I originally wrote this article for a now defunct blog called PlusXP under the title “What is the future of gaming?”. I was granted written permission by the copyright holder at the time to republish it on my own blog. Ed.

What is the future of gaming? This oft-pondered question will inevitably be out of date within the next 12 months, but with all these game releases and developments in the industry, we can reflect on where we are right now, and where things could be heading over the next decade.

TV in three dimensions

The use of 3D-HD technology in the next few years is almost a given. Phillips plan to ship the first 3DTV sets as early as Spring 2011, and Sony have already announced 3D-HD Blu-Ray and a firmware upgrade for all PS3 users that enable 3D content. Furthermore there are contenders to Phillips’ 3D standard from the likes of Toshiba and LG, suggesting that 3D content will be coming to the industry in a big way.

As you may have read from the reports of CES 2010, and even articles on PlusXP, this is a new technology the gaming industry is taking very seriously indeed, and in the next few years we should expect to be wearing some stylish-looking glasses during game-play.

Immersive gameplay

On the subject of spectacles, immersive gaming could be the next big thing. Previously dubbed “virtual reality headsets”, these specialized pieces of eye-wear are much lighter and comprise a pair of glasses rather than a new hat!

Augmented reality devices allow you to see what is around you in real life, but the game engine adds game play elements to this in your real world environment. We are already seeing such examples of this work from the University of Bristol, and Google has implemented similar technology for its Google Goggles application, using GPS to enable users to roam around seeing places of interest marked out on what the phone camera sees. Not only does this show that the technology is here, but it also proves that it has some business viability, and could see some major investment in the next few years.

Inevitably if we are talking about game-play objects being imposed on reality, the Sony EyeToy deserves an honourable mention. Though this has been around for a number of years it has always ever been a fairly niche product. With increasing competition from other consoles, it’s not unreasonable to think that further titles and investment will go into this technology. Eye Pet is an excellent example of this concept, enabling kids to play with a virtual pet on their TV screen rather than their parents needing to feed or clean up after it!

Project Natal

This brings us on to the impending release of Microsoft’s new flagship innovation for the XBOX 360. The company promises us that we will see it “some time in 2010”, and even leaves Steven Spielberg speechless. Rather than manipulating your console with a controller, users for the first time will be able to manipulate and immerse themselves into the game-play environment like never before with just their hands and voice. The device also comes with face and object recognition technology, and with the promise it may be a relatively cheap item to add to your existing setup, this should excite most games console users (or even fans of the Nintendo Wii).

As was shown by the Milo project, the potential for this technology is huge, with much more human-style interaction with an AI character. There are even rumours that the developers at Redwood Studios will be using Project Natal extensively in the coming release of Fable III.

Despite this, Project Natal has drawn criticism from some speculative articles that it could potentially just be a niche product. Though with the potential to transform home media centres (eg. by shuffling through album art to choose your favourite track) and even the desktop experience this should at least excite hardened users, even if more hard-core gamers choose to stick with their beloved hand-held gamepad.

New controls

We already have the Wii Motion Plus which gives users the ability to easily manipulate their environment over two axes in an easy and casual environment. There are plenty of rumours circulating around that the next controller for the Wii could use biometric data such as skin reaction and heart rate to tailor gaming. In this way a hard-core gamer would see much more gore and action to keep their heart rate and excitement levels up while a casual gamer would be ushered gently into the game. This could have big potential, as this once again keeps the Wii accessible to all the family while still appealing to more experienced gamers after top-notch performance.

In summary

I do not think that we will necessarily see a huge change in the kind of games we play, but the way we interact with games will be the major hotbed of innovation for the coming decade. Though there will be plenty of die-hard enthusiasts who will stick to using their PCs with joysticks and game-pads, this is an exciting time for the casual and experienced gamers alike. Whether you want your parents to join you, or want to spend the next 10 years locked away in your room throwing Mohawk grenades at people, there will be something to cater for everyone. Bring on the ’10s!