How gaming’s future will be shaped by social connections

Demand for technically advanced gaming that is also a vehicle for community and relationships is growing — and companies must keep up.

By Judy Johnson, Director of Gaming & Esports, HP — July 8, 2021

Tim Peacock

My earliest gaming experience was in the 1980s, gathered around the TV with my siblings taking turns playing Pong on the Commodore 64 — the first consumer gaming PC, released in 1982. It wasn’t much to look at, with robot-like blips and boops and a display that maxed out at 16 colors and 320 x 200 resolution. 

Still, I was hooked. I’ve been gaming seriously for two decades now, and we’ve seen a constant upward trajectory, a growth path that’s both exhilarating and inspiring my work leading the OMEN by HP team for the past three years. 

The Sony PlayStation 2, which debuted in 2000, was another watershed moment. It accelerated the concept of social gaming as an in-person activity. Perhaps your friends’ Friday night thing, like mine, was to face off over rounds of Madden and Mortal Kombat in someone’s living room. During the pandemic, like the millions who have turned to gaming to socialize, de-stress, and be entertained, my friends and I escaped to the Wild West world of Red Dead Redemption 2, where we spent time exploring, fishing, hunting, and going on missions, even when we couldn’t be together off-screen. Today’s games blow those earlier ones out of the water — not only in terms of technological advancement, but in the ability of publishers to build entire worlds, create Hollywood-worthy scripts with complex, beloved characters, and bring immersive entertainment to the mainstream. 

Gen Z at the vanguard 

Consumers at home during the pandemic pushed 2020 shipments of gaming PCs and monitors up nearly 27% year-over-year, to 55 million units, according to the International Data Corporation Worldwide Quarterly Gaming Tracker. The growth rate and unit volume were the fastest and largest numbers recorded since IDC began tracking this market in 2016. 

Gaming will become even more mainstream and deeply social, and will attract even more diverse audiences.

But there’s no group that’s more actively shaping the future of gaming than Gen Z. This cohort has never known a world without the internet. They are dependent on technology to watch movies, attend classes, connect with friends, and play video games, which they play with greater frequency than any other generation. A Deloitte Digital Media Survey found that 87% of Generation Z said they play video games on devices such as smartphones, gaming consoles, or computers at least weekly, compared with 83% of millennials and 79% of Generation X.

Tim Peacock

HP has learned our Gen Z customers want more intimate gaming experiences that nurture their relationships — whether bonding with family or presenting opportunities for friendly rivalries. Their expectation is that their virtual world will become an expansion of their offline life, a place where they connect with their friends in immersive environments of almost every kind imaginable. This finding dovetails with the phenomenon of “digital campfires,” where people gather online in smaller groups to private message one another, connect to a like-minded community, or participate in a shared experience.

Earlier this year we started testing a new feature of the OMEN Gaming Hub called OMEN Oasis, a free-to-download and easy to-use add-on that makes invite-only game streaming, casting, or just hanging out with friends easier than ever.

Where we’re headed

In the coming years, as Gen Z continues to move into adulthood, we predict that gaming will become even more mainstream and deeply social, and will attract ever more diverse audiences. We’ve headed away from playing Madden in your living room with friends and toward gaming on your connected device from anywhere, with people from all over the world whom you’ll likely never meet in person. Any connected device with a screen will become a gaming PC. 

This up-and-coming Netflix-like experience is underpinned by technologies like direct-to-consumer gaming software, cloud gaming, VR, 5G, and edge computing. Generation Z will inspire new social experiences, but all gamers will benefit from being able to play together, watch together, chat together, and share together.

Tim Peacock


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Whether you’re gaming on your phone, TV, or PC, you’ll need great gaming peripherals. That’s part of the reason why earlier this year, HP acquired HyperX, Kingston Technology’s well-known brand of gaming accessories, to complement our PCs with innovative and gamer-championed peripherals to grow our gaming ecosystem. 

Businesses will need to make it easier for gamers to play on all devices, create cross-device ecosystems, and optimize local and cloud game play where it makes sense. HP is competing with the biggest names in gaming to be the dominant player in this space. As the building blocks for the future of gaming are being developed, it’s a precipitous moment for innovation, and the companies that will flourish are those that adapt quickly to user trends and take risks.