Yes, we have crossed the threshold. We are entering a future that many in the game industry are still denying and fighting against. We are watching the icon of gaming, the console, quickly and ungraciously bow to the Internet. As difficult as it may be to lose our cultural icon of game play, we must. Gaming is undergoing a major transition.
- Five-year cycle. Those who have spent time in the game industry are very familiar with the five-year cycle. Every five years, console manufacturers release the next-generation systems. Developers and publishers embrace the possibilities, and players excitedly throw their cash at a new system and games. It’s a cycle driven by innovation and applauded by the industry and gamers. Historically, we have embraced the console’s definitions of next-generation gaming and quickly adapted. But this time, the cycle is much different: the consoles are facing competition and extinction.
What? Don’t you see the innovation, the rich graphics, the evolution that Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (PS3), and the Wii are facilitating? I can’t either. Other than the Wii’s delivery of a family gaming experience and inclusion of player action through its controller, the latest console cycle hasn’t delivered true innovation. Arguably, the consoles have taken a giant leap backwards.
- Big budget, small matter. The essence of gaming is the game experience it delivers. Unfortunately, in the race to overtake the film and music industries, the console sector has neglected this principle. Instead, it’s pushing enhanced graphics and physics into the same play spaces. And this isn’t good. There’s a breaking point where reality intrudes and diminishes fantasy. A game experience can, and does, lose players when it becomes too real. The mechanics that have delivered hours of enjoyment can be eclipsed by realism for realism’s sake. Sometimes there’s brilliance in simplicity. Sometimes realism, Hollywood voiceovers, actor likenesses, and cut scenes add nothing. Worse, they can diminish a game experience. As this is happening, many are struggling to comprehend how the glitz and glam of Hollywood aren’t adding value to our game experience. Yes, contrary to belief, all that glitters is not gold.
- Consumer behavior. Consumers have evolved and changed platforms. They’ve left the comfort of the living room, big-screen TV, and game console. They’ve tuned out of passive entertainment and tapped into interactive entertainment online. They’ve changed and consoles haven’t changed enough. Consumers are online, socializing and having digital experiences that meet their needs, connect them with others, and don’t cost a thing. They’re sitting at the computer, entering virtual worlds and social networks as the TV collects dust. Why would they disconnect, walk to another room, and turn on another device? The Internet is delivering all they seek in one package.
- Evolution of online games. As console gaming gets too sophisticated and mass audiences gravitate to online experiences, the underdog, online casual gaming on a PC, is replacing the console. Casual games have evolved from second rate to incredibly robust, rich experiences. Thanks in large part to Flash, online games are now delivering game play, community, and diversity within the consumer’s most consumed medium, the Internet. Even more compelling, the games are generally free.
- Brevity. Time is short and so are online games. A player can quickly and easily go from an Excel spreadsheet to any game experience imaginable online. Additionally, the player can play short-form games or jump in and out of a long-form game without penalty or concern. “Playing a game” is possible on demand, in real time, and the way consumers like it.
- Advertising. How can online games survive and compete if they’re free? Here’s the beauty of this transition: advertisers are the prime movers. Online games are typically funded through advertising revenue. They leverage marketers’ support to deliver higher quality experiences to consumers. They deliver target audiences their sponsors’ seek and innovate play to satisfy consumers. Moreover, this transition has been incubating for over 10 years. Online games have used the time to hone their advertising technologies and analytics. As the consoles try to figure out and sell in-game ads, online games point to years of experience and case studies for serving ads pre-game, during commercial breaks, and around the game.
We marketers now have the opportunity to quench the gamer thirst in all of us while delivering our message through online games. Consumers dictate the game platform and environment and the games themselves. The Internet meets these demands through online games. Advertisers are powering the movement and reaping the rewards.
Thanks for your mindshare.
Kevin is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.
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