Options for Gamers, Challenges for Developers, Industry Partners
“Paranoids, Matrix Blaster, Vice Squad, a whole slew of them. I was this close to starting my own little enterprise, man. But enter another software engineer. Not so young, not so bright, but very, very sneaky.” – Tron, Walt Disney, 1982
If you stretch real hard, gamers just might put some buzz/fun back into PC/CE technology like Jim Warren’s Computer Faire did back in the Neanderthal days of the industry.
Warren liked his parties and ensuring everyone having a good time so he probably would have wondered about this year’s IGDA (International Game Developers Association) closing party… a bunch of scantily clad dancing girls.
Word is women were in charge of the program so just not certain what anyone was you thinkin.
There are just so many options (platforms/devices), so many inexpensive – and expensive – ways for people to express themselves; that if you can’t find a game that gets you goin’ … you aren’t trying!
Ours isn’t a family of gaming fanatics but as the GDC (Game Developers Conference) wrapped up, we took an inventory of the devices in our house:
2 iPhones with about 20 games on them
An SII, SIII with 5, 15 games respectively
2 iPads with 10 games plus a couple of MMOG (massive multiplayer online games)
A couple of other tablets (with an assortment of games)
6 notebooks/small towers with 15+ games
1 game console we use a lot for streaming video to the HDTV Set
Different devices, different platforms, different uses, different opportunities for game developers to express themselves, make their mark.
Platform Shift – While game consoles have had to relinquish a lot of their control and power over game developers with the consumers’ shift to online and mobile gaming, more developers have been able to express their creativity and seek out their fortunes. Today, the console and PC platform producers are much more open to allowing games to be enjoyed across all platforms.
The balance of who controls/runs the game industry has changed dramatically in recent years.
Game companies, small studios and indies you never heard of a few years ago have suddenly leapt to the forefront and been the people GDC attendees wanted to hear from in the sessions and the ones they wanted to spend “quality” time with.
While EA’s (Electronic Arts) boss stepped down – CEOs very seldom get fired – and everyone talks about game sales collapsing, someone is making money from an industry that is projected to be worth $41B by 2015.
As the Master Control Program said, “I’d like to go against you and see what you’re made of.”
So who is investing in games today and tomorrow?
First of all, there is no longer a stereotypical gamer:
– the average age of game players has risen to 35
– 65% of American households play computer and video games
– 38% of American homes have a video game console
– One out of four gamers are over age 50
– Women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33%) than boys age 17 or younger (18%)
– 41% will purchase one or more games this year
– 94% of parents are present when games are purchased or rented
– 63% of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives
– 84% of kids play games
With deeper market penetration like this and a broader player base, video games are becoming a part of people’s daily culture and an integral part of our social fiber.
As Tron explained, “This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom.”
Balance of Power – With the introduction of social and mobile gaming, the number of gamers have increased dramatically; but the trend has shifted to micropayments, not big dollar investments.
The people who made the industry – Sony, Microsoft, Sega, Nvidia – have found themselves in new, more open surroundings.
Young and old developers (yes there were a lot of “mature” developers at GDC) jammed into the sessions to learn how they could capitalize on the growth of tablets, smartphones, apps.
Cloud Service – To show game developers what was possible when they created games at the leading edge, Nvidia highlighted their Kepler GRID cloud solution which added a whole new level to creative freedom.
Nvidia, the traditional leader, seemed to have the broadest offering at GDC delivering souped-up card offerings for the truly serious computer gamers and cloud services for MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) developers, as well as chip solutions for tablet, smartphone producers who wanted to offer something new, better.
Serious Windows – If you’re a serious, serious gamer, then the Razer Edge with an Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia graphics card is a gotta’ have solution. But priced starting at $1200, it’s going to make people consider getting a newer ultrabook or, what the heck, a ruggedized tablet.
The best example of the serious gamer solutions at GDC was the Razer Edge which is a tablet that wanted to be an Alienware game system and took too many steroids.
To develop it, the company designed in an Intel Core i7 processor and a Nvidia card so it makes the other portable systems look like the weak kids on the block.
Kevin Flynn took one look and exclaimed, “Now for some real User power.”
But then, it costs the equivalent of 2-1/2 iPads (to start), so it’s not a tablet you’ll see in our home.
Cubism – Offering a refreshing option, Ouya unveiled its new game console cube which will allow users to connect the unit to their HDTVs and the Internet to not only play games but also stream movies and TV shows. At $99, the console and service offers an interesting option for developers and gamers.
The unit already has more than 100 games available (none you’d call spectacular) but you can also use it to watch online TV shows and movies. At $99, it is going to find a lot of impulse buyers–even if they already have a streaming video/game console.
Even though a lot of the GDC attendees had their notebooks open in the sessions to write down every bit of information the speakers were willing to share, they were there to figure out how they could be one of the few individuals or groups that actually made money selling or giving folks free access to their tablet and smartphone app.
Platforms for Play – In almost every survey, people always place game play at or near the top of the list as reasons they purchased their device – smartphone, tablet, notebook. In addition to watching videos and other content, people increasingly play online or mobile games, making the device and operating system new opportunities for game developers.
Today’s consumers have more than one device (according to IDC the average is 5). They may own a console, but they’ll also have a computer or two, carry a smartphone and increasingly, a tablet.
They have lots of ways to access content.
And while game developers are a strong, creative, proud group, they also understand that consumers just aren’t too fussy.
Portable Screen – People tend to give all kinds of reasons for wanting a tablet – ease of working/studying – but playing games on them seems to be an “important” activity. The same is true of smartphones.
Just look at the most popular downloads on the iOS App Store or Google Play Store.
But then, as Alan Bradley said, “Try to look official. Here comes the boss.”
The only problem is over 95 percent of the downloads are free, which means the developer has to build a user base and subtly inject ads or develop a freemium approach that produces decent revenue.
Chance to Win
That’s easier than it sounds since industry analysts note that the “average” developer earns less than $2,000 over the life of his/her game.
Of course, it’s the chance of a big win that keeps people buying lottery tickets and coming back to the tables in Vegas.
Maybe be it’s a little better in game development because Gartner projects more than a billion smartphones will be sold this year and nearly 200 million tablets.
That’s on top of tens of millions of game consoles and hundreds of millions of computers.
Upward Trend – With their new options, people are spending more time playing games on their devices whenever and wherever they can grab a few minutes. In many instances, users will move from one device to another to continue their game play.
The shift hasn’t escaped the console producers.
They’re all providing a more open architecture and are working with small development studios and indies to create titles.
For a refreshing change, they’ve started to think like a developer and determine what is important to them … then they become partners. That’s why all of the console producers and game houses had large welcome mats out in front of their GDC booths.
As Kevin Flynn said, “On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.”
They also know their frontend costs are not as much and by partnering with as many development teams/developers as possible, they will not only survive but even thrive.
Of course, when it comes to sharing the gamers’ attention, that’s different.
It’s true, Brenda Romero probably won’t be back for GDC 2014 … she and a number of other talented women resigned IGDA.
But GDC is a lot more professional than E3 and Comicon.
They’re just beefcake, cheesecake parties Folks.
# # #
G.A. “Andy” Marken
Marken Communications, Inc.
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