The head of Minecraft on the role collaborative gaming will play in the future

The future of gaming will make us more social, not less.
The future of gaming will make us more social, not less.
Image: Mark Kauzlarich
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This story is part of What Happens Next, our complete guide to understanding the future. Read more predictions about the Future of Gaming.

If the 20th century was a linear, closed-world game like Super Mario, then the 21st century is an open world as vast and exciting as Fallout 76 or Red Dead Redemption 2.

The gaming industry is in a constant state of evolution. From people throwing marbles in ancient times to the rise of board games like Monopoly, it has rapidly evolved into the interactive video games we play now. New trends, innovations, experiences, and stories are created so frequently that few games stand the test of time. But there has always been one constant truth in gaming: that personal, social moments are what keep you playing.

I still remember many of mine. The excitement when my coworkers took me on my first level 5 raid in Pokémon Go. Those late nights with friends singing horribly off-key in Rock Band, and laughing together at my attempts to master Dance Dance Revolution. The connection Word with Friends gave me to my mom while I was far away at school, and the inspired look in my daughter’s eyes when we began to create together in Minecraft for the first time.

It wasn’t always like this. Think back to when we would just play alone on the computer or console, or when our only in-game opponent was a somewhat faulty AI. (I’m looking at you, Pong.) From there, first-gen multiplayer consoles—Sega SG-1000, Atari 7800—allowed us to invite friends over to play with us. This revolutionized the gaming experience, because for the first time, playing video games was a way to interact and socialize, not just entertain yourself.

Fast forward another 20 years, and you’re no longer confined by who you can gather in your parents’ living room: You can now play games with anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, at any time of day. Many of the most successful titles are ones where players can share countless hours gaming with their friends online. Want to face off on a quick race through the British countryside? Hop on Forza Horizon 4. Want to go on a seafaring pirate adventure with your mates? You can with Sea of Thieves. Want to team up on a first-person shooter from the future? Log into your favorite Halo.

Over the years, the gaming industry has continually evolved ways to enhance these social experiences: chat, multiplayer matchmaking, shared worlds, and co-op adventures. The most recent—and most revolutionary—is cross-platform play.

Cross-platform gaming moves away from static, single-device experiences. Looking ahead, it won’t matter if you’re sitting on the bus playing on your Nintendo Switch or laying on the sofa at home playing on your Xbox—not to mention the immersive future of virtual and augmented reality. Players will expect to seamlessly play games whenever and wherever they are, with whoever they want, and on any device of their choosing. In this new world, collaboration and competition across devices will be the new norm, not the exception.

Gaming will soon become less about which platform you play on and more about what game are you playing and with who. This advance in standards will allow for cooperation and open discussions within the gaming community and lower barriers for improvements across platforms, thus accelerating the potential of innovation in the gaming industry. These benefits will quickly trickle down to consumers, who will benefit from a whole new suite of games and experiences, accessible across multiple devices.

Of course, with superpowers come super-size responsibilities. The success of a game’s social or multiplayer reach is highly dependent on the interactions of the players, and a more social world means that we need to make sure the environments that our games create are inclusive and welcoming to all.

For example, new research and product development are making strides in enabling players with limited physical capabilities to engage in gaming. (In the past, the industry has implicitly discriminated against those with mobility and sight impairments through its choice of consoles and gameplay experiences.) Xbox recently announced its Xbox Adaptive Controller, which creates a custom experience that allows those with limited physical abilities (such as people with cerebral palsy or spinal-cord injuries) to play. Special Effect has also developed EyeMine technology that allows people with severe physical disabilities to play Minecraft simply by moving their eyes. Our role as leaders of the gaming industry should be to empower players—all players—to participate in the community.

The continued evolution of gaming is contingent on the ability to collaborate, compete, and explore with one another, regardless of platform, identity, or ability. If we can win that game, then we can all play better together.

This story is part of What Happens Next, our complete guide to understanding the future. Read more predictions about the Future of Gaming.