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The Changing Face of Video Game Innovation

Take 5 seconds to reflect over the last 10 years of gaming. It shouldn't be that hard... I recently covered 40 years of game history in one page. Fine, take 20 seconds. In the last decade, what have been the real needle-moving innovations in the video game industry?

Do you see space marines? Zombies? Millions of pixels? Wacky controllers?

Here's the deal:

No matter what forms of innovation you have in your head right now, the true innovation of the last 10 years can't easily be pictured. In fact, I'd say the key innovation has been nearly invisible, and certainly hasn't showed up on any posters, or in any high budget CG trailers.

Smart phones put games in everyone's pocket, turning everyone into a player. At this same time, not coincidentally, casual games were growing in popularity and reach - spurred by the rise of the Wii and the mobile phone app stores. And just a few years later, we saw an explosion in free-to-play games. As I've argued before, these three trends - mobile, casual, and free-to-play - have driven the most significant growth in our industry in the last decade, and they're all about convenience. You can now play anywhere, learn the game quickly, and pay nothing upfront. Notice, in these trends, that there's no notion of graphics quality, or genre details. It's not about unicorns or asymmetrical gameplay or gigaflops.

It's about this: "I want to play right now, and I don't want ANYTHING stopping me."

This is, of course, an exciting time for us, because Akamai is all about removing barriers in a connected world. In simple terms, we know there's a lot of technology churn getting in the way of people having fun, and we've built a business to reduce those hurdles (to zero if we can).

We've been in the era of convenience for about 10 years. Much like multiplayer, it's a "trend" that's here to stay. And yet, we've got pairs of ominous goggles staring at us. VR is coming. Many of us are betting that the era of convenience will give way to the era of immersion. Really, we're betting that players will want it all: The graphics, the deep experiences, the convenience. And how will we deliver it to them?

The big expectation in VR is that players are ready to move on from the age of portable, low-res play, and into the futuristic playspace of realism. Here are some thoughts to ponder:

How is VR like/unlike the original rise of video games?

If Space Invaders captured our imagination, is it possible that VR will have the same new format impact, where we get lost in the idea, and don't need perfection?

How is VR like/unlike motion controls that rose (and dipped) so quickly in the last 10 years?

Many of us scoffed at the Wii's early success, only to find ourselves investing dollars and hours into herky-jerky gaming sessions. It felt new, and different in a way that is so often promised and so rarely delivered.

How is VR like/unlike the mobile gaming explosion?

I sat at a cafeteria in a high tech company in 2007 and suffered the slings and arrows of folks who thought mobile gaming was a ridiculous idea. Could it be that VR - while NOT providing convenience and portability - will offer us something vital we haven't imagined yet?

At Akamai, we're heavily invested in building VR standards AND making sure there's nothing standing in the way of play. Ultimately, players will decide whether or not the industry's collective efforts will pay off.