Expanding the audience
A few years ago, Nintendo took a radically different approach to what had been done in the console game world. Historically, the trend had been to games that used more powerful video processors to increase the level of realism in games aimed at the smaller portion of the public called “gamers,” a segment mostly comprised of men between the age of 15 and 35. With Sony and Microsoft having taken the high ground in those processor battle, it looked like Nintendo was in serious trouble.
But, with the release of the Wii, and its motion-sentitive controller, the Wii became a system that was aimed at a more physical experience of gaming, engaging the whole body. Nintendo also opted for a more cartoonish treatment when it came to characters in their games. Between those two decisions, Nintendo ended up moving games into a market that hadn’t previously been addressed. All of a sudden, it became cooler for the whole family to play together.
The success of the Wii in expanding the overall gamer audience left its competitors wondering how they too could enter that market. Sony recently unveiled the Playstation Move controller, which is essentially a copy of the approach Nintendo has taken with the Wii.
Microsoft, on the other hand, looked at the model and decided to completely do away with the idea of a physical controller and unveiled Kinect, a system that combines video cameras, infrared cameras, robotics, and infrared sensors to let people use their body as the controller. It’s a pretty radical move in that anyone can now operate those games, removing one barrier to getting involved in that space.
The games that have been included as part of the Kinect launch also allow for multiple players to get involved at the same time, create a space that is more social as a result, in a way reminiscent of board games in earlier times. As a result, videogames will probably get more integrated to a greater extent in families’ lives.
But social and gaming is not purely limited to the living room. In fact, social games are now one of the biggest trend, with Zynga being the leader in delivering offerings that combine games with a dose of socialization and a dash of competitive spirit. In only 3 years, the company has established a number of gaming franchises that are now being played by over 60 million people on a daily basis.
But most interesting in the social gaming phenomenon is the fact that the majority of social gamers do not fill the traditional profile of gamers: a survey earlier this year showed that the average social player is a 43-year-old woman.
Between the trends surrounding social gaming and the new impact that game consoles may have, combined with the increased number of people who are playing games on mobile phones, it seems we now need to redefine the demographic profile of gamers.
I would venture, for example, that the profile of gamer is now completely diluted into the profile of most people. The success of Rockband has already shown that music and the gaming space have now merged successfully to create a new kind of entertainment that has given newfound life to older musical talent. The launch of the Beatles edition of Rockband last year was such a cultural milestone that it even warranted its own New York Times Magazine cover article.
And the big movie hit of summer 2010 was Inception, a movie that used lingo like levels, challenges, and players as part of its narrative. In doing so, the movie may have been the first blockbuster to fully leverage game culture without being based on a game.
I’d venture that this past summer was actually a turning point in the acceptance of games as a legitimate form of entertainment. With it, the whole of our culture is now in the process of shifting to support of games as a legitimate entertainment form, to take their place alongside books, music, and movies.
With the consumer space having turn its level of acceptance up when it comes to gaming, I believe that it is only a question of time before the enterprise space gets interested. Today, there are already large numbers of companies starting to promote the concept of gamification, or adding game-like elements to different systems, in order to improve the user experience of those systems.
In the next year, the noise around that space is guaranteed to get much higher and I suspect that every corporation in America will have a budget item for leverage game mechanics in some of their offerings. I suspect that a lot of those items will not make the final cut of a lot of budget negotiating rounds in 2011. However, come 2012, those projects will start getting funded in substantial ways.
With the consumer space already dominated, and the enterprise space to soon start getting interested, games are going to be a pretty big concept in the next decade. Along the way, we will see many company try to build new businesses around those concepts and, while many will fail, I suspect that the next Amazon, Google, or Facebook, will emerge from the gaming world.