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Games Everywhere: The Game Industry's Challenge for 2013

January 14, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Approach #2: Build More Powerful, Versatile Mobile Devices

The cloud streaming games approach is built on the assumption that it's easier to sell people relatively low-power, "dumb" terminal devices and keep the real processing power in the server farms -- essentially adopting the classic mainframe-terminal model of computing. But chipset developers like Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Intel are only continuing to make mobile processors that are smaller, cheaper, more energy-efficient, and more powerful.

At this year's CES in particular, it's easier than ever to imagine a game industry built solely on extraordinarily powerful mobile devices that also serve as home consoles. After all, if you start a game on your tablet during your commute home and finish it on your tablet at home while it's plugged into a dock connecting it to your TV and USB controllers, you're still kind of "enjoying the same game on any device" -- it's just that the device has changed somewhat.

Last year at CES, PC game peripheral manufacturer Razer entered the system business with a premium game laptop, the Razer Blade, and showed off a strange-looking game-focused tablet prototype called Project Fiona.

This year at CES, Project Fiona became a real product called the Razer Edge, which is a Windows 8 tablet built with an Intel Core processor and an Nvidia mobile GPU, and features a series of separate accessories intended to let consumers adapt it to their preferred playing situations.

By itself, it's a relatively high-powered tablet, but if you want to hold it like a rather large portable game console with an analog stick and buttons on each side, or hook it up to a battery-powered mobile keyboard and mouse for a laptop PC experience, or hook it up to a dock that connects to your HDTV via HDMI and has ports for several USB controllers for local multiplayer like a console, you can buy adapters to let you do that.

It's expensive, mind you -- $999 for the base tablet configuration, plus a range from $100 to $250 for each of the adapters -- but for core audiences looking to buy a new tablet, laptop, and/or console that they can use to access their existing Windows PC game library however they like, that price might not be too high.

Nvidia also bet on buffing mobile game devices. Not only did it announce its new mobile processor, the Tegra 4, it also announced a Tegra 4-powered mobile Android console called Project Shield that can locally play Android games via built-in 5" touchscreen or gamepad, output those Android games to an HDMI display for living room play, or even stream Windows games from a GeForce-equipped PC on the owner's local network.

Frankly, Project Shield seems like kind of a strange device that does a little bit of everything, but it's not hard to see how it could suit an enthusiast that wants to play Android games on the go and isn't satisfied with touchscreen controls, or wants more flexibility in how they play their PC library around the house (by hooking the Shield up to the HDTV instead of having to park a gaming PC in the living room, for example, or getting a quick Dishonored nightcap in before bed).

Compared to cloud streaming games, these two mobile devices undoubtedly have an easier time ensuring a quality game experience, but the up-front cost for the consumer is much higher; the Edge is about twice as much as a brand new home console costs on release for just the base configuration with no adapters, and Project Shield's PC-streaming functionality will require a PC with a Nvidia graphics chipset. What about budget-minded audiences?

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Bob Johnson
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I don't hold out hope for any of the three.

I tried the cloud stuff with OnLive. Lag. Tis interesting but the proof is in the pudding. Talk is cheap. I would have to experience no lag in my home to believe it.

Expensive mobile devices won't cut it either. The economics of a dock and a controller aren't great. Those things have traditionally been expensive. And many households will be annoyed if one member goes to play a game on the tv and the tablet is not in the dock. Last mobile tech is great but it lags traditional CPU/gPu tech. There are no current gen AAA 360 games on the iPad even though the 360 hardware is 7 years old. What happens late this year when the next 360 may be out? And it is 6-10x more powerful?

Do consumers want to reset the game clock? And have a lost generation where mobile tech catches up? The promise there I guess is cheap games and less restrictions means smaller guys can more easily make console games which will unleash a huge popular wave of creativity. I don't see it because I think a MS could easily make $300 console with the power for for fancy production values etc and then also have a digital store ala iOS for independent games. It would seem like this is very possible since Windows 8 has such a store. This would be more attractive to gamers than an OUYA.

The BT controllers aren't looking like big winners either. I did finally see a decent controller at this CES courtesy of Engadget. It is a case/ controller. Still the cost was $80 I think. And then have to carry 2 devices or carry a bulkier iPhone. Compare this to some of the discounts on the 3ds which were hitting $129 with a big 1st party game. This makes these devices less attractive. Then of course how many are going to develop for these controllers - the old accessory catch-22. I can only imagine that similar decent solutions for Android will be more expensive since the hardware choice is much more varied. Or the controller solutions will be one size fits all and be clumsy bulkier solutions as a result.

The problem with games on every platform is games are programs. And there is a cost to rewrite these programs for any piece for hardware. Very different from books and tv which have to be be re-encoded at worst which is relatively no expense.

Also working against games on every platform is the fact that the method of interacting with them is inherently part of the experience. This is just not the case with books, movies or tv.

And the problem with trying too hard to overcome this (or my fear) is it will tend to work against what makes a great game experience. Now you start to design with all platforms in mind. There is less innovation in hardware and controls because you want everything the same on all platforms. The experience gets watered down as a result.

Simon Ludgate
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I think you mean "the proof of the pudding is in the eating"

Sean Monica
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People also said the same thing about the NES and Atari.

Bob Johnson
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And the same thing about the Lynx and Jungle and .....

Not to say there aren't arguments for these devices. But I have a hard time seeing it. Maybe developers can make $1 CoD knockoffs that are good enough?

Jason Drysdale
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Great article--thanks!

The physical interaction with games seems to be the biggest barrier to 'games everywhere'--streaming services would be great perk, but before I will be interested in non-proprietary, cross-hardware play, mobile gaming will need to come up with a more viable way play games on the go. I am talking specifically about phones and tablets here--obviously Nintendo has things down pretty well. But if we're talking about touchscreen interfaces, then I guess I'm not convinced we're at a stage in which we should be more interested in cross-hardware play than we are with delivering and designing quality mobile gaming experiences.

This is a big issue for games-based learning as well, since accessibility makes learning with games a much easier sell for schools, universities, and instructors. However, if the games aren't up to snuff, it won't make much of a difference.

I'm not sure which side of the coin this task should fall to: game designers or hardware creators. What do you think?

Thanks again for the thought-provoking piece!

Scot White
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the game industry is trying too hard. the depth of a game is defined by the controls. WoW on smartphones and angry birds on PCs make sense does it?

there is NO 1 fit all solution and NEVER will be. this is the year when people will realize hybrid of different things are bad

Robert Green
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Two excerpts that sum up this piece:
"At CES 2013 last week, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang succinctly laid out the challenge facing the games industry at large in his opening remarks at the Nvidia press conference on Sunday evening: "It isn't possible for you to enjoy the same video game on any device.""
"If all you have is a hammer, the saying goes, everything else looks like a nail -- and if you manufacture hammers, you probably want everyone else to see nails everywhere, too."

The games industry has far greater challenges to face this year, like the start of a new console generation that many are predicting will be the last, and the increasing number of gamers who see even $1 as too much to pay up-front for a game. By comparison, I'm not sure I'd say that having to play different games on my TV and my phone even qualifies as a real problem, and certainly not one I'm going to pay a lot of money to solve.

Nick Ehrlich
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Well written article that outlines three of the main approaches nVidia is thinking about however, it seems like a major question is being overlooked: "Do gamers really want to play the same game on all devices?"

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we use devices based on where we are. Riding home on the train or bus is much different than sitting at home in your living room and I don't believe the complexity of the games we choose to play in these different situations is solely dependent on the technology we have at our disposal.

The real challenge for the industry may be accepting that the next current and next generation gamer wants access to a wide variety of game types that satisfy different needs at different times.

GameViewPoint Developer
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by the end of 2013 everyone will look back (probably) and see 2013 as the year of the new Xbox/Playstation and possible something Apple might do with Apple TV. Those things will overshadow everything else.

I do think we are in interesting times though, the face of the gaming world is going to change drastically over the next few years.