The New National Sport

Staples Center, 2016 League of Legends World Championship

One of my favorite hobbies is playing video games, which for a long time just screamed a lack of foresight in life. The one thing career counselors ask you to leave off your resume, and then nudge you after the workshop to cut back on. Yes, organizing a raid is hard, but no – no one really cares.

So imagine my surprise when a string of good luck got me an actual job at a gaming company. Now instead of waiting for your disapproval, I can just toss it up to some good ol’ market research.

It was the perfect plan, except for that one memo I missed.  Unknown to me, somewhere in my 20s, gaming became cool again. 

Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen, my favorite Warcraft III pro!

It’s hard to say when or how it happened, but I suspect a lot of it had to do with overcoming that social barrier. I still remember my dad’s surprise when my tech-savvy older brother told him that we could play Age of Empires II together over thin air. It was magical and hours of fun.

Gaming then became a central part of my life. Despite my parents’ lectures about how I’ll have no time for it once I start high school/ college/ my first job, I always came back to its charms. In no other medium can you create a fictional world and live in it. And in no other medium can you immense yourself as part of a story, one that grips you with its joy, sorrow and many surprises.

I don’t plan on stopping any time soon, especially knowing what’s lurking just over the horizon. Alongside technical improvements that gave us an entire spectrum from stunning realism to vivid fantasies, new network capabilities expanded the entire playing field. What was once an individual activity can now be shared by all, and that opened the floodgates for deeper game development.

DICE’s Battlefield 1942 (2002) vs Battlefield V (2018)

Connectivity ushered a wave of innovation that led to sell-out stadiums with huge viewership stats, but we’re already on the cusp of another one. This time, it includes all the buzzwords you’re already tired of – cloud computing, AI, subscription, and being the (big company) of video games.

EA recently announced Project Atlas, which is a futuristic development platform powered by AI and cloud computing. You can read about it here. The technicalities are above me, but there are two takeaways that I think spelled out the future of not just EA, but the entire gaming industry.

EA CTO Ken Moss

The first point is about being cloud-native. We know the cloud as some abstract space where we store and backup our data, but the cloud can also be used to process and stream an entire video game directly onto our computer or mobile devices. In other words, it’s a system where the game client does not reside locally on your devices, but on EA servers around the world.

This sounds like a convenience thing, and it is, but there’s another subtle point here. In a world where the hard processing is done elsewhere, developers can ignore the constraints of minimum spec. Traditionally, studios concern themselves with making games that can run on as many systems as possible, but now they can focus solely on creating the best experiences. We are about to see an explosion of creativity bound only by the frontier of game development.

The second point is about being in an even more connected world. From having spent thousands of hours in Warcraft III custom games (where DOTA originated), I am convinced that community content is the longevity of a game. However, since all triple-A titles cost $60 in the store, there is a real scalability problem due to the demands of creative hours and their associated costs.

A cloud-native system would look to address this. As game content workflow gets moved online, developers can more easily break off parts of a game for creative people to experiment with. They can use moddable asset databases to create something new, and then use that same platform to share or market it with the world, building a new ecosystem altogether.

Origin Access – Picking a game will soon be as easy as picking a movie!

And as that line between developer and content creator blurs, we would be one step closer to the ambitious goal of having “game-as-a-service” (please don’t call it GAAS). Imagine that instead of having to buy an iterative copy of Madden or Call of Duty every year, now a subscription pass gets you that access alongside periodic content updates by both the community and the developers.

The mainstream shift is well underway, with many exciting developments just around the corner. If gaming hasn’t been a part of your life, this is the perfect moment to dive in. Genres have never been richer, and there has never been as much freedom as we do now on how we choose to play.

The influence of gaming will continue to expand, and it won’t be long until we’re hit with the next set of questions around how we want video games to portray our society. If it’s anything like what we have seen in the TV or films industry, then here’s a suggestion to start. Maybe next time we go dungeon crawling, let’s not have the ugly troll guard the hero’s treasures.


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