Gaming in 2020: what the next decade holds

World of Warcraft set the standard for massively multiplayer online gaming in the last decade and new types of MMO gaming will definitely emerge over the coming decade, with our current understanding or definition of MMO itself already evolving to include Facebook apps, iPhone apps, and Alternate Reality Gaming.

"These new types could proliferate due to tech savvy, younger audiences that have grown up with consoles and the internet," thinks Ubisoft MD, Rob Cooper. "New technologies such as pervasive networking, when networks become seamless, could mean the same MMO could be played on several different platforms by the player throughout the day."

WoW set the mmo standard last decade, with virtual world's set to flourish by 2020

WOW: Warcraft set the MMO standard last decade, with virtual world's set to flourish by 2020

One obvious drawback about MMOs right now is that they have a fairly low standard when it comes to the quality of the graphical experience. But AMD's Richard Huddy is very confident that the graphical quality of these online worlds is going to improve rapidly, "particularly if you have MMOs supported by cloud-style streaming, where there is no longer any reason to rely on integrated graphics so long as you have a decent internet connection…and then I guess we can start to build bigger and bigger online worlds."

Following the runaway success of James Cameron's Avatar and the heavy focus on 3D TV tech at CES 2010, 3D gaming is gaining a lot of attention right now. But will it really take off or will we look back in ten years' time and identify it as yet another passing tech trend?

"2020 is a long way off and really hard to predict, especially given the new expected spike in 3D gaming interest we think will occur," says Chris Chinnock, President of specialist display research analysts Insight Media, who recently carried out an extensive survey into the predicted growth of 3D display tech in the next decade.

"However, I think it is safe to say that most games and all AAA games will be authored in 3D by 2020. That does not mean they will all be played in 3D, but the capability will exist to do that. By then, I also expect decent performance from auto-stereoscopic displays, which means no glasses. Head and eye tracking will also be widely used by games developers to improve the stereo effect."

Improved perception of the game world

3D in gaming is already starting to move beyond its previous incarnation as a bit of a gimmick and, if done well, is already starting to give gamers a slightly better sense of range. One thing that we don't do in computer games right now is to take into account the focal settings of the players' eyes – and put things in focus and out of focus accordingly. (Cut scenes excepted, when focus will be used to draw your attention from one thing to another). But in current games the whole scene is all rather oddly all in focus.

"I guess we need to do a better job there, taking into consideration the fact that we have a focal plane, which is set for our eyes in the same way that you set it for a camera, and start to take that into account," thinks AMD's Richard Huddy.

"If the game was a genuine war simulation, for example, where you are trying to train soldiers, then clearly you want them to be able to react in a realistic way – and allowing them to choose focal distance would make a real difference there."

Graphics tech such as Intel's Larrabee (even though it's now been canned), and AMD's Fusion, really do present major disruptive possibilities in the games market. "When we bring an integrated GPUCPU to market, if our GPU is not just the regular kind of GPU that we build at the moment – do we then create an opportunity for games to start to look quite different, in an interesting way?" asks Huddy.

Indeed, the possibilities that newer chips open up to games developers to make use of things like 'radiosity' and 'ray tracing' solutions means that you might soon see very different looking games with "an almost infinitely more malleable environment, for example, because it will be rendered much easier and much quicker."

Adam Hartley