I am not one for psychic powers, but I am a firm believer in trend prediction and extrapolations based on what we know now. Here is my best shot at describing the state of tabletop gaming in the year 2020.
Let us begin with the rule book, a key requirement for any game. I foresee the death of paper rule books in favor of an e-paper solution. I know this is not much of a prediction since the Kindle and its ilk are making inroads in the book market, but there are still some serious technological and cultural hurdles for e-book readers to overcome. Notably issues with copyright, battery life and most importantly, fossils like me that actually prefer a real paper book. If books still exist beyond a quaint novelty, print on the demand is the only viable solution. Printing 1000 books you hope might sell….maybe is just not cost efficient for publishers. This is a key element for game publishers since they tend to be smaller companies that cannot absorb a poor selling book.
Sadly, along with the death of physical books, game stores will also disappear. Although I do see a place for “clubs” with membership fees that provide comparable services and gaming space. The number of these clubs will never approach the current number of game stores, as they are something of a niche. Online communities will thrive, as will online play.
Game publishers will still create original stories and rules and sell them as a software package.The “crunchy” rules will be transparent to the players and a computer will adjudicate rules issues such as “line of sight,” damage tracking and movement. There will no longer be rules arguments. Although whining by dead players will continue unabated.
Most games, whether board, card, miniature or RPG have a physical component, ie miniatures, boards and grid maps. Advances in touch screens will make entire game tables display output from a computer and respond to player’s touch and voice. This technology already exists, but it is prohibitively expensive and rare. Once you can buy a 4×6 foot touch display cheaply that rolls up like a map, then tabletop games will truly come alive. The game clubs I mentioned above might have more elaborate or permanent installations of this technology. Rather than using miniatures, carefully crafted avatars move across the “table” into battle. This development will kill the CCG and miniature companies in short order.
When not in combat, game masters use the table to track the story and make notes in real time as the players move their PCs through the scenario. I also pray the table is soda-proof, given my personal history with “Mountain Dew” floods across game tables.
The one prediction I will not make is who will be producing the games. Game companies are having a hard time fighting piracy already and there is no technological solution in sight to this costly problem. I cannot imagine how they will stay in business over the long-term. Assuming most game companies fail, I have no clear idea what will replace them. My only thought is that the gaming community will form small, volunteer development teams/communities, ie Linux to create games.
Pessimism aside, I have no doubt that gaming will continue for many years to come, but I doubt it will resemble the gaming culture we enjoy today.
Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer