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Games Everywhere: The Game Industry's Challenge for 2013
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Games Everywhere: The Game Industry's Challenge for 2013

January 14, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Approach #3: Solve the Touchscreen Problem in Existing Mobile Devices

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. It's no surprise that the hardware companies mentioned above are trying to solve the problem of Same Game, Different Device with new, expensive tech (it's their job), but really, there's an easier fix for this: Hardware controls for smartphones and tablets.

Instead of trying to enable consumers to play the same games on all their devices, it would be much more feasible to simply offer them the necessary controls to have a home console-quality experience on-the-go instead, and the limiting factor here is mostly the clumsiness of the touchscreen when it comes to staple core game genres like first person shooters.

It's no secret that there are plenty of games out there for iOS and Android that are unsatisfactory were designed with a gamepad in mind, and in my experience, even the best virtual gamepad simply doesn't cut it.

To be sure, some game devs are doing a great job building games that use the touchscreen in ways that feel splendidly tuned and natural, but until we all live in places with cloud servers and great bandwidth everywhere, or can afford to shell out for a highly-specialized gadget like the Edge or Shield, why not give the people what they want and let us hook up wireless controllers to the smartphones and tablets we already own? Well, that's basically what input device manufacturers Mad Catz, SteelSeries, and Moga (among others) are trying to do.

Mad Catz appears to be the most ambitious of the lot: Shortly before CES 2013, Mad Catz announced the GameSmart Initiative, which is its attempt to champion the development of an open cross-platform Bluetooth controller standard in order to make it easier for peripheral manufacturers to make mobile accessories, developers to support them in their games, and consumers to buy both said accessories and games without worrying about whether X game would support Y controller or not.

Mad Catz senior VP of new product development Andrew Young explains: "We're trying to evangelize a worldwide market standard, a global approach, not just a proprietary MadCatz approach... People have been trying to do Bluetooth, but they've been doing it more proprietary and requiring drivers on different platforms, and we sat back and watched this for about 18 months.

"What we're trying to do is to standardize it, make it as platform-agnostic as possible, so that if a consumer has a MadCatz peripheral they can use it with as many devices as possible. A big part of that, obviously, is Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low-Energy. We want to end up in a situation where most developers should be using the HID over GATT standard protocol, like how most PC developers develop over HID."

Meanwhile, both SteelSeries and Moga have taken a more traditional approach to developing mobile controls; the SteelSeries Free and Moga Pro are both Bluetooth-based game controllers that depend on game developers to specifically include support in their games.

On the even more economical end, SteelSeries announced its Free Touchscreen Gaming Controls in late December -- a $20 set of three buttons and an analog stick that attach to your touchscreen device by suction cups made of conductive rubber; you'd place them on top of a game's touchscreen gamepad overlay to translate your inputs into touch. It certainly sounds somewhat wacky, but it's an interesting attempt to circumvent the lack-of-proper-standards problem with clever hardware design.

None of the above peripherals might be quite the sexy, futuristic vision of Games In The Future that we hope to see at CES every year, but they might be good enough for 2013, especially if you're perfectly happy with your smartphone or tablet except for when it comes to core-oriented titles that demand to be played with a proper gamepad. (I, for one, would love to have a wireless gamepad for my iPad that Just Works.)

Testing the Next Console Generation

While hardware giants like Nvidia and Razer are making ambitious plans for the future by showing neat tech now, the longer it takes for those plans to come to fruition, the more likely that someone else -- maybe Apple, maybe Microsoft, maybe one of their respective competitors -- will disrupt them with something newer still.

But it's clear that, however their methods may differ, each of these hardware manufacturers has identified the same opening in the market -- the Same Game (or game experience), Different Device problem -- and how well or how poorly Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo tackle that issue might just determine whether their dedicated game consoles return to the forefront of the industry or fade a little bit further to the background.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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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.