It is estimated that about 3 billion people across the world are playing some type of game in 2022. This staggering figure comprises gaming on personal computers, mobile devices, tablets, gaming consoles, and Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. It also showcases how important video games have become in popular discourse and the lives of people.
Gaming is no longer a niche product, or a niche activity, associated with people who are interested in technology. Over the past 20 years, it has become a mass phenomenon, with specific games being designed for specific demographics.
Gaming and its impact on social behavior in Gen Z
We are witnessing major changes in the gaming industry: the inclusion of features that enable socializing and the ability to play anywhere.
Twenty years ago, gaming was often perceived to be created for an individual sitting in front of their display. As opposed to my childhood, today’s teenagers socialize over, during, and inside video games. Kids of my generation might have met and socialized at the shopping center’s food court. Nowadays, players will meet and develop friendships in Fortnite. For many, the videogame is a means to an end, the end being the desire to socialize and hang out with friends.
We see this across a variety of games. This week the “hangout” might be Fortnite, next month it could be Roblox or Apex, or even Minecraft. Additionally, they will often use secondary services while gaming. Discord is one favorite, but there are others as well. They’re always in touch, on their phones, playing games, and getting notifications of whatever activities are happening. This habit was accentuated during the pandemic but has stayed on after. It’s become a way for people to create social capital and cultural capital.
The second change refers to how video gameplay is now integrated and embedded in people’s lives. With the advent of multiplayer games, internet connectivity, and streaming services – people take their games wherever they go.
Add streaming to the mix, and the engagement goes up drastically. Multiplayer games might be used to connect with friends, but streaming on Twitch allows single-player games to be broadcast to a wider audience. During the early months of the pandemic, and continuing with my teaching practice when remote, I use Twitch. Students already understood the dynamics of the platform and it led to higher participation levels. It also allowed me to record, clip and distribute my lectures faster and with less effort and hassle on my end. I even had people participate in my classes who were not students at the University of Utah!
So, not only are people playing more socially and as a way to socialize – but they are also engaged with videogame culture and activity on the go. They’re watching others play games on Twitch, they’re engaging with communities of play, they’re chatting with other viewers, and more.
Display Technology closely related to the gaming industry
The display is one of the main ways in which people participate in video games. Over the years, display technology has followed hand in hand with the development of video games. It provides an opportunity for game developers to match the new technology on offer. And the desire to do more things in the video game inversely leads to better graphics and displays.
Look at the Nintendo DS, which was released 15 years back with two screens, one being a touchscreen. While this was not cutting-edge technology at the time, game companies sought ways to provide new, exciting ways to leverage the advantage of that technology with new kinds of games and interesting new forms of interactivity. These game design innovations led directly into the later explosion of touchscreen-enabled videogame play when smartphones appeared.
I think there's potential for games when the screen becomes more than just an output device, but also a factor in the design of the games. Folding screens and sliding screens are the next opportunity waiting, with different permutations available for developers. This goes beyond the mere size or resolution of the display, but rather how the display is being used – and how this could be integrated in new kinds of game mechanics and experiences.
As mobile and display screens continue to evolve, so will the games created by game developers. In the mobile space, the market is simply too large to ignore since the number of users with a phone is higher than those with a gaming console or computer (indeed, it has not).
That being said, we’ll also see games adapting to a variety of displays and getting the most out of each. The future of gaming should account for portability and interoperability. If I come home and have been playing a game on my phone, I should seamlessly be able to switch to my TV screen and continue the same game without a loss in visual quality (and perhaps even a gain, no?).
Does VR become next-generation gaming devices?
VR is emerging as the next-generation device in the game industry as several global companies bump into display development for VR. For VR gaming to become the next big thing, it must be driven significantly through display technologies - better resolution, better sizes, lighter weight, and lower power consumption. Mobile gaming with easy access is one trend, where weight, size, and battery life matter. But VR feeds into the other trend towards more immersive and involving experiences.
VR opens up a whole new playing environment. I’d rather have the feeling of being inside the cockpit of an airplane than be holding a controller with a screen in front of me. To get there, I believe that VR headsets need to be fully immersive yet invisible, almost as if wearing a pair of glasses. This requires further development in the world of microdisplays.
The weight of the headset, the visual quality, the immersive-ness, and the battery life are all concerns that need to be solved. Lighter material with wireless charging could be a potential direction for the VR headset industry, but it might be some time before we see this in the hands of consumers at reasonable prices. The VR gaming industry is a niche industry, with many stakeholders waiting to see where this is heading. The hype has largely gone away, but the potential still lingers.
Where is the future heading?
Gaming is easily going to become, during this century, one of the primary forms of media consumption and culture. We now have games specifically designed for all kinds of age demographics - they might not all know what a game console is, but they will be playing on their mobile phones or tablets. One of the biggest gaming surprises for me during the pandemic was learning how my mother, in her 70s, was playing Wordle. While it was a big hit and got lots of media attention, it was still surprising to me that she heard about it through her non-video game-playing circle of friends.
Beyond that, there is a larger scope for transmedia properties coming out of video games. For decades we have seen popular movies lead to video game tie-ins. Now we are starting to see increasingly successful moves in the opposite direction. Netflix had a huge hit with its animated show Arcane and many viewers were not aware that it comes from the universe of the highly popular videogame League of Legends. Similarly with Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, based on the Cyberpunk 2077 video game, in turn based on the Cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game. The “IP” here is no longer just the game, but the broader fictional universe. And, following in the footsteps of Pokemon, we are starting to see more of these successes coming from the video game world.
And when it comes to technology, the possibilities are untold. Imagine a new display technology that can be folded inward or outward. Could I be playing on one screen while my opponent is looking through the other? Maybe the gameplay can connect these two people into one display together. We might have displays that sense the amount of light and adjust the context of the game automatically. I can even imagine a future where we might have wrist fitness trackers used as displays for console games, in turn supplemented by the screens on mobile devices.
The prospects for the gaming industry are vast, with large markets in China, India, Europe, US, Japan, Korea, and parts of Asia. I believe that we’re at an inflection point. Just as cinema was born in the last century and grew into a cultural force globally, similarly video games are now at the center of people’s discourse. They grow up playing games together, an activity they use to get to know each other. And companies have recognized this opportunity and moving quickly to capitalize on it.
※ This article holds the editor’s opinion, and Samsung Display Newsroom’s stance or strategies are not reflected.