play in realtime from a variety of different devices, as if you were sitting there in front of a TV.
We certainly hear a lot about augmented reality. We hear a lot about cloud and streaming games; the ability to beam them down on demand. What we’re seeing is that it's technically possible, but the challenge, so far, has been finding the right business model that is really going to appeal to gamers and making sure that it is coupled with enough content, the right video games, the best experiences that people want to play to drive people to try these new mediums. So, augmented reality we've seen with games like PokemonGo or the Harry Potter title — very powerful experiences but they kind of just scratched the surface of what we can do with them and that's usually what happens in video games as we tend to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to new technologies, exciting new toys to play with, all sorts of mediums to work with. It takes a little while for the quality of content to catch up.
I think it's amazing. I think it's a long time coming. I like to joke that the hottest feature upgrade that the video game industry introduced in the last twenty-odd years was women. There weren't a lot of those playing back in the day when I was there. And the fact that everybody is getting into gaming; the fact that kids going forward are not going to look into some weird esoteric hobby, that you can be into games and you can be totally cool and you can talk about it like you talk about your favorite TV show or movie or book that you read. That's incredible. And kids growing up tomorrow are going to have so much exposure to games. They're going to have so many different influences. So many different topics are now being explored by games at different price points, different ways to play. That's like “OMG.” I almost feel like I got the short end of the stick.
Games are important to the human experience because we're creative and curious by nature, and games offer the opportunity for a human being to go places they couldn't in the real world. Maybe it's difficult for me to get across the country. Maybe it's difficult for me to get to another continent, but I sure as heck can't get back to the Medieval ages and I sure as heck can't fast-forward myself into the future when we colonize Mars. But you know what? In a video game I can, and I can do it in a very human way, in a very meaningful and emotional way that immerses me very deeply in the world, that makes me feel like a key part of the story. I can share that experience with other people. So, it's part and parcel with the human experience, it's just being facilitated through a high-tech medium.
Esports is a new form of sports thanks to the rise of the internet and smartphones. As more and more people become famous for their video game skills, Scott Steinburg discusses the role of those characters in esports and the environment surrounding the digital natives’ version of sports.
I think it’s fair to say that esports is a form of sports. You have to possess some athletic prowess in order to do well at it. It takes a lot of stamina, it takes a lot of strength, it takes a lot of hand-eye coordination. Sounds a lot like a physical real world sport to me.
Maybe it hasn't gotten the same acclaim in past years because it didn't enjoy the popularity of baseball, football, basketball, [and] golf. Maybe it didn't have that level of personality associated with it, but a lot of it has to do with visibility. And now you see all sorts of characters like Ninja and Fatality who are famous for their ability to play video games. And that's been slowly building over the last several years.
But the irony is that, if you look at it, virtually every major sports franchise and league now has a virtual league going on as well, and there's a reason for that. And that's because younger audiences have grown up with gaming hand-in-hand and they are much more drawn to these faster-paced and almost more immersive types of experiences that you would see in video games than in real-world sports.
And the other thing that is happening, thanks to the rise of the internet and smartphones, is that the average human attention span is about eight seconds long. The challenge being that a goldfish's is nine seconds by comparison. So, thank you Fortnite and Snapchat for that one, but it's transformed the shape of the audiences, and that's why esports, again, are part of the hottest thing happening in gaming today.
I think what people are missing is that esports may seem like a fad to some now because they don't quite understand it. They grew up going to college football games or professional basketball games. They don't understand why you’d be rooting for your favorite players on YouTube or Twitch or Discord, or whatever. But I think what’s important to know is that in the same way that comic books and rock and roll and TV and traditional sports define prior generations, well guess what, these are digital natives, right? Millennials, Generation Z, Gen Alpha. Kids as young as six seven years old, they're growing up with controllers in hand, so this is their version of sports.
Candy Crush, Among Us, Words with Friends. Smartphone gaming has brought accessibility to audiences and easy, inclusive creation for developers. How did the role of mobile gaming enter our society and how does it keep us so amused?
Towards the latter part of the aughts, or 2000s in common parlance, you see the arrival of the smartphone as a gaming device, and OMG, boy does it open the floodgates. You have millions and millions of at-home coders who are suddenly video game developers. And you have millions and millions of people playing video games who would never consider themselves gamers, per se, because what it does is it makes gaming a lot more approachable, brings down the price of your average video game. So it's under $10, under $5, maybe even free in many cases. You can download it right then and there to your smartphone. It's super easy to use. And most of these games, because they know that they’re for broad audiences, are designed to be super casual, super approachable, and super easy to pick up and play.
Mobile and smartphone games are actually quite amazing because they know that they're designed to be picked up and played in short spurts, which means that they really have to catch your attention out of the gates. And they have to give you tons of constant feedback because we use our smartphones in these short bursts. Our attention span is very limited; we need something that's super approachable to pick up and play, and we're probably playing it while we're sitting on the subway, in the car, waiting for somebody. You don't have a lot of time to play. You’re not spending two-three hours glued to a device. You maybe [have] five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes here and there. And a lot of them are designed for multiplayer and online connectivity, so you can compete against friends. You can share quests; you can team up and play the mission.
And smartphones are powerful enough that they're effectively PCs in your pocket, so they can also run [massive] multiplayer online games in which thousands of people connect and play together. So, it's a great deal for everybody. In fact, it's a great deal for developers, too, because it’s very easy to create a smartphone game. Expectations are a lot lower. You don't need to design some 100-hour [massive] multiplayer thing if you don't want to. In fact, one or two folks sitting in a bedroom can decide to throw down and make a fun little puzzle, arcade game, something that's designed to fit the format. [It] doesn't have to be super extensive [or] super expensive, and it can knock it out of the park.
Geocaching from your car radio? Missions assigned through your smartwatch? Scott Steinberg discusses the possible future of augmented reality and what both individuals and parents can expect in terms of safety and fun.
In the immediate, you need specialized hardware devices in order to enjoy augmented reality and virtual reality experiences. But if you think about it, the holy grail for video game companies is to find ways to make technology more human and to find ways to make video games more readily integrate into every aspect of your daily life. So, it won't be surprising if we're using the smart speakers in our homes, chatting with them, and they're telling us stories and adventures that we can play. It won't be surprising if you're sitting in the car and it can do pop-ups and all sorts of little missions and things that you can find if you want to drive off and go geocaching somewhere. Or for us to have wearable devices that basically [notify] us and tell us if a treasure is nearby, or if others are nearby who have similar interests or maybe playing the same game that we need to link up with to solve the puzzle or to beat an adventure quest are going to be in the area.
That type of stuff is going to become more and more the norm. It’s going to fade more into the background, the device itself, and the actual technological way in which we’re able to access a video game [will be more front stage]. But, everybody's going to be playing; do not underestimate the power of play.
Well, the fear about the immersiveness of games is the same as any other fears we've had with games in the past — that people just get too sucked into the universe. But that's a worry with anything, any form of storytelling can bring you that deeply in. Being able to separate reality from fantasy, most normal healthy adults [are] pretty safe in that regard and most kids are safe in that regard, too. But, video games are going to get us out and about more. They're going to introduce us to more people than ever before. Once upon a time, I had to log onto a bulletin board system [so] I could meet people from all over the world, but now you can log onto a social network or play a game and in a matter of minutes you’re exposed to thousands of people that you never could have connected with before. So, it's a level of magnitude more than I would have ever seen.
So, as a parent, of course, you have to have some level of concern as to what types of content you'll be exposed to, what types of influences, and what types of people. If you're staring down at your smartphone all the time playing an augmented reality game, are the odds greater that you might walk out in the street and not notice your surroundings? These are types of concerns that might pop up, but progress is going to bring those on any front.
Bestselling Futurist + Trends Expert – CEO, Intl. Association for Business Development
While individual games and devices remain the focus for most console manufacturers, many are shifting to offering additional services to their audiences. As gaming communities continue to play within their specific ecosystems, companies have created massive libraries of content to satisfy the gamers of that system. As new gaming devices become available, audiences migrate with it because all of their games and friends exist within that ecosystem.
Services are being built by virtually every major console manufacturer and virtually every major player in the gaming space, even game publishers themselves, because they want audiences coming back for more. In a sense, these ecosystems and services are creating stronger ties within their respective communities.
Traditional gaming involves purchasing consoles for games that have certain graphic capabilities and machine-specific games. However, with cloud gaming (or streaming) and on-demand games, gamers aren’t restricted to a device. All of the processing power and advanced graphics are being produced and accessed from an offsite cloud server. With today’s fast internet speeds, gamers are able to access high-quality gaming experiences on demand at a low cost and on a variety of devices.
As this technology progresses, gamers will not have to own a specific device. Instead, they will have the ability to stream any game to any device — desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet — from anywhere. This removes existing barriers for developers and opens up the possibilities of play to new audiences.
Games are a critical part of the human experience. As humans, we're creative and curious by nature. Games offer the opportunity for a human being to go places they can’t in the real world. Since the dawn of time, we’ve yearned to know more about our world and each other. Games allow audiences to be transported through space and time, in a very meaningful and emotional way that builds community.
As gaming becomes more immersive and technology such as augmented reality becomes more widely available, the next generation of gaming will allow gamers to share new experiences, meet new people, and learn more about each other. Although there is a perception of games as being isolating, the new world of gaming experiences are bringing us closer together.
Although they take place in the digital world, esports are becoming a mainstay in the world of competitive games. As professional gamers and streamers continue to get more visibility for their ability to play video games, many in the industry have begun to take notice. Almost every major sports franchise and league now has a corresponding virtual league. Younger audiences have grown up with gaming. In many cases, they are drawn more to the faster-paced, immersive types of experiences provided by video games compared to traditional, real-world sports.
Despite being perceived as a fad, many current audiences and companies are investing heavily in esports and millions of fans tune in and root for their favorite players on YouTube, Twitch or Discord. In the same way that comic books, rock-and-roll, and TV have defined prior generations, kids as young as six seven years old are growing up with controllers in hand. For today’s digital natives, Esports is sports.