If you’re a game developer, it’s likely part of you is terrified right about now. All the rules of the games business seem to be in constant flux, an incredible amount of studios have closed or shrunk to shadows of their former selves, and the phrase “job security” seems to be an oxymoron.
There’s a good reason for it, though: The gaming singularity is near.
A bit of explanation first. The popular concept of the technological singularity, commonly referred to as the singularity, refers to a hypothetical period in time when the rapid speed of technological advances will outpace our ability to predict what will come next.
Some predict that we’ll end up augmenting our bodies with technology to essentially become cyborgs. Others say we’ll transfer our consciousness into machine containers. Others still figure the lines between human and machine will be blurred in ways we can’t quite understand yet.
In any scenario, the idea of the singularity refers to a time when the possibilities made real by technology will be unpredictable, both in their effects on humanity and what forms they’ll take.
And, in its own small way, this is the path the game industry appears to be heading in.
Unpredictable Present, Unknown Future
In recent years, the landscape of the game industry has turned violently tumultuous. The occasional round of layoffs has risen to a torrent of downsizing as a veritable changing of the guard took place, washing away most of the mid-tier developers.
Social and mobile game companies rose from obscurity, buoyed by Apple and Facebook’s world-changing platforms to become behemoths in their own regard. Leveraging new methods of distribution, indies rode their quirky niche status into prominence, competing alongside huge games backed by million-dollar budgets.
Combine all of these developments with the new viral channels of the past decade, an increased access to amateur-friendly game development tools, and even more indie-friendly distribution methods, and what do you get? None other than the harbinger of the gaming singularity, the one and only Flappy Bird.
Think back to 15 years ago. Microsoft’s first Xbox had yet to be released. The PS2 reigned supreme. The Dreamcast was still kicking. Would you have ever dreamed then that a game made by a solo developer in Vietnam over 72 hours could go on to not only command the game industry’s attention, but make $50,000 a day in advertising alone?
The mystifying success of that game should be enough to tell you that 1. Nobody has any clue what the rules are in today’s game market, and 2. It’s only going to get weirder from here.
With the industry already in a state of torrid flux, the pace of change keeps roaring by. New consoles (and new console distribution pipelines for indies), Valve’s play for the living room, the Oculus, more distribution methods like Humble Bundle and itch.io, the insanely insane rise of live game streaming, plus an arguably saturated indie bubble means nobody has any kind of clue what the next big hit game, genre, platform or trend will be.
In one light, it’s terrifying. Strategies that used to work so well may fail for unclear reasons. The gaming empires of today may fall by the wayside if they fail to catch on in time.
On the other hand, it’s exhilarating. No known shortcuts to prosperity means the time to experiment is now. Who knows, maybe people really want to play games where you walk around and look at stuff or, I don’t know, read. Why not see if it works?
The gaming singularity is near – if it’s not here already. No matter your station or vested interest, as gamers, you have to admit that it’s an incredible time to be playing.