Television vs. Video Games. Fight!

<BELL RINGS>

“In the red corner weighting in at 110lbs is the TV, undisputed champion of the sitting room since 1954, the darling of countless billions who have succumbed to its simple soporific charms. In the blue corner, the nimble upstart, the Video Game console, weighing in at 8lbs, rocking thumbs since the late 70s, but claiming their first world crown in 1985. The object of parental dismay ever since, and a font of moral panics. TV has been repeatedly bested by the youngster over the years but now is the time for TV to fight back! …”

This fight is far from over and the title bout takes place each year in January in Las Vegas at CES. Las Vegas is more than gin soaked gamblers, lamenting their losses in gaudy palaces of deceit. It’s the battle arena for global consumer electronics giants to fire salvos at each other. Each device is slimmer, faster and more innovative than the next. Want a 4mm thin TV? You got it. A fridge that can chill a can of coke in five minutes flat? Waterproof Smartphone. No problem.

CES is significant as its there that SMART TV is publicly racing ahead. Adoption is yet to reach a tipping point, but the migration is clearly apparent and for the console manufacturers, SMART TV is a spectre that cannot be ignored. App Stores on the device allied with intuitive inputs, motion control, gesture control and voice recognition are all present in the latest TVs. The ‘Killer App’ of Kinect just got pulled into the host, Kinect and the 360 now look like a counterintuitive double act. They’re starting to resemble clutter in the early stages of obsolescence.

It used to be the case that a games console provided entertainment that the TV could not, this hegemony went unchecked for decades as screen manufacturers stood idly by watching Nintendo, SEGA and Sony make a killing, delivering visceral content through adopted hosts. By the time the Xbox came along the stranglehold was vice like and the need for a console to deliver games was unassailable. They were untouchable.

The Wii arrived. Dragging with it new input methods and consumers, who were the exact intersect of the TV/Gaming audience. The lines became blurred primarily as the consumers (primarily) didn’t care which device was delivering the experience. The Wii UI aped TV channels, and recalled an aged CRT screen. The shark had been jumped. The console was invisible. Then the single most seismic event ever to hit gaming came along. The equivalent of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. The App Store.

In hindsight the Wii’s achievements will be all but forgotten, seen as an anomaly, an old model based on hackneyed technology allied with unique ideas.  The App Store opened the wallets of the non gaming ABC1 audience. The iPhone was a trojan horse, silver bullet and a vial of poison all wrapped into one. The games industry is still reeling from its impact. Its clear many will never get up from the suckerpunch.

The App Store explosion legitimized short form content delivery to the mainstream, and awakened every device manufacturer, to the fact they would to become a digital storefront. Many wastefully spent billions in an effort to mimic Apple, few succeeded. In 2012, It’s all about the audience. Samsung and LG command huge global audiences, engaging with them daily. They provide the warm blanket, the reassuring voice and the window on the world. TV is second only to the mobile phone as the ultimate ‘personal’ device. People love TV. Watch as they place them on walls, pushing family portraits to one side. Placed on an altar for the worship of false prophets.

TV as a concept crushes the Video Game a billion times. Video Games are niche. TV is Simon Cowell. TV is a huge metal fist in a velvet glove, the host will defeat the parasite, and the content will migrate into the TV. The consumer has ceased to care. Fanboys are a niche that are no longer the target of the console manufacturers attention.  The irony is that the console manufacturers are driving convergence, with motion control and the drive to turn Xbox LIVE into a ‘entertainment destination’, thereby quickening the infection. The 360 has mutated from a core gaming platform to a set-top box in an aim to capture the lapsed Wii audience. The problem? This audience has already made the jump to mobile and tablet, and they’re not coming back.

To the console manufacturers who think this won’t happen, I have one word. Kodak.

Video Games consoles are laid on the canvas bleary eyed, as the referee stands over them counting …

< … 7, 8, 9 … Its time to throw in the towel … >

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Can the 3DS save the QR code?

Time was when it was all about hipster geeks at SXSW on iPhones. Not the 3GS, not iPhone 4. The original ‘great leap forward’. In June 2007 this was a second coming of the mobile device. A collective technological rapture created exaltation, until the iterative Apple machine started to grind like a Ford production line in the early 1900’s. The 3GS quickly took away the lustre from the handheld gaming market as iOS started to gnaw into unfamiliar territory for Apple. The DS had made the touchscreen commonplace in 2004 but lacked the widespread reach of a telecommunications device and didn’t manage to squirm into the mainstream in the same way. It sat, ghettoized as a games device, a child’s plaything.  Despite a three-year head start the iOS handhelds (iPhone and iPod Touch) and DS iterations have about the same installed base. Around 150 million worldwide.

Ten years earlier (in 1994) Denso-Wave had created the QR code. A visual hyperlink that fitted perfectly as a call to action in a duncical mobile landscape.Adoption was rapid and wide-reaching in Japan and South Korea. The West was ambivalent. The barriers to widespread QR adoption in the West are:

  • Lack of installation of QR readers in mobile devices. Many OEM refuse to hard bake QR readers into handsets, indeed many are shipped ‘vanilla’ to retailers (stripped of additions).
  • Consumers are dispassionate and mobile web adoption whilst increasing with smart phone installation has been steady but unexplosive.
  • Brands have been reticent to adopt due to a thudding understanding of the transformative power of the mobile web.
  • Finally they look awful and ruin creative. In a society where they are commonplace they fit into the visual nomenclature in a landscape devoid of QR codes they pique interest, which gives way to apathy and lack of effectiveness.

As a direct response tool they work, but brand managers don’t always understand that.

But, all of a sudden the hipster are trading QR codes online. A flurry of Pokemania has made QR codes hip. The scanning mechanic is being widely praised and a tech almost twenty years old is suddenly fresh and new for an audience who generally had let QR codes pass them by. Nintendo‘s adoption of QR codes is commonsense and logical in the 3DS, for them it feels like a late adoption of such a familiar mechanic. Suddenly the Mii feels relevant again, collectible, engaging and fun.

Now , see how long the hipster geeks keep this going.

Steve Jobs hates Video Games

Rumour has it that Steve Jobs hates video games. Not that Apple hate games … We’re talking about Mr Jobs here and his personal preferences. This fact doesn’t surprise. Apple have installed north of 150 Million gaming devices that don’t have buttons.

For those of you unaware of this fact: buttons can prove useful

In fact, the abolition of buttons movement (ABM™)  is primarily targeting the games industry in 2011. Although iOS has been making typing considerably more difficult and counter intuitive than it once was. Steve Jobs also hates buttons. When iPod launched the navigation required to scroll through a list of tracks was easy enough to do with a trackwheel. Bright young things, realising that iPhone and iPod touch had no useful gaming inputs came up with the ‘virtual d-pad’. This has numerous problems. Number one? It makes games a sucky chore to play. Taking out a useful interface and calling it a games device isn’t good enough. But here’s the rub … it was never positioned as a gaming device (at least to begin with) it’s a platform and developers and publishers have realised it serves a dual purpose as a tortuously quasi-usable gaming device.

When iPhone launched it was all about iPint (which describes itself as a free beer-based game) and iFart, the self-proclaimed ‘definitive novelty app in iTunes and arguably the most publicized iPhone application in history’. Novelty. That’s the key work in that sentence. A year after the launch of the app store Jobs gloated “The App Store is like nothing the industry has ever seen before in both scale and quality”. As we draw closer to the third birthday the App Store has left a wake through the games industry that is impossible to come back from. Immersion, control fidelity and game depth have given way to novelty, basement pricing and freemium. Nimble footed small-scale devs run amok with small ideas, small prices and small aspirations. @tengushee describes it as ‘The pikey campsite of the games industry’.

In comparison to Angry Birds, Wario Ware looks like game design was done by Einstein supported by art design from Roy Lichtenstein. The majority of iOS games represent a disregard for gamers and the meagre smattering of ideas and game mechanics present a homeopathic approach to game design. This serial dilution gives way to the “law of similars” and an abandonment of scientific method. One idea can carry a 99 cent game. Even if that idea is rotten.

The evidence to support Homeopathy is that it proves more effective than a placebo. When a diluted idea is better than none at all … what does that mean for the creative future of the Games Industry?