By Jim Black
In Back to the Future II, while visiting the ’80s Café in 2015, Marty McFly tries to show some kids how to play Wild Gunman. Despite being a ‘Crack Shot,’ Marty is mocked. Video games requiring the use of your hands are babies’ toys. With the advent of the Nintendo Wii, Playstation Move and Xbox Kinect, we’re beginning to see this dramatic shift happen before our eyes. Maybe this means there’s hope I might actually get a hover-board or at least be able to hover-convert my Toyota Yaris in the near future!
In the past 30 years, the video game industry has evolved by leaps and bounds – from crude, simplistic games of the early ’80s played by a small subculture, to technologically advanced, motion capture systems enjoyed by the entire family and available on a plethora of platforms. Granted, as a 10-year-old, I thought the pinnacle of gaming was beating my buddy at Mario Kart on the SNES. Was I ever wrong! Last year, in the U.S. alone, the videogame industry brought in more than $15 billion in revenue, with industry analysts expecting 2011 to be an exceptional growth year. That’s a big jump from the $6.6 billion the U.S. gaming industry made in 2000. But, what accounts for the bump N’ jump in revenue in just 10 years? Is it the revitalization of beloved gaming characters like Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog or Solid Snake? Is global warming forcing kids to stay indoors and play more video games? Or is it the much appreciated reprieve from the film industry choosing not to make as many horrendously bad video game adaptations as it did during the ’90s, such as Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter? While the latter probably did contribute in some way, the growth mainly resulted in the industry’s transition to a more interactive gameplay style, as well as a shift in focus from traditional console based gaming. Interactive games provided the industry with an opportunity to market to a much larger and much more diverse group of consumers. Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero helped show that video games weren’t just meant for guys between the ages of 18 – 34, typically relegated to playing games on a couch in a basement, but could be a healthy and fun activity for all ages. Today, with the Nintendo (Wii), Sony (the Move) and Xbox (Kinect) ferociously battling for this new and growing segment of consumers, more and more developers are investing a sizable chunk of their time and resources into this new frontier and pushing the limits of gaming.
While motion -controlled games are changing the nature of console gaming, growth in the video game industry can also be attributed to the segmentation of platforms. Ten years ago, most gamers had only two options: console or PC. Those two platforms may still account for over half of the industry’s revenue, but, consumers now have a greater variety of options to get their gaming fix. The explosion of smart phones/tablet computers and online communities has proven to be a fertile ground for game developers with revenue up 66 percent (social networks), 46 percent (mobile devices) and 27 percent (multiplayer online) over the past 12 months. Mobile apps, Facebook widgets, and online communities such as Second Life, are also changing the game (pardon the pun) and quickly becoming viable gaming platforms. So much so, that more and more companies are opting to develop small and simple online games or mobile apps as part of their social media plans to help build profile with the online communities. Companies no longer see games as a pastime just for youth, but as tools to help reach out to a much larger community.
Despite the dramatic metamorphosis gaming has gone through over the past decade, we are only now beginning to see the possibilities video games hold in store from an entertainment and a communications perspective. As both an avid gamer and communicator, I look forward to seeing how this plays out.