Last week I attended the annual Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, with roughly 25,000 others. A microcosm of the industry as a whole, the conference featured talks, discussions and panels on a wide variety of topics – everything from artificial intelligence to monetising free-to-play games.
Like any other industry dependent on technology, there was plenty of innovation occurring at this year’s GDC. Throughout the show, developers were showing off their latest builds and demonstrations using the newest methods available.
The latest technology in games isn’t just about making things look good. There were plenty of discussions on artificial intelligence, analytics and monetisation – the last of which being a controversial topic in the industry, with monetisation options often garnering a negative reputation.
But the biggest trends in the games industry go beyond these topics, and in fact, are examples of the different trends affecting businesses in a variety of other markets as well. And just like other industries, the most forward-thinking businesses in the gaming industry are those adapting new technologies and trends for their own benefit.
Here are just a few of those trends:
By far the biggest trend on the show floor this year was virtual reality. The Oculus Rift, a VR headset having been in development for the past few years, was back with a brand new model receiving a lot of attention.
But this year’s show brought definitive evidence the Oculus Rift has spurred on innovation within the mainstream: Sony announced its own “Morpheus” headset for the PlayStation 4 console.
Rumours of innovation at other companies have been circulating for some time, but Sony’s announcement was the first sign the mainstream is beginning to adopt VR as a legitimate source of new business.
But the first pioneers of the tech, Oculus Rift, have been doing that for a while. One of the company’s earliest tech demos placed the viewer as though they were in a cinema.
Imagine that type of technology being used on a plane, for instance. Commuters would no longer have to deal with watching content on a small screen – they could have the cinema experience, in their own seat, completely immersed in their own world.
Just this morning, Facebook announced it would buy the Oculus Rift for $Us2 billion.
Given how popular the virtual reality movement is right now, it’s hard to imagine this trend dying off any time fast.
Just as innovative companies are using technology to track data and then create actionable solutions, gaming companies are tracking user behaviour in order to better their games.
Jeffrey Lin, the lead designer of social systems for Riot Games, is in charge of dissecting the social ecosystem of the company’s huge game, League of Legends.
(The company has a decent sample size – League of Legends has more than 25 million players every month).
Lin knew the game had a reputation for being toxic towards new players, so analysed when this negative feedback began. He noticed it was during the beginning of a match between players – and negative reports against user behaviour even happened when teams won.
So the company introduced some new mechanics, such as streamlining the user experience to reduce moments of conflict, and ended up reducing negative behaviour. In fact, the changes were so good user behaviour could be permanently remedied.
New methods of prototyping
One of the huge benefits of 3D printing has been the ability for businesses to create their own prototypes when necessary of whatever product they happen to be working on.
Valve, a gaming company well-known for its secrecy, was present at GDC 2014 and showing off new version of its “Stream Controller” – a controller to be used instead of a keyboard and mouse on a computer game.
The company has been rapidly innovating on new versions of the controller, and was able to show off newest versions by making 3D-printed versions at its own headquarters, instead of waiting weeks for prototypes.
As a result, the company was able to show the controller, have people test it, and receive feedback which could be used for a rapid response for the next versions. And just like the previous two trends, it continued to empower the company – allowing it to make the best products possible.