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 … >

Jundland vs. Kotaku: Part One

On July 3rd, 2011 I wrote a post about Gameline. Read it, tell me what you think.

Jundland PWNS Kotaku

On July 20th, 2011 Luke Plunkett wrote this piece on Kotaku … Read it, tell me if it feels familiar.

Nice Ads Kotaku. Contextually relevant I'm sure

In Hip-Hop it’s called ‘biting’, in Academia it’s known as ‘plagiarism’. I call ‘Bullshit’

The issue here is fundamental. It’s not about the information, that’s openly available on the net, the images aren’t mine and the story itself is in the public domain. So what’s my beef? this isn’t my story, these aren’t images I own, the point here is,  the timing,  context and relevance. I saw a parallel from 20 years ago that foreshadowed a moment today. I’d call it insight, I guess Luke calls it ‘Cut and Paste‘.

Luke writes for money, I do it for the love and the lulz. Luke uses it to pay his bills, when he’s running on empty, I’m sure niche blogs are a rich source of material for him. It saddens me that a site I read daily employs people who bite and bite hard. B.D.P express my feelings perfectly on ‘My Philosophy’:

You got to have style, and learn to be original, And everybody’s gonna want to diss you …

Journalism is a snide thankless task dictated by editorial time-lines and paymasters beholding to advertisers. Jundland is the antithesis of this. Journalists are paid to write, this leaves them in an untenable position. Even when they have no ideas of their own, they still have to perform. Luke Plunkett appears to be one of these writers.

Dance Monkey Dance … write the words to bring back the people to the page … where they ignore the ads that pay our wages

So, there you have it. Look at it how you will, call it happenstance, coincidence or serendipity. I’m interested to hear Luke’s thoughts on this.

@lukeplunkett, want to contribute to this conversation?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playstation

PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360

Affinity is a bitch. Humans gravitate to certain things. Preference.

Gamers like football/music/literature fans globally become torn by affinity.  For gamers the battle lines delinenate by platforms. Platform holders promote and encourage the points of difference. Killer software = system sellers. The marketing mathematics is simple. Gamers are split down the middle … the platform agnostic and the fan-boys. The seventh generation is typified by three viable, concurrent home based platforms. The flag in the sand came from the X360 in 2005, and as an Xbox fanatic it was easy to make the jump to 360. Case closed.

By 2007, the arrival of Playstation 3, my allegiances were already clear. It wasn’t until 2008 that I felt compelled to actually pick up the Dual Shock. Even the launch of Uncharted hadn’t been enough to sway me. The positioning felt too close to X360, and there wasnt a clear and immediate need for me to invest time in another platform. There was also no Gamerscore which by that point had already got me in its insidious vice-like grip. Only Little Big Planet had intrigued me enough to make the leap. LBP was a system seller, a unique experience unlike any other, powered and empowered by PlayStation 3. The game was jaw dropping.

Then nothing … There wasn’t another experience as compelling on PS3. I went right back to X360.

The PS3 served as a Blu-Ray player, then an iPlayer experience that all but eradicated any scheduled TV viewing. The PS3 had become part of daily life, in a context that I had never anticipated. It still struggled to compete for gameplay time. However in post E3 2011, PS3 feels like the vanguard of core gaming. Standing alone with a purity of gameplay experiences that I’d overlooked before.

Two tasks stand in my way. Finding a local meeting of Gamerscore Anonymous and training my hands to accept the Dual Shock. Muscle memory is a cruel mistress …

PSN, Where Are You?

We are now 17 days into the PSN outage of 2011. Five years ago this would have been inconsequential, in 2011 its damaging Sony’s reputation, annoying consumers and stonewalling revenue to developers and publishers. Sony have their back to the wall.

Litigation and allegation point in one direction then bait and switch in another. The progenitor of this failure is fundamentally irrelevant, the fact that it’s been seen as unthinkable by many, and covered in the mainstream press is another.

Consoles must be connected, when they aren’t they cease to breathe.

Sony immediately were under siege. organisational inertia struck to the core and they froze. Consumers asked ‘what was going on?’ but Sony fell silent. They immediately faced heavy criticism, and the inertia stilted the corporations reaction time. There are two main reasons that consumers felt aggrieved.  They felt Sony had failed to deliver a service that they had learnt to become dependent upon, that underpinned their social graph. Consumers were also stunned that a trusted brand had left themselves open to the industrial scale theft of personal data. Whilst the ingenuity and complexity of the attack on Sony was still not entirely understood, consumers were afraid.

The fact is clear that Sony should have fessed up to consumers as soon as the shockwave hit. Allegations stand that Sony had known for six days before alerting consumers. This is unthinkable, and underscoring the billion dollar sucker punch about to hit Sony as part of a package of free content, upgraded systems and insurance policies. To date Howard Stringer has offered to insure US-based PSN users for a million dollars each. The perks of litigious culture writ large. X360 owns North America, Sony should look EMEA-wards to get their house in order.

The establishment of a platform is a multi billion dollar endeavour, that has crippled many, and blindsided a few. Nintendo established a huge platform but dropped the ball on the online provision of service. Microsoft nailed the Xbox LIVE service (ten years old in 2012) with occasional hiccups such as the service falling over during Christmas 2008, this was not an entire system failure however, just intermittent outages across parts of the service. To placate animosity Undertow (800MSP)  was given away to everyone on the service . This is a world away from the hemorrhaging of content that will leech value from PSN in the month of May 2011.

The eyes of the gaming nation are on Sony. They have been very publicly bested, and lay on the canvas bloodied and bruised. Will PSN ever recover from the fear of attack again. Platitudes and assurances of online security will take time to win people over. Microsoft made a public misstep due to RROD, which was down to a design flaw, and it still haunts the platform to this day.

The billion dollar war chests needed to pull PSN from the brink and rescue the 360 from hardware failures show the brutality of platform holding. Will the future in the cloud placate these worries? will connected consoles forever be compromised? Only time will tell.

Your move Sony, make the right one.

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.

Quote: Shigeru Miyamoto on Game Design

Games are a trigger for adults to again become primitive, primal, as a way of thinking and remembering. An adult is a child who has more ethics and morals, that’s all. When I am a child, creating, I am not creating a game. I am in the game. The game is not for children, it is for me. It is for an adult who still has a character of a child.

Playing Dead: Community And Video Games

community2

Community is a word that is used continually when referring to the Internet. Almost as though it had not existed prior to 2000. Social Networks have proliferated and with it have dragged the reluctant and the misanthropic into a mire of engagement that leads to high expectations and failed attempts to connect. Community therefore has become a ‘grey area’, that is as fluid as those who make up each node jarring against the next. Personal cliques give way to a myriad of on-line niches, groups, forums and fan-sites.

Wikipedia identifies a clique as being ” …an exclusive group of people who share interests, views, purposes, patterns of behavior, or ethnicity” whilst a community (in biological terms at least) is described as “…a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment”. This therefore leads to the question: Does a community of gamers exist? Or is it simply a clutch of cliques?

Being a gamer in 2009 is a highly complex, expensive and involved endeavour.

Let me caveat that comment. Being a dedicated gamer involves a lot of time and effort. Therefore it could be surmised that gamers, united through adversity would be unified in the enjoyment of a common goal. As Seth Godin might say a ‘tribe’. A community perhaps? Nothing could be further from the truth, gamers as an audience are highly stratified, competitive and parochial. Even the act of purchasing a video game is fraught with tension and, in some cases derision.

In the UK (bricks and mortar) game retail is split into a number of different experiences. Non Specialist high street retail is an odd and soulless experience, where games are towards the back of the store, whilst the front line releases shout at you from the front of store racking.  As music continues to wane in importance for retailers and consumers alike, DVDs provide the cash cow, and set the tone for the rest of the store. Staff are often apathetic, uninformed and dispassionate. Rare enthusiasts are to be cherished.

Specialist retailers are split into a couple of subdivisions: the larger chains and the indies.  By far the most engaging and interesting experiences are to be found in stores like CEX on Rathbone Place, London. CEX has 86 stores in the UK, but has still, in the ones I visit at least still managed to distill the essence of what makes an interesting and alarming retail experience.

Upon entering the store there are a number of things you notice, firstly the corrugated Mad Max/generic Sci-Fi spacecraft style flooring reminiscent of an 80s nightclub that had been done out purely inspired by ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome“. The walls are lined with an adhoc collection of games, all second hand, all of which are jumbled, erroneous and slightly tatty looking. Once this has assailed your visual senses, and you struggle to determine which part of the Thunderdome houses the staff, you are assaulted by one of two things: Dated sounding drum and bass circa ‘Super Sharp Shooter’ Era or ‘Extreme Metal’. These two are often placed together in an unwieldy (yet compelling) mixtape combination. The music is always too loud and is only broken by the theatrical stage laughter of the staff (who appear to be having the time of their lives). Their attitude towards you exemplifies the best tradition of ‘record shop culture’. The basic tenents of which are ‘always presume you know more than the customer’, ‘always try to be cleverer or cooler than your customers’ and ‘wherever possible look like you’d rather be somewhere else’. CEX, Rathbone Place has this down to a fine art and for that it should be applauded. Buying a game there is an odd, frustrating and exciting process. That said it is the perfect antidote to the anodyne experience of other retailers.

These experiences illustrate a key fact. Gamers are entirely lacking in empathy for others who share their passion. Instead of providing a fetile breeding ground for the gaming community, they simply serve to amplify the differences. The culture of video games seems to be created upon competition between platforms, franchises, genres and even regions. Fanboys proliferate flame wars at will, the net provides a breeding ground of sneering and name calling and print magazines appeal to niches separated by platform. Connected game-play environments such as Xbox LIVE provide a crucible for animosity to fester and be made flesh.

Xbox LIVE is not community, despite the fact that each of it’s users shares a common interest. For that matter neither is Myspace or Faceboook as they are all simply collections of individuals connected by technology.   The interactions that take place do not signify that it is a community, but a network. At worst Xbox LIVE is a place filled with venomous young men desperate to instill their values and vent their frustration in a digital form. At best it can provide an architecture that can house a persistent world like Paradise City. Xbox LIVE provides a connected game-play environment and a retail experience. Neither of these are indicators of a community. Xbox LIVE is a platform for an audience.

The continued differences between casual and hardcore gamers, the elevation and continuation of the console wars and the race towards new input methods will all contribute to the stratifcation and alienation of the different segments of the collective gaming audience.

As games strive towards mass media acceptance with increasing marketing budgets and development cycles, it seems like the audience is splintering into a universe of mass non-conformity lacking an overarching objective that can drive and unify the audience into a community. Is there any coincidence that there has not yet been a successful social network built upon a shared passion for games?

Gaming Community? The words themselves feel like an oxymoron.