Ask the average interested person to comment on the most significant changes in gaming over the past decade or so, and the response is likely to be better technology, more realistic gameplay and maybe a few comments about mobile games and social gaming. However, none of those quite zero in on the biggest game changer, although the last point comes closest. Online gaming is now a widespread social and leisure activity, one that is no longer reserved for the archetypal “gamers,” whoever they may be.

Today, we are all gamers. Anyone aged 50 or under has grown up with gaming, and it is as usual a pastime as picking up a book or watching a movie. That does mean that as gamers have become older, their requirements have become increasingly sophisticated, and that’s where the rise of interactive gaming comes to the fore.

Keeping it social

Rewind to that image of the “archetypal gamer” again. Who is it? Most likely, you are picturing a teenage lad who seldom leaves his room and whose social skills are somewhat lacking. Clichéd image it might be, but here’s the point: Today’s gamers are not like that at all. The joy of gaming is very much in the social aspect, whether it is physically sitting with a friend duking it out over a game of John Madden or FIFA, or playing a game of chess or pool online against a real-world opponent via a social media app.

eSports – the new dynamic

Games like World of Warcraft and Counter Strike: Global Offensive have taken the concept of interactive social gaming to a level we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. The latter, in particular, has sparked a whole new sector of eSports, bringing competitive gaming among the best of the best into the public perception as a mainstream form of entertainment.

eSports is now big business, with live streaming, TV coverage on ESPN, dedicated fan bases, big-name backers and the ability to place bets online.

Grown-up games for grown-ups

As gamers get older, they might still enjoy the odd game of Warcraft as a guilty pleasure, but just as tastes in music, TV and literature evolve, so do tastes in gaming. One area that has exploded over the past decade has been the online casino and sports betting sectors. The very thought of having online games that are not available to under-18s would have seemed ridiculous a decade ago, yet today, this is one of the biggest growth sectors in gaming.

The casino is the ultimate “playground for grown-ups” – a place associated with sophisticated adult games, frequented by individuals that are like James Bond and Holly Golightly, and from this perspective, it is unsurprising that its popularity has grown so much in recent years. As well as traditional casino games like slots, roulette and blackjack, the opportunity to enjoy a truly interactive experience through playing poker against real opponents is another major draw.

There is an ever-closer relationship between the standard online casino sites and sports betting platforms. The links are obvious – casino gamblers are likely to take an interest in sports betting and vice versa – meaning a richer experience for players and a broader market for the sites. But it goes further, in that online sports betting provides far more flexibility and choice than other platforms, such as a telephone or betting shop.

In-game betting is one of the most exciting innovations here. Suddenly, you can wait till a match is underway, and place a bet as the odds change and the match evolves. There is also far more choice than there used to be, with, for example, the possibility to bet on quite obscure football matches from across the globe.

Virtual reality

2017 was the year that VR entered the mainstream, and it has been the single largest technological development in gaming since the rise of the smartphone. Of course, it brings a new level of engagement to gamers and makes the whole process more interactive. It is still in its infancy, and developers are rushing to bring more games to market to catch up with the hardware and the technology. Here, we can expect the online casinos to take centre stage for two reasons. On the one hand, the format lends itself to VR. The spin of a roulette wheel and the turn of a card are not complex effects to create.

On the other, with so many players in such a confined space, there is a willingness to invest in anything new that will make one site stand out from the rest. The site that can create the most realistic virtual casino experience will have a considerable advantage over competitors.