New tech is emerging and converging, creating a new space for play. What does this mean for brands and audiences? The short answer: where there’s possibility to play, there will always be opportunities to connect.

What if you could stay one step ahead of your audience? Easier said than done when tomorrow’s rocket fuel (5G, AI, XR, the list goes on…) is launching today’s audiences into multiple directions and realities. Making sense of what value emerging technologies might create for your brand, product and audience, and deciding where to go next, often ends up being a blindfolded science. 

The simple truth is that people don’t play technology, they just play. Over the last twenty years we’ve seen that what audiences value, and how platforms develop, is often about how playable the tech is. The web gave birth to a global generation of gamers, mobile had us play wherever we went, and in the last few years, people have jumped into immersive worlds to experience  stories in totally new ways.

So instead of predicting what’s next in tech, what we should really ask ourselves is: what’s next in play? If the current state of play can teach us one thing, it is that the future will not be dictated by a single technology, but by the convergence of many. And those converging realities, technologies and platforms are removing barriers to engage, creating a new, boundless space for audience experiences, and most importantly, endless possibilities for play. Here at PRELOADED, we call it The New Play Space.

The future will not be dictated by a single technology, but by the convergence of many.

Where is The New Play Space?

Directions to The New Play Space are not something you’ll get from Citymapper. As a space, it’s characterised by its rootlessness and ability to move beyond typical shapes, formats and playgrounds. The New Play Space is everywhere, even in places we can’t see (yet). Luckily, there are some underlying developments that can point us in the direction for new possibilities:

It goes beyond digital…

Advancements in spatial computing are connecting ‘real’ and digital worlds faster than ever. Companies like 6d.ai and Niantic are developing SDKs that not only give augmented content the power to become part of our world ever more realistically, but also for our physical spaces to take an active role in immersive play. Just look at Minecraft Earth, enabling us to apply our architectural ‘AR blocks’ to real, not just imaginary, worlds. 

The persistence of virtual objects in the ‘real world’ will enable us to connect to locations, objects, toys, and importantly, with each other. Global persistence and the AR Cloud will foster creative uses for shared spaces and social play – establishing new types of ‘real-world’ interactions and connections.

It goes beyond devices, screens and platforms… 

5G and edge-computing will shortly take the pressure off the hardware to do all the heavy processing. In turn, this will lower prices of devices and the threshold to play. Generation Alpha (yes, we’re all antique) is already growing up in a world where play is not restricted to a single device or platform.

This year will see new streaming platforms like Stadia and Apple Arcade birthing transmedia users, encouraging them to jump between mobile and console-based play. They’ll be able to start an experience and move seamlessly between mobile, TV, connected toys, and immersive worlds, all without ever pressing pause or play. 

The end of the device (as we know it) does not stop there. Products like Wonderscope are already showing us what powerful tool voice is for exploring our world and how tap-free play finally lets us say goodbye to mobile necks. Going further, immersive platforms like Magic Leap and Oculus are putting emphasis on developing multi-sensory software such as face and body tracking –  putting our genuine expressions and reactions at the centre of the play experience. 

It goes beyond ourselves…

The New Play Space will include a bit of space travel. We’re going to discover universes beyond our reach and access dimensions (think Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar) previously unknown to us. An infinite number of layers – each dedicated to health, entertainment, community or communication purposes – will soon co-exist alongside our reality. Magic Leap calls this the ‘Magiverse’, a digital ecosystem with endless possibilities for creative expressions of human life.

Powered by spatial computing and AI, these layers will be driven by context. Imagine how the nature of play will change when a toy or game has the context where they are? Smart devices may even begin to infer our emotional state and direct playtime based on how we feel. Who knows, maybe the future Tamagotchis will look after us instead? Making sure we’re fitter, happier…

The persistence of virtual objects in the ‘real world’ will enable us to connect to locations, objects, toys, and importantly, with each other.

What does The New Play Space mean for brands and audiences? 

Keeping on top of what value each emerging platform, technology and reality is going to create for your brand is a head-scratching effort that will most likely make you dread the future, rather than embrace it. Instead, if we focus our attention on how play is being catalysed by new innovations, we can better understand where the audience is heading. 

However, to create value for the audience we need to investigate the types of experiences that resonate and travel together with them – across digital, physical, and immersive worlds – wherever they play. To achieve this it’s more fundamental than ever to take a platform-agnostic and audience-led approach. 

Our mission at PRELOADED is to constantly be developing and deepening our understanding of play as it evolves. We’ll dive into the innovations that are lowering the threshold to the space, the new types of shapes and forms play might take and most importantly, how to create meaningful and valuable experiences for audiences. 

That’s what we aim to find out in The New Play Space. 

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Image © Minecraft Earth

If we focus our attention on how play is being catalysed by new innovations, we can better understand where the audience is heading.

Phil Stuart

Phil is the founder and Creative Director of PRELOADED. A fanatical gamer and a champion for the power of games which do more than just entertain, he is responsible for the studio’s ‘Play with Purpose’ vision.