Innovation takes many forms within the gaming space, often beginning with insight and inspiration from a single person, be they a game developer, an engineer, a sociologist or anything else within the industry. That’s why we’re tracking down these thought leaders to give you a sneak peek of the digital arts future through their eyes.
In this installment, we sit down with Kyle Orland, a games journalist who writes for Gamasutra. Orland gives his thoughts on the impact journalism will have on the future of gaming and the relationship between the two.
DIG: Can you tell us about your history in the gaming industry?
Kyle Orland: I started playing games in 1989 with my first NES, started writing about games in 1997 with Super Mario Bros. HQ, a fan site that is still up (though not rigorously maintained), and started writing about games professionally in 2001, when I got paid $8 to write a review of DanceDance Revolution for the University of Maryland student paper, The Diamondback. (Go Terps!) In the decade since, I’ve somehow made a full-time living as a freelancer for outlets including Electronic Gaming Monthly, Paste magazine, @Gamer, National Public Radio, Joystiq, GameSpot.com, Gamasutra and a bunch of others that don’t even exist anymore.
DIG: Where do you see the industry going in the near future? Far future?
K.O.: In the near future, companies are going to continue to try to carve out a slice of the large casual/social gaming pie, making free-to-play games that are easy to start, easy to get addicted to, but which ultimately go nowhere. The bottom will eventually fall out of this market, as most of the people who got by just fine before FarmVille will eventually get tired of playing the same type of game over and over and go back to the largely game-free life they led before Facebook.
I know a lot of people are trying to make games that transition this model to deeper, more engaging long-term experiences, but I think it’s hard to find the balance between accessibility and depth to make that work. I also think a lot of the casual/social game players really don’t want that kind of depth and are just looking for something to while away some time so they don’t have to spend it reflecting on their life.
Longer-term, I see gaming getting much more integrated into everyday living. We have yet to see the first truly mass-market location-aware game. (Foursquare comes closest, I suppose.) But as smartphones become more ubiquitous, I think someone will figure out how to tap this kind of data for a truly engaging social experience. I think the idea of using voice commands and motions will become a more natural part of game control too, as that technology improves in fidelity.
DIG: What kind of technology do you see spurring on those changes?
K.O.: One technology that really has me excited is KinectFusion, which uses the Kinect to create a 3D model of a room in real time, as demonstrated here. In five years, we could easily see this technology miniaturized and incorporated with some sort of semitransparent glasses display to create a wearable augmented reality game system that accurately overlays characters and game elements over the real world, without the need to awkwardly hold a camera-equipped 3DS out in front of you or anything!
DIG: What role do you see external factors like press coverage and public perception having in the ongoing development of the industry?
K.O.: I think people tend to be influenced by what their friends recommend. Some of those friends might be hardcore gamers who tend to be influenced by what they see recommended by their favorite press outlet.
More and more, though, I think people are likely to stumble on a free- or cheap-to-play game and, if they really love it, act as an evangelist, sending it around to everyone they know. If that happens enough times, it becomes a hit. Maybe the press starts that wave of popularity sometimes, maybe the press picks up on it and follows along with coverage, or maybe they just dismiss it as not a “real game” and continue to focus on what they know and love. Either way, the press’s role as sole opinion-leader is probably smaller than ever, thanks to the Internet and social media.
Stu Horvath is the managing editor of Digital Innovation Gazette, as well as the man behind the geek culture website, Unwinnable.com. Previously, Horvath has worked at the New York Daily News, Wizard magazine, Random House, CrispyGamer.com, and Joystiq.com . He is also a founding member of the NYC Videogame Critics Circle.