On April 1, 2006, I wrote a detailed article on the revolutionary changes that were to occur in the concept of home entertainment by 2012 (see Part I and Part II of the article). Now, in 2009, half of the time within the six-year span between the original article and the prediction has elapsed. Of course, given the exponential nature of progress, much more happens within the second half of any prediction horizon relative to the first half.
The prediction issued in 2006 was:
Video Gaming (which will no longer be called this) will become a form of entertainment so widely and deeply partaken in that it will reduce the time spent on watching network television to half of what it is (in 2006), by 2012.
The basis of the prediction was detailed in various points from the original article, which in combination would lead to the outcome of the prediction. The progress as of 2009 around these points is as follows :
1) Video game graphics continue to improve : Note the progress of graphics at 10-year intervals starting from 1976. Projecting the same trend, 2012 will feature many games with graphics that rival that of CGI films, which itself can be charted by comparing Pixar's 'Toy Story' from 1995 to 'Up' from 2009. See this demonstration from the 2009 game 'Heavy Rain', which arguably exceeds the graphical quality of many CGI films from the 1990s.
The number of polygons per square inch on the screen is a technology that is closely tied to The Impact of Computing, and can only rise steadily. The 'uncanny valley' is a hurdle that designers and animators will take a couple of years to overcome, but overcoming this barrier is inevitable as well.
2) Flat-screen HDTVs reach commodity prices : This has already happened, and prices will continue to drop so that by 2012, 50-inch sets with high resolution will be under $1000. A thin television is important, as it clears the room to allow more space for the movement of the player. A large size and high resolution are equally important, in order to create an immersive visual experience.
We are rapidly trending towards LED and Organic LED (OLED) technologies that will enable TVs to be less than one centimeter thick, with ultra-high resolution.
3) Speech and motion recognition as control technologies : When the original article was written on April 1, 2006, the Nintendo Wii was not yet available in the market. But as of June 2009, 50 million units of the Wii have sold, and many of these customers did not own any game console prior to the Wii.
The traditional handheld controllers are very limited in this regard, despite being used by hundreds of millions of users for three decades. If the interaction that a user can have with a game is more natural, the game becomes more immersive to the human senses. See this demonstration from Microsoft for their 'Project Natal' interface technology, due for release in 2010.
Furthermore, haptic technologies have made great strides, as seen in the demonstration videos over here. Needless to say, the possibilities are vast.
4) More people are migrating away from television, and towards games : Television viewership is plummeting, particularly among the under-50 audience, as projected in the original 2006 article. Fewer and fewer television programs of any quality are being produced, as creative talent continues to leak out of television network studios. At the same time, World of Warcraft has 11 million subscribers, and as previously mentioned, the Wii has 50 million units in circulation.
There are only so many hours of leisure available in a day, and Internet surfing, movies, and video games are all more compelling than the ever-declining quality of television offerings. Children have already moved away from television, and the trend will creep up the age scale.
5) Some people can earn money through games : There are an increasing number of ways where avid players can earn real money from activities within a Game. From trading of items to selling of characters, this market is estimated at over $1 billion in 2008, and is growing. Highly skilled players already earn thousands of dollars per year this way, and with more participants joining through more advanced VR experiences described above, this will attract a group of people who are able to earn a full-time living through these VR worlds. This will become a viable form of entrepreneurship, just like eBay and Google Ads support entrepreneurial ecosystems today.
Taking all 5 of these points in combination, the original 2006 prediction appears to be on track. By 2012, hours spent on television will be half of what they were in 2006, with sports and major live events being the only forms of programming that retain their audience.
Overall, the prediction seems to be well on track. Disruptive technologies are in the pipeline, and there is plenty of time for each of these technologies to combine into unprecedented new applications. Let us see what the second half of the time interval, between now and 2012, delivers.