As an art form that is tied so inseparably to technological evolution, gaming is never done. Each year brings with it new potentials, expansions on old ideas, and a more well-rounded overall marketplace. Yet, not all developments in this changing world are created equal.
Every now and then something special comes along, something which completely shifts the focus of the gaming zeitgeist. Focusing on three of these standout elements, we want to explore what makes these famous features key.
Online Multiplayer Gaming
Arguably the most visible infrastructural change to gaming in the last few decades has been the supremacy of online multiplayer. The very first of these came in the form of multiuser dungeons, also called MUDs. Arriving in the late 70s and early 80s, these operated on frameworks like ARPANET, a predecessor to the modern internet.
True internet games started becoming popular in the latter half of the 1990s. Popularly illustrated by the likes of Quake, Ultima Online, and Everquest, these early games were so small that they could be effectively played even on older 56k modems.
It wasn’t until cabled internet started becoming popular around 2005, however, that online multiplayer gaming would explode. A huge part of this stage’s online gaming success was the arrival of easy console online access. Best illustrated by Xbox Live and Halo, this era brought online gaming into the mainstream, where it has stayed ever since.
Today, online multiplayer gaming has become such a force that its widely considered a standard. In some instances, this can be a positive development, as with online casino gaming at Norgesautomaten. Popularly illustrated by live casino games like Real Roulette, these online variants of classic casino titles work by fusing in-casino realism with at-home convenience. Requiring very little data by today’s standards, games and systems like this have essentially widened the possibilities of the already diverse online casino gaming environment.
Somewhat more contentious is the inclusion that online systems can have with what could otherwise be perfectly fine offline games. In an attempt to garner a wider player-base, games like Fallout 76 and Doom 2016 made much-maligned moves into the online space. In Fallout 76’s case, Bethesda eventually found out what players have been saying for years, that their engine is far too glitchy to work online. For Doom, the concern was that the focus on online was to the detriment of the offline game. Though both of these games eventually turned out fine, many were not so lucky.
The Appearance of Apps
Apps might seem an odd focus, but the arrival of apps has meant more than it might appear from the outside. The reason for their inclusion on this list is very simple, the explosion of smartphone gaming. While many spectators predicted this form of gaming would quickly hit unsurmountable limits, the exact opposite has proven true.
Around 2010, smartphones became standardized over older traditional mobile devices. These smartphones came with the need for a streamlined software delivery system, which would eventually become the Google Play and iOS stores.
These apps became so important because of the more casual userbase the smartphones employed. While not entirely justified, PCs have long been considered a difficult platform to game on in a comparative sense. Consoles were seen as much easier, with something analogous to a plug-and-play system. Through the use of the app stores, mobiles would become far closer to the consoles than PCs, where searching and installation has become just a matter of a few taps.
Together with the simplified UX of mobiles, apps drove what could have been a limited market into one of the largest entertainment sectors in the world. In fact, despite being the youngest of three console/PC/mobile arms, smartphones today are the most profitable among their contemporaries. This was perfectly illustrated in 2023, where mobiles were responsible for 49% of gaming revenue, while PCs and consoles were responsible for 22% and 29% respectively.
As a gaming peripheral, virtual reality has been in the mind of players and developers for decades. The earliest mainstream illustration of this fact was the appearance of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Released in 1995 and discontinued in 1996, the Virtual Boy was one of Nintendo’s more forward-thinking experiments, though one where the technology wasn’t yet able to keep pace with the concept.
With a red monochrome display, a resolution of 384×224, and a frame rate of 50.27 Hz, the Virtual Boy was migraine-inducing in its limitations. Powered by a 20 MHz CPU, this humble device was always going to be a failure. This didn’t mean the end for virtual reality though, as the ever-present forward technological momentum would eventually let the hardware and backing systems catch up to real VR possibilities.
In the mainstream, this finally happened with the release of the Oculus Rift in 2016. Running in full color at 1080×1200 resolution and 90Hz output, the Rift overcame the display limitations that hurt players of the Virtual Boy. It also avoided the inclusion of major internal computational hardware, as it left the heavy lifting up to the owner’s PC. Combined with computers tens of thousands of times faster than the Virtual Boy, the ability to experience full 3D worlds had arrived.
Today, the technology behind VR is proven, but tech is only part of the equation. What’s less appreciable is the lack of killer titles for the VR space. The closest to this ideal so far is Half-Life: Alyx which, while astounding, still wasn’t enough to push VR into the mainstream. That said, with hardware cheaper than ever, and more games moving into VR, the consistent growth of VR titles is an effective guarantee.
Together, these three elements represent some of the most profound changes to gaming’s overall culture. Already taking up a significant proportion of the modern gaming pie, the only real question remaining is where and how they might develop in the future. Bigger than it’s ever been, gaming is an industry that is worth billions, with constant exploratory efforts being given to finding the next big thing. Though the evolving nature of gaming can make future predictions foolish, it’s reasonable to assume that each of these will play an important part in gaming going forward.