Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Electronic Gaming: More Than You Think

I recently helped one of my gaming industry clients locate their new North American Headquarters. They’re making a “game on a chip” system that will help cable operators move into the gaming space via their set-top boxes. Since I can’t always share exactly who I’m working with, I frequently don’t say anything at all. But this time it was fine for me to tell people they were in the gaming sector. And the number one response I got was, “Are you working with one of those casino companies?” The casino question didn’t offend me at all, but it did surprise me the first couple of times. And (more importantly) it revealed to me that many people aren’t aware of what the gaming space encompasses.

So I thought I’d give a gaming overview based upon companies I’ve worked with, companies I’ve met with, and articles I’ve read recently.

First, the gaming sectors everyone thinks of:
  • Console games (Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation) almost always come to mind. You buy a system, buy a game, put them together, and play to your heart’s content.
  • Portable gaming devices (PlayStation Portable, DS, and iPod Touch) are also frequently thought of. You buy the platform then you buy (or download for free) the game, and you play on the go.
  • PC games are those you buy at the local computer store (or download off a web site), load onto your PC and play at will. You’re running on your local copy of the system, although you may be able to interact with others via a web connection.
  • Casino games are the games that people play when they can’t make it to a gambling venue. They may be online, they may be a freestanding box at a gas station, or they may in fact, be in a casino. Unless they’re in a casino they’re not played on the same cash basis that you’d see in a casino… that would be illegal gambling.
And now for some sectors most people don’t think of:

  • Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. These are games you play AT your PC, but they’re not necessarily played ON your PC. You’re entering an online world in which you’re playing against other people scattered around the country or globe… literally. The characters you shoot are other people. The alliances you form are with other people. Eve and World of Warcraft are two well-known examples. Hi-Rez Studios’ February 2010 release of Global Agenda has also been garnering a great deal of press… along with some debates over how to classify it. 
  • Employee Evaluation Games. I met with leaders from a company last week who have developed a game that companies can use to predict future job performance by assessing assesses thought processes, motivators, and behavior. Why not? If one can create an electronic world that generates enough stress to yield people’s “real” reactions, then there’s a consistent process, biases are minimized, and money is saved. What a great idea! I’ll contextualize my belief in this idea through a real-world experience: When I entered the sales world, the large company I was applying for had me take an onsite written test for mental acumen. When I passed that they put me through a live, onsite, full-day role-playing evaluation. In the live event, two or three evaluators spent the day with three or four candidates trying to measure how we’d react in real-world situations. It was expensive for both the parties (their money, my time), but the company felt that it reduced their “false positives.” However, there was commonly debate by those who didn’t pass over the subjectivity of the day-long exercise.
  • Employee education. The human mind absorbs more when it’s fully engaged. What better way to teach someone that through a fun training exercise that’s completely documented and completely consistent? It would beat the heck out of the computer-based modules I went through years ago.
  • Student education. If it’s good for employees, how much better for the upcoming generation that already thinks in terms of computers and games? 
  • Social Games. This one’s peculiar, but it works, and the best way to illustrate is through Foursquare.  Foursquare tracks its users location via Smartphone GPS and logs which of its users go to participating destinations. Whoever goes there the most or spends the most time there becomes the mayor of that place. It’s like an affinity program with goals, competition, and recognition… making it a bona-fide game in my book.
Finally, here are a couple of games and changes coming:
  • A cool change. It’s been predicted that MMO games may one day offer a user-facing camera. Why? So that the avatar can mimic the facial expressions of its owner.  THAT will be fun to see.
  • Is this a game? I recently read about a college professor predicting that there will be internet-ebabled toothbrushes within five years. The thinking is that if it tracks our brushing habits and can report on them, then we’ll become more conscientious brushers. And if we demonstrate good hygiene, the manufacturers may even reward us with coupons or other incentives. I wouldn’t classify this as a game, but the professor (and article) did. So again, even WHAT is considered a game is on the table. For those who are skeptical about this direction, consider that one can already purchase internet-enabled bathroom scales that track one’s weight and can even post it on Twitter.  I'm  not looking forward to the day when I receive my first tweet of someone's body weight...
  • Why not teach REAL Guitar?  Boston-based Seven45 is scheduled to release Power GIG: Rise of the Six String in the fall of 2010.  This game, modeled after Guitar Hero and Rock Band, will have a real electric guitar as a controller and will offer color or "chord" mode.  In chord mode, the player will use the actual finger positions, thereby teaching them to play for real.  In fact, the game will reportedly teach players the basics for all of the instruments in the game.
As an aside, I've found that it's easiest to describe these companies to landlords as software development companies with a very creative product and culture.  The end result is the same in regards to space type, and I don't have to answer questions about casino equipment!

Finally, for a great review of the companies involved in Georgia's gaming industry, click here to go an interactive version of the map to the right.  The map lists a great number of the Savannah and metro Atlanta gaming companies.

I know I’m leaving a lot off here, so I’ll invite your comments here or via email (John@LynxRE.com). But I hope this overview is helpful!