Part of this relies on you being "you" whenever you're online, whether you're capturing the flag in a fast-paced shooter or are whispering sweet nothings to a hot polygonal babe (or dude) in a dark corner. Those complex character creation utilities we see today will be made independent of individual games, as will the characters they create. And, once a character can exist in more than one game, it's a small step to bring them to life in the space between games, too.
That space is in large part created by the way we access our games. Today when you want a new game, you go to a store and buy it. When you want to play the game, you put in the disc. When you want to change games, you take out the disc and put in another
one. Regardless of how immersive those two games are, any sense of "being there" is shattered by pushing buttons and opening jewel cases. When you take advantage of a service like GameTap, that dividing line between games starts to blur a bit: There, you pick which game to play in the same way you select a fighter in Tekken. Instead of swapping plastic platters or clicking through drab menus, you scroll past colorful pictures. Even though you may be moving from Reader Rabbit to Rampage, the process is fluid.
That fluidity will only increase. Eventually, we'll reach a point where there won't be any dividing lines between games at all. Picture gaming in 2020 as Second Life meets Disney World. Instead of downloading or installing a copy of Madden 2021, you and your persistent character will wander to the EA Sports Stadiums and see who's playing what. You can watch a few plays from up on the bleachers and throw on your gear to join in if you like, or mosey on over to the Streets
of Rage and beat up on a few nameless thugs instead.
If you're attracted to a medieval-themed RPG, you'll want to stop by the costume shop before heading in, donning some sexy armor or a big mysterious robe, maybe even sucking down a digital protein shake to bulk up a bit before grabbing your sword and diving in. Your first short sword will, of course, be free, along with some ugly purple leggings and a tunic for decency's sake. But, if you want your character to look good, you'll have to pay for it, and not with play money.
Gaming in 2020 won't be about buying individual games; it'll be about paying monthly fees for access to gaming areas, then getting hit with extra fees for new goodies. Stop to visit the Gran Turismo Speed Complex on the outside of town, and a grinning virtual representation of Kazunori Yamauchi will hand you a set of keys to your very own virtual Toyota Vitz. The Vitz, of course, will be slow and painted some ugly green color with a stupid license plate that reads "SLOPOKE." A new plate will be $1, a new paint job and some vinyl will be $5, and that sexy Porsche parked over in the German concourse (with the drum and bass thumping in the background) will be $20.
Ideally, you'd be able to take that free Vitz and drive it wherever you want through a massive and wide open gaming cyberspace. However, given that we live in a (mostly) capitalist society, that's awfully unlikely. If today's "big three" are still around in 2020, you can expect Microsoft's Xpark, Sony's Club Playstation, and Nintendo's Mushroom Kingdom to offer competing services. As people in Second Life buy virtual property and build digital houses today, videogame publishers will morph into property developers tomorrow, buying sections of cyberspace in these destinations where they can insert their attractions. The big boys like EA and Ubisoft will litter the main drags with glitzy attractions, while you'll have to wander off the beaten path to find the smaller, less popular ones.