Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Future of Gaming

This week, I have been thinking a bit about the pace of technology and its effect on gaming. Clearly video games have been getting better as the hardware has been more powerful. I can remember when my buddy Doug’s dad bought their Apple II, and a new game called Ultima. Ultima was cutting edge at the time, and we all would spend hours watching him play. Doug was a good sport, and we took turns getting behind the keyboard. Fast forward ~25 years and the graphics in today’s games are just eye poppingly good. Today I do not play computer games that much, although I am looking forward to seeing Bioware’s Dragon Age game. I am sure that I will be spending some time playing around with Dragon Age. But gaming is more than just computer gaming, even though that is the obvious example.

When D&D first hit the street, the PC had not yet hit main stream. It would be the introduction of the Apple II that really got the ball rolling. Since then, everyone has a PC, and in most cases folks have a notebook computer that they send a significant amount of time on. The emergence of cloud computing has led to a dramatic increase in the ways that we communicate and share data. When I think of the greatest inventions of the past 2000 years, I have to rank the personal computer, and by extention the internet, in the top 10. Our ability to collaborate without even seeing the other person we are talking to is amazing when you think about it. I suspect that this trend will continue.

But what does this really mean at the game table? I am not sure, but it is interesting to speculate on what it could mean.

1) Technology has enabled virtual gaming. One can host a game over web with folks in other countries. I see this trend increasing. WotC is trying to get their hands around this one with their DDI, as they see possibilities of the virtual game table. I agree with them on this point. However, virtual gaming leaves me a bit cold. I like the direct interaction around the table, and virtual connectedness lacks something. It’s just not the same. But, if one cannot find a group in their local area, virtual gaming creates possibilities. My gut feel though is that computer games like WoW will rule this space, as the user experience is better.

2) Information sharing through the web. If one goes back 30 years, there was no internet. To be honest, looking back at that period it feels like the stone age. It is amazing at what is available at my finger tips in seconds. I just have type an idea, and content is available instantly. As a result, our ability to react to this information has become a lot faster. Scanning through message boards and blogs, I can find a number of good ideas for game encounters. If I am willing to engage, I can get more insight on the information that is being presented. This brings me to the topic of data. Data is just that …data. Not very useful in its raw form. The key to data is to transform it to information and to insight. The tools on the web allow us to do that very well. This really has created cloud computing.

3) The tools are changing. When I first started playing, there were no computers at the table. Now it seems that most tables have at least one, and I have seen tables with multiple computers on it. The notebook is an amazing tool to bring at the table, but it can also be a big distraction. Where I work, meetings are an interesting experience. Everyone brings their notebooks, which as a result, most folks are paying more attention to their notebook than to the speaker. The notebook brings distraction with its email, web surfing and IM’s. I can see this play out at the game table too. I mention notebooks, but the smart phone falls into this category too. This challenge will increase over time.

There are some advantages to having these tools at the table, so it’s not all bad. Regardless of which version of D&D one likes, there is a significant amount of material available. Let me say it like this. I suspect that no one has a complete collection of everything D&D. It’s just too much. However, most of us own an embarrassingly large collection of D&D material, most of which we probably do not even use. The ability to use technology to shrink the number of books used at the table is a good thing. In my lat campaign, I had a crate of 10-15 books which I had standing by for reference, as well as my notebook computer for taking notes and cross checking my campaign outline. Management of the data was critical. For my next campaign, I will greatly simplify which books I am going to use.

Staying on this subject, I am very curious to see how folks will use smart phones and netbooks at their table in the future. They are limited in what they can do, but they are highly portable and can be used to bring up specific information very quickly. I suspect that they will not be a standalone tool, but they can augment what is already being used.

4) Tactical mapping. One of the comments I see again and again pop up is that folks want tactical maps. 20 years ago, we just scribbled on a piece of paper and that was good enough. We have always had strategic maps that showed an overview of a town or a wilderness area, but these were not tactical maps. It seems like most tables have some sort of battle mat tool to help with combat. I am going to go out on a limb and say that 4th edition was designed with the battle mat in mind. That was a core feature that they wanted to include in the game. It was with the 3.5 edition that the battle mat was recognized as a highly recommended tool, and that diagrams were shown with the grid lines. Even though some us (me included) will rant against this, when push comes to shove, we will be cranking out our mats and putting the mini’s on them. To be perfectly honest here, I have 2 large battle mats. I suspect I am not alone here.

5) On demand printing. Printing is an interesting beast. Everyone has a printer. Anyone can print out a nice looking document. However, what has really exploded is the digital document. With the digital document, one does not have to print it out. With a digital document, a 3rd party can print in a variety of formats and send out to anyone. I am thinking of Lulu, but I think there will be other companies that will offer this service. Print on demand offers a number of benefits including lower inventory costs, and custom print solutions. It will be interesting to see what the effect of this new print model will have on the gaming industry. Potentially we could be moving to the growth of the smaller game publishers which can take advantage of these new tools and effectively out maneuver larger companies in some niche areas.


Chris said...

Rob Conley was talking about this just last month. He painted an interesting vision of a future where gamers use surface computers as tactical maps, and the great-grandchild of the Kindle as a combined char sheet and SRD.

So long as we still have funny dice I could game in that world.

Jonathan said...

iPhone character apps, dice rollers, mapping tools -- already at my game table (unfortunately). Not that I check my player's facts/characters... but there's just something wierd about someone rolling on their iPhone...

Norman Harman said...

Ever since I saw overhead projector used as map I've wanted one.

When I saw the first rear projection touch table my first thought was use as game table. With mini's whos positions were autodetected. That would pull up character sheets, rules, "hand outs" with a few gestures.

I half got an Nokia n810 and then iTouch to use at the table. (but I never do)

The one thing pulling me towards kindle is using it for my vast collection of game pdfs. size, no color, expense are things keeping me away.

But I work with computers all day and I play on computers most nights.

I've come to really appreciate the Ludditeness of pen & paper games.

Badelaire said...

I'll definitely agree that it's a double-edged sword. Computers and the internet add greatly to our ability to do research and create content, but they also serve as a distraction, both at the gaming table and while doing one's prep work.

Still, I think overall it improves the work we can do, and there really will be no good alternative to tossing one's dice on the table, no matter how fancy the computers might become.

Mr Baron said...

Thanks for the comments. I am really interesting in how folks are using iphones/smart phones, Kindle and netbooks at the table. If we project forward 10 years or so, what will be common place at the game table.