Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
December 12th, 2006

The Future of Video Games

In the last ten years, video gaming has gone from being a peripheral social phenomenon for young and teenage boys to a central factor in today’s media and entertainment.  Movies based on video games have been produced. TV executives talk about bringing the interactive gaming experience to television programming.  Advertisers create games for brand positioning of their product. Advertising in video games is growing at a faster rate that almost any other medium today. The sales revenue of the video game industry is greater than theatrical movies.  Virtual worlds, one of the biggest things in today’s Internet world can be traced to video games.  Simply put, gaming is a major part of today’s media and entertainment.

As all gamers, and anyone consuming media today knows, there is a new console war going on.  Last year Microsoft came out with the Xbox 360, the most powerful, integrated game console ever.  With global on-line connectivity, it allowed gamers around the world to play and compete together.  It was embraced and deemed a huge success.  Now a year later, the other two major players in the console wars have introduced their products.  Sony, the winner five years ago with its PlayStation 2 came out with its much anticipated and delayed PlayStation 3.  The same week, the number three player, Nintendo, came out with its radically different Wii.  In a surprisingly short time, a winner has emerged, and it is the Wii.

The PlayStation 3 was a year late, made promises it did not deliver on and is expensive. The executive who has overseen its development and launch has been relieved of his duties.  The PlayStation continued down the path of console and game development which is to have ever more complex games with ever higher quality graphics being played with ever more complex controllers. Most new games take a major time commitment to play because of their complexity. This approach is focused purely on experienced gamers.  The business plan was to compete with the Xbox 360 on all these fronts.  Fight against the competition in the arena of experienced gamers.

Nintendo’s strategy for the Wii is completely different.  Nintendo decided that growth for video gaming lay in attracting non-gamers to join the fun.  This meant to develop a whole new system that did not rely upon the now high barrier of using complex controllers.  The Wii is completely, radically different.  The hand held controller is more like a TV remote in its wand like design.  It can be moved through the air, and that motion is simulated on screen.  Think about playing a video game of tennis.  Instead of using your thumbs to execute a backhand, you wave the wand as though you were actually swinging your tennis racquet.  Think about sword fighting, and waving the controller through the air as if you were wielding a sword.  It even sounds like more fun.  So the controller is radically different.  The game design is also different.  Games are designed so that playing them even for a short time will be enjoyable.  So, ease of use and no major commitment of time lowers’ the barrier to usage by non-gamers.  Since there are more non-gamers than gamers, the industry growth comes from having non gamers become gamers.   Early sales reports indicate that there are a lot of women and people over 30 buying the Wii consoles.

Another reason I think that the Wii will be the big winner is that in addition to being attractive to non-gamers such as myself, experienced gamers are really excited about it.  My twenty year old son, who has been playing video games since the age of eight told me that he is more excited about the Wii than any other new gaming console he can remember in his twelve years as a gamer.  All his friends who are gamers feel the same way and have all chosen to get the Wii, not the PlayStation 3. To them it feels like an innovation that will lead to an entirely different experience that the existing one they are quite happy continuing to play. Another innovative feature is that whenever the Wii is plugged in it can receive free updates as it is wireless. So it looks like Nintendo really does have a winner on its’ hands.  Any new product that can attract experienced, sophisticate users and first time neophytes at the same time is a breakthrough product.

Why is the Wii the future of video gaming?  First, it opens up the market to new users.  Second, in our ever faster culture where time is a premium, it allows people to play for a short time and be satisfied.  Third it more closely integrates body movement and the game experience itself.  It is this last point that I sense will be its greatest contribution.  It feels like the Wii is the early beginnings of humans physically interacting with virtual worlds.  Ten or twenty years from now, when we have immersive, interactive virtual world experiences on many levels, the Wii may well be looked back upon as the device that started to prepare us for this new, exciting plane of human experience.

Visionary innovation is really why the Wii is such a winner.  Whenever a company innovates rather than just competes it opens up markets and then sparks innovation elsewhere.  Hats off to Nintendo.

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