Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Future of Gaming

Let's talk about two of my favorite subjects gaming and the future. In this post I will talk about Motion based gaming, Mobile Gaming, and 3D gaming.

Motion based gaming

So, Microsoft has launched the Kinect and Sony with the Move. Although I am happy to see motion gaming getting some attention from these companies I think they are about 2 years too late. Nintendo already did this and dominated the market doing it by exploiting a time where social gaming was on the rise with Guitar Hero and it's clones. Nintendo was actually pretty content to be number 3 in the industry making a gaming system instead of an entertainment system.

I want to go on record and say that these two copies of the Wii are very likely to fail. Let me explain why, and hopefully someone makes the right moves to correct some of these missteps.

First and likely most important, the content. I have been a gamer since the Intellivision and I haven't seen a single console/accessory that was successful without having amazing games. Check the end of this post for an appendix of those failures. If Microsoft and Sony want their add-ons to be successful they will need to get a strong game that their core audience wants. My Fix: Court a franchise like Call of Duty, Madden, or Street Fighter to build a motion version of one of their games; the most important thing about getting one of these is to avoid gimmicks and to build something that is native to the system and flows well - gimmicks get old quickly as I am sure many dusty Wii owners can tell you.

Second, they should have waited until their next generation of consoles. As stated before it is an accessory - which means that each company has several million consoles out there already. Even if 60% of the customers who own a system were to upgrade to this accessory that means you have a much smaller market to sell games meaning less developers want to make a game for it - which leads back to the first point. It is for the same reason that the Apple operating system has a lack of viruses. My fix #1: Give the accessory away - make sure everyone that has a system gets one. Not a great option because these things are expensive. My Fix #2: Come up with something that makes people want to have it, perhaps an awesome new game...

Third, its been done. The Wii has been out for four years (as of 11/19). That is 4 years of motion based gaming. Nintendo has been very successful with 100s of non-essential accessories for the Wii. Nintendo took the market by storm by going where the gaming business was headed. Sony and Microsoft are playing catch up to something that happened 4 years ago, which ever company can see what is coming next is going to have the upper hand for the future. My Fix: Obviously this is done, but make sure you are focused on what is coming next.

Mobile Gaming

Two words make me excited about the future viability of Mobile Gaming, "Angry Birds". This has quickly become one of the most downloaded games on a smart phone. Mobile gaming helps bridge the gap between hardcore gamers and the mainstream audience, this is important for keeping gaming alive and to keep thriving it gaming has to have mainstream appeal.

Let's not forget about the gamers though. Touch screen gaming is fun, but it is more of a vacation from gaming than a fulfillment for a hardcore gamer. Most gamers want to have the control that you will currently only find in a hardware based peripheral (i.e. a controller). If someone wants to dominate the market right now someone would develop a universal controller for smartphones. (I hope those involved with Rocketfish/Insignia are reading this part) The idea is simple, it would connect to Android/iOS based phones via either a data cable or Bluetooth. It would have a universal mount on the top so that you could place your phone inside, and it would have an extra battery inside (like the Zagg Sparq) so that you could charge your phone while playing. It would be awesome if there was some sort of phone storage on the device as well, so that it could all fold up and turn into a hip pouch.

The other big thing that is missing from smartphone gaming is the social element. The iOS based phones have some games that allow for this, but what I am looking for is a first person shooter (e.g. Doom, Call of Duty, CounterStike) that is able to be played on a smart phone against other people playing the game. Eventually as these phones become more powerful - why not allow them on existing gaming networks like Xbox Live (like Shadowrun for the where PC and Xbox 360 users played against each other).

When these things happen I would imagine we will have to look at combining Best Buy Mobile with our gaming department. Look at the rumors on the PSP - a reminder of the NGage; which is a device that was unfortunately ahead of its time.

When the big console gaming companies start releasing their content on smartphones we will see an explosion and a game changer. I hope we are modeling our business for these eventual future when games are no longer purchased in a physical form (will it be the death of GameStop?)

3D gaming

When I first sat down in front of a current version of a 3D Tv, I was excited by the possibilities that are offered for gaming. Immersion is the quality of a good game, if the game is good enough the outside world melts away and you become a part of the game. 3D is a tool, like anything else, and if used properly I feel that there are going to be a slew of amazing games using this technology. Kudos to Nintendo for bringing a 3D experience without glasses to E3, and hopefully soon to the general public. As more and more people experience the medium the greater the likelihood for good games to be generated in the future.

I personally believe that we will see a huge push for first person shooters and sports games done in 3D coupled with motion gaming. Not only are you performing the action, shooting, passing, running, dodging, etc, but it is happening in 3D - which should be doing a pretty good job of tricking your brain into thinking you are in the game - which leads me back to the immersion that I was talking about earlier.

My advice is to watch people play a games they are really in to. Whether it is Madden, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft. If they get really into the zone, sometimes they reach a Zen state where they can find their calm center and the rest of the world doesn't matter. Immersion is an awesome thing to experience, it is the thing that many gamers are chasing out there.

A brief Appendix of failed accessories:

The Multitap - This device was created to allow for additional players on various consoles, in fact it was tried several times for systems like: Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Mega Drive, Sega Genesis, Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and Sony PlayStation 2. Eventually console manufacturers created consoles that were capable of 4 players, making a Multitap unneeded and increasing the percentage of games that allow for 4 players.

Light guns - These guns were able to be pointed at the screen and register where they were shooting. An amazing idea, but with the exception of the Zapper these were not bundled with the original system. The shooting games requiring light guns flopped, most of the games were terrible for one reason or another, the guns weren't as accurate as people wanted them to be either. Other notable mentions in the light gun category: The Menacer and the Super Scope.

The Powerglove - This alternative controller for the NES was an amazing piece of technology, but a huge failure. One of the biggest reasons for the failure was that it release in the US with two games (only 1 game in Japan). It was so technically advanced that it wasn't matched in ability until the Wii controller 15 year later. This device helps prove the point that no matter how awesome an accessory - without games it will fail.

XBand and Sega Channel - These services were ahead of their time as well but likely paved the way for a better Xbox Live and Playstation network. These were early attempts at online gaming and providing online content, the problems were that the technology was too slow to support gaming and that there weren't enough people interested in adding to their existing console.

The Sega Activator - This was an amazing idea based off of the light harp. It was an octagon that was laid on the floor, players would break the plane above the octagon to do different in game moves. One of the problems were that it was too expensive $80 (which close to the cost of the Sega Genesis console which was either $99 or $149 when the activator came out). Another problem was that it was inaccurate, being thrown off by all sorts of things, like the ceiling/floor not being 100% parallel.

Others that I am not going to describe are: The Atari Mindlink, R.O.B., Playstaion Eye, Xbox Vision, the Game Cube(not an accessory, but a failure just the same), Nintendo Powerpad, Trance Vibrator, Roll&Rocker, 32x, SegaCd, and lets do our best to forget the Virtual Boy.

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