Blurring the Lines of Digital and Physical Games

Photo Courtesy: Max Choong

One of the first ever imagined uses of wide-ranging communication for entertainment was the idea of chess over the radio. As with many early predictors of future technology, this might not have worked out exactly as foretold, though the core concept remained remarkably intact. From the earliest days of correspondence chess into an age of internet servers and major online communities, physical games have long enjoyed a great selection of digital interpretations that reached considerable popularity in the mainstream. What have been the most visible examples of this over the years, and where could this form of development infrastructure take us in the future?

Pawn Moves First
While we’re on the game of chess, it makes sense to point out how this was a great starting point in the proliferation of the conversion of physical games to digital. It was only natural, in a lot of ways. Chess is a long-established game, enjoyed all over the world (with 600 million people understanding the rules and 486,000 active players), making it a prime target for web-based competition. On top of this, the transmission of moves over the internet requires only minuscule amounts of bandwidth, meaning that it was never a game which would struggle even with the early days of 14.4 kbit/s dial-up modems, nor the limited processing power of these early host devices. In this way, chess was one of the trend-setters of physical to digital entertainment.

Far From a Monopoly
The next logical step from these classical games would be the less traditional. Board games might not have the legacy of something like chess but the major successes still had millions of fans and a reach which spanned continents. Knowing this, it was only a matter of time before the more popular board games like Monopoly (250 million copies sold), Scrabble (150 million copies sold), and the complicated and time-consuming Risk would enter the mainstream.

Unlike chess, however, these would necessarily come in the form of full commercial releases, a result of their surrounding trademarks and copyrights. It is also important to note just how significant the growing popularity of video games has been to these developments, with major games like NBA2K even including pro teams on the action, further developing the surrounding framework.

Dealing Out
One of the earliest games which many of us older gamers out there remember booting up on Microsoft Windows 3.1 was that of Solitaire. A simple game played with a single deck, the digital form of this game came with all the fun but none of the clean-up or the frustration over the much-maligned missing cards. As the internet rose from obscurity to standardized, more avenues of play for card-based games opened up for the average user. Many of us have fond memories of excitedly trying out the online version of hearts which came with Windows XP and this would only be the beginning.

While there have been many instances of hosting services popping up on the web, from Yahoo Games to the MSN Gaming Zone, perhaps the most common way in which these games are played online today can be seen with the development of online casinos like Betway. While the obvious interest here is in competitive games like poker (with more than 100 million players worldwide) or blackjack, they also tend to cover a range of modified single-player games to help fill out the desires of their potential customers.

Changing Direction
What many of us didn’t see coming, even those of us who grew up with the internet, was a move in the opposite direction. As gaming slowly grew, eventually earning more than even the film industry, with Infinity War levels of success, it was board games that could earn considerable amounts if they were inspired by digital creations. There have been dozens of popular releases in this form over the recent years, from the incredibly popular XCOM: The Board Game by Fantasy Flight Games  to the upcoming releases from Paradox Entertainment. Far from sticking to more traditional, physical games, these have also seen success in adopting more complicated and lore-heavy games into a modern Dungeons and Dragon’s framework, creating long-term experiences which harken back to the types of games which inspired the digital RPG genre in the first place.

Future Forward
As we have already seen so many times, the trajectory of the relationship between digital and physical games is anything but straightforward. These two different mediums are constantly borrowing inspiration and using this to further not just the size of their shared fan-bases but the evolution of games media as a whole. As virtual and augmented reality stand poised to further radically change the future of so many types of gaming, we have to wonder exactly what the future hold. Whatever the case, we can’t wait to see what happens next.