Way back in 2008 the video game industry surpassed Hollywood in revenues for the first time with about $32 billion in gross global sales, compared to $29 billion for worldwide box office and DVD/Blu-ray sales. It was a big deal then, but it's small potatoes now.
In 2011, the game industry will rake in an estimated $74 billion in sales, more than doubling in size in just three years. By 2015, the gaming industry is on track to earn $115 billion annually through a combination of computer and console sales, game sales, online gaming, in-game advertising, subscription gaming and the growing sale of games for phones and tablets.
Casual gaming - a category that includes titles like Angry Birds or Cut The Rope - is bringing in a lot of people who wouldn't ordinarily play video games into the fold. Nintendo also deserves credit for creating a system like the Wii that appealed to gamers aged three to 103 at a time when traditional game companies focused on males aged 13 to 30. It made gaming into a family activity, like board game night used to be, and forced Microsoft and Sony to develop motion controllers of their own.
So what does it all mean for the industry?
Well, for one thing it's probably fair to expect that a lot of investor money will continue to pour in, making smaller companies competitive and helping larger companies acquire other companies. Top designers will be afforded rock star status and companies will get into Lebron James-style bidding wars. More people will get into the industry at all levels, artists and inventors, and push boundaries like they've never pushed before. Countries and districts will go to even greater lengths to attract studios, moving on from tax breaks to actual subsidies (like Toronto and Montreal have been offering).
Most importantly, the world will start to take games and gamers seriously as a mainstream phenomenon rather than some fringe outside entertainment you can make generalizations about (e.g. the image of a gamer as an overweight dropout still living in his parents' basement).
Games will at last be recognized as a legitimate art form (suck it Roger Ebert and all you cinephiles), with award presentations that outstrip the Oscars or Grammys.
Gaming technology will also start to drive other technologies from processors, to screens, to controllers, to phone designs.
Just last week ARM, which builds processors and graphics processors for phones and miniature devices, said it was two years away from releasing chips that will rival today's consoles. Consider that the Xbox 360 runs three processors with six cores and the PS3 uses an IBM "Cell" processor with eight cores on a single board, and that's a bold statement.
In the future games will also need to stand out to be successful in what's rapidly becoming a very crowded marketplace. That means great concepts, great stories, great voice acting and art direction, great gameplay mechanics and value for gamers - multiplayer modes, replayability, downloadable expansion levels, integration between sequels (like in Mass Effect 3 where all your decisions and customizations carry over from Mass Effect 2).
For an idea of what that looked like, go to YouTube and check out the trailer and gameplay preview video for BioShock: Infinite. The game won't be out until 2012 but is already one of the most anticipated games in recent years.
The next stage of this customization is the mini-game - small games you can download on your phone, or Xbox Live Arcade/Playstation Network. They will have some impact on the full game by letting you earn money and experience, or open up new gear or levels. The Fable series did this best, but other games are catching on (there's even a version of Dead Space for the iPhone).
Hard games worth playing
A few weeks ago my column wondered if games were getting too easy these days and I asked readers to submit a list of the hardest games they've played in the last five years.
Mitchell Hulse answered with a list of eight great titles (mostly PC, but some are available on consoles as well): Hearts of Iron 3 (killer World War II strategy game), Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific (another killer WWII strategy game), Metro 2033 (by all accounts a very underrated title), Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30, Limbo (atmospheric puzzle game), Penumbra Trilogy and Amnesia: The Dark Descent (horror/mystery strategy games by Frictional Games) and Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty (arguably the biggest news in real time strategy games since Starcraft the first).
A complete write-up of his recommendations is attached to this online column at www.piquenewsmagazine.com.