Once reserved for socially-awkward teenage boys in suburban basements, video games are now a multi-billion dollar creative industry with an influence on popular culture that rivals that of Hollywood. Sales for big-name games like Halo have even surpassed box-office records, with the release of Halo 4 bringing in $220 million in just one day. To put that figure in context, that’s more than the blockbuster The Avengers earned on the day of it’s release. Ads for big-budget video games also get the same billing as movie trailers, directed by the likes of Guy Ritchie and other A-list stars.
In light of these stats, it’s clear the gaming industry has moved past an alternative form of entertainment to an increasingly integral part of our lives. Advances in technology have enabled changes in gaming consoles and game environments, allowing games to be physically played more places than ever before. Industries from healthcare to education have looked to the addictive nature of gaming to integrate the principles in their own fields, and as technology continues to advance, the definition of what it means to ‘play a game’ will continue to shift. In this piece, created in partnership with iQ by Intel, we’ve outlined a few key trends in how we play games that point to how gaming will influence our lives outside of simple entertainment.
The widespread adoption and acceptance of gaming was fueled by the explosion of touchscreen smartphones, which have become a powerful gaming console in their own right. This shift has helped change the public’s perception of video games as an acceptable part of daily life. While it may no longer be a stretch to imagine your mother or even your grandmother playing Angry Birds on a smartphone – the scenario just doesn’t make as much sense when that platform is a Gameboy.
A few console developers are catching up with the touchscreen gaming trend by co-opting second screen behavior and adding an extra dimension to the original console experience. The most notable is the Wii U, Nintendo’s latest console (pictured above). The Wii U has a large touchscreen in the middle of the controller so that each player has a private screen that opens up new gameplay dynamics (like having a ‘closed hand’ in a card game, impossible in previous shared-screen multiplayer games). Similarly, the Xbox Smartglass app turns smartphones or tablets into a second screen tethered to whatever’s playing on the Xbox, providing extra info (like an in-game minimap) or a unique control interface. Individual game developers have also created dedicated apps for their popular titles. For example, the app for Call of Duty Elite extends game data to mobile devices so players can keep a watchful eye on the status of their own characters, as well as those of their teammates. Both these types of developments are aimed at freeing gameplay from the confines of a single screen and bringing it into more areas of a player’s life. This effectively improves player retention, since they can ‘be with the game’ when they are away from their console, and increases player engagement since they will have multiple methods through which to interact with the game content.
But while the big-name console makers are pushing the technological envelope with ever-expensive second screens and apps, independent developers are going the other way, by developing platforms that are cheap and open-source. The poster child of this movement is the tiny Ouya game console, which was funded to the tune of $8.5 million on Kickstarter, and will retail for only $99. It uses an Android-based operating system, and all the games are free to try.
This move to open-source gaming will expand who can make and play high-quality games, which will fuel creativity and innovation, in much the same way that touchscreen technology created a whole new audience and genre of games. Add in funding tools like Kickstarter, and developers with a great game idea are no longer subjected to the whims of huge corporate publishers. While it may be a bit early to tell, it certainly appears that the Ouya has knocked down the last barrier standing in the way of widespread distribution of independent games.
Similar to the Ouya is the GameStick, another wildly successful Kickstarter project. It is a small device running the Android operating system that plugs into a TV and can play any of the thousands of games designed for Android devices. Using an included controller, users can play games originally designed for mobile on a big TV. Like the Ouya, the GameStick is breaking down barriers between mediums outside the realm of established game publishers, opening up a new playing field for game creators to make content that can be seamlessly experienced between mobile and TV.
As the technology behind games continues to advance, we are finding more and more creative ways to use games beyond simple entertainment. Making learning fun is something teachers have struggled with forever, and many of us remember those lame educational ‘games’ in middle school (Mavis Beacon, anyone?). But now games have reached the point where they can simulate the real world well enough to be of actual educational value, like the version of Sim City for the classroom that has students think creatively about environmental, social and health problems faced by modern cities. In fact, many games like EVE Online are complex enough that certain playing styles involve many of the same activities and skills that running a business requires. It’s then a small step to create a ‘sub-game’ that focuses on teaching those skills to entrepreneurs in a way that’s much more fun than a series of PowerPoints.
What other industries are being transformed by the principles of gaming? Continue reading here at iQ by Intel.
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