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Opinion: What CES 2013 says about the state of the game industry
Opinion: What CES 2013 says about the state of the game industry Exclusive
January 8, 2013 | By Patrick Miller

Game Developer magazine editor Patrick Miller argues how the influx of game-related announcements at this year's CES hints at a tumultuous -- yet exciting -- 2013.

This year's International CES has had more significant game-related announcements in the last 48 hours than the previous two shows have had combined -- reminding us that now, more than ever, the game industry isn't just about the major consoles and console manufacturers.

CES hasn't really been a destination show for game industry announcements over the past few years. Game-related news that does break there is typically relatively niche stuff related to gaming PC components (new graphics cards), peripherals (third-party input devices and accessories) and more recently, new mobile processors and GPUs meant to drive more graphically-intensive mobile games. Microsoft and Sony are there, but they're usually focused more on their consumer tech businesses, not games (which they save for E3).

Bring forth the game hardware

This year, however, we've seen a wave of major games announcements hit during the pre-show press conferences. Between Nvidia's Project Shield handheld console, GRID cloud streaming game server, and GeForce Experience optimization software, and Valve's partnership with Xi3 to develop a PC-based game system for Steam and its living room-friendly Big Picture Mode, this year's CES has been an unusually notable one for the game industry -- and all those announcements happened before the show floor opened Tuesday morning. When you look at the way the press at the show and their audiences are reacting to the news, it's clear that game hardware manufacturers at CES are getting more buzz and bigger reactions than they have in the few years prior.

Even companies that don't focus on game-centric products are making sure to at least pay lip service to the importance of playing games on their new gadgets. Games figured into each of Intel's new product announcements, from its new Atom smartphone processors meant for developing markets (and for playing games), to the chipmaker's third- and fourth-generation low-power Core series tablet/Ultrabook processors (shown playing Civilization V). When Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs wanted to demonstrate the power of the new Snapdragon 800 line, he showed it playing a high-quality 3D game. LG and Vizio are both bringing new HDTVs with built-in Google TV support that includes an OnLive streaming game client.

So what's the difference?

Now, CES veterans will no doubt notice that these announcements and demos aren't drastically different from much of the usual fare; we've seen new consoles, exciting prototypes, streaming services, and other similar stuff show up at CES in the past. So why is this year different?

I maintain that part of the difference between this year's CES and the CES of years past is in how we, as industry members, react to these announcements. Before, it was easy to dismiss incremental PC hardware upgrades and specialized input devices as only relevant to a relatively small market segment, ignore would-be console upstarts because we knew they wouldn't get the developer support needed to attract a significant user base, and continually refer to cloud streaming services as "next year's trend." If one of the Big Three wasn't involved, it probably wasn't that interesting.

But as we continue to wait for Microsoft and Sony to show us their new systems -- and we wait for Nintendo to wow us with the Wii U -- we're getting more and more invested in other games, devices, platforms, and ecosystems that are evolving faster than the current generation of consoles can keep up. Emotionally, we're getting more and more used to the idea that noteworthy, interesting, entertaining games can be made for platforms besides the major consoles. In other words, we're interested in these announcements because, as one man put it, our bodies are ready.

Meanwhile, industry powerhouses like Valve, Nvidia, Intel and Qualcomm are discovering that they can start to steal the spotlight, if only by inches, from the major console manufacturers by making every mobile device a potential game console, making streaming services more viable, and developing new consoles entirely.

(Ironically, as CES is becoming more interesting for us, it's getting less interesting for actual consumer electronics; most of the cool things happening in that industry are increasingly being relegated to company-specific press events by Apple, Google and more recently Microsoft.)

If there's one takeaway from CES 2013, it's that the barrier to entry in the hardware game is lower than ever: Processing power only gets cheaper, mobile bandwidth only gets faster and more widespread, specialized components like touchscreens, accelerometers, and GPS receivers only become more readily available, and open source operating systems are more viable. Now consider that, in parallel, the barriers to entry for developing games for any platform are just getting lower (thanks to tools like Unity and Unreal Engine, for example), and it's pretty clear that 2013 is going to be a pretty crazy year for the industry.

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wes bogdan
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Stagnation is no one's friend your breath of fresh air becomes yesterdays news and no one currently wii u has stalled sony and ms are no shows and upstarts are driving wedges in wherever they can.

It's a brave new world.

Dave Ingram
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"...noteworthy, interesting, entertaining games can be made for platforms besides the major consoles."

I feel like Microsoft and Sony are in a poker game with what they think are great hands, but they are just extremely hesitant to go all in. Nintendo is at the same poker game and has already thrown down a pair of Jacks on an all-in push (for you non poker players, that's a foolhardy move that can leave a pit in your stomach).

It truly is a brave new world, and it seems like the powerhouses are afraid to make the next move, because it is likely that their next consoles will be those special products that come out right before a segment dies, like Blu-Ray technology coming out right before we all switched to streaming media. The nimble are always best poised to pivot in a time of change, and our favorite console manufacturers are anything but.

Simon Ludgate
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Continuing the poker analogy, it feels to me that the flurry of "microconsoles" is like holding 4/5ths of a straight flush: it's so exciting, but almost winning doesn't actually get you anything.

Kevin Fishburne
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@Simon Ludgate: I think the idea of multiple consoles each holding a small share of the living room only becomes a problem when game portability barriers exist. Games have to comply with the console maker's terms, must be approved for inclusion, must use a particular SDK to some degree, might have to switch out graphics/audio/networking/etc libraries that aren't supported on the system and all that jazz.

If studios didn't have to jump through so many hoops just to get their game approved for and running on a particular console, there's no reason not to have it on that console. And if 2013 has 40 different consoles, each with mostly the same library of games, that is nothing but good for studios and gamers.

I don't know who's holding what cards, but as a dev and gamer I haven't been this excited since '85-'95.

Simon Ludgate
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@Kevin But what if there's 40 consoles and massive cross-compatability problems across all of them, not unlike the current Android phone experience? Fragmented OS, hardware, game libraries, control inputs...

The reason not to port a game to a console is the same as not porting it to a phone. As for why some games are available to some phones and not others (I can't get apps for the Samsung Galaxy S II on my Galaxy S II X, go figure) don't ask me!

Bob Johnson
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"4/5ths of a straight flush." Exactly. Great analogy.

Kevin Fishburne
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@Simon Ludgate:

"But what if there's 40 consoles and massive cross-compatability problems across all of them, not unlike the current Android phone experience? Fragmented OS, hardware, game libraries, control inputs..."

Then everyone loses. That's what I meant by "portability barriers". Basically how difficult it is for a studio to port their game to another platform. I'm hoping the industry's evolving toward reducing if not completely eliminating the worst of those barriers. If it's no trouble to port your game you'll probably port it, and then everyone wins.

Ian Uniacke
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"Basically how difficult it is for a studio to port their game to another platform" two words: Q. A.

Lewis Wakeford
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The portability issues can't be that much worse than developing for PC. I suppose a bigger problem is pricing, as you can't sell an android box at a loss like the big 3 can do. Then again, if Android games are cheaper it won't be as much of an issue.

Eric Geer
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"Continuing the poker analogy, it feels to me that the flurry of "microconsoles" is like holding 4/5ths of a straight flush: it's so exciting, but almost winning doesn't actually get you anything."

If microconsoles is the straight flush of this generation....count me out. As a consumer/player(not developer), I love that developers have gotten more freedom and ability to develop new and interesting things on various platforms..but it doesn't make it great. There is a distinct group of people that enjoy the "indie scene", but also a group that will never ever step into it or are interested in it. And my guess is that 95% of games on these microconsoles will cater to that audience...all others need not apply. I'm sorry I'm just not that interested in playing smartphone games in my living room.

Lyon Medina
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Well I just got done going through show floor, and not to disagree with this article, even though games are being pushed to the front of CES, the focus this year finally shifted from 3D.

Not to gaming sadly, even though I hope next year it will (This year I felt that it came in 6th, which is really good if you have ever been to CES). This year was clarity and Cloud based systems. Information transference and now picture quality of colors in TV's. Colors seem to be a theme of this year.

Last year was a low year for CES and this year it felt much livelier like people were actually happy to be there and excited for the 2013 year. Honestly I wish I could get in deeper to the show, but there is way to much to talk about. Great show and I feel great about how things went this year.

Patrick Miller
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Yeah, if you go by presence on the show floor, CES hasn't been a big show in a long time. The press conference announcements are where games were unusually big.

Lyon Medina
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CES seems to only get livelier when there is a gaming annoucement. The only booth I really missed not being there was Microsofts. Hope they come back, even though I guess Nikon would hate to give up all the space they got from them leaving.

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Really great article!

I've been thinking very similar things, and I have to say that with the increase in quality of tablets I've been looking into getting one. Well, that and I figure this is as good a time as ever to start really learning about them.

If only they didn't cost an arm and a leg haha.

Jarod Smiley
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I was hoping Sony would show some stuff on Gaikai...but at least we got some steam updates...

GameViewPoint Developer
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Big changes are definitely on the way, not necessarily in 2013 but certainly within the next 3 years. It really is now all about the App stores first and foremost and hardware 2nd. As has been said the hardware is now at the point that you can pretty much include what's needed to run quality 2D/3D games in anything, phones, tablets, TV's, so having a block that resides under your TV is going to go.

Within a few years the gaming universe will be dominated by the Apple App store, Google Play, XBox live and likely the Steam Store, probably in that order.

Matt Cratty
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Except that there are no quality games for handheld devices.

kevin williams
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The Media has had a hard time covering the Steam Box scene at CES as they have avoided covering the platform service as it differed greatly fro the console approach. One of the reasons that forced Sony move up the PS4 reveal was the reaction to the non standard console approach seen on the Las Vegas show floor.

With the news of another studio going to the wall - the need for a independent platform comes, just as the console industry wants to try and lock down DLC! I feel that CES'13 will ark the change from console to independent platform interest by the audience - and if the XB720 and PS4 dose not wow this could be the beginning of the next major upheaval in the sector!

Daniel McMillan
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Platform Tectonics! So the continent is shifting beneath us. In motion pictures and TV - the long term commitment to exclusive platforms (Network TV, Cable TV) translates into streaming deals by major studios vs. content providers (I.e. HBO/Universal vs. Netflix). So there will be dozens more streaming on demand systems (new ones, old ones, and 'wtf' ones), but only a couple will be stable and persistent enough for the public to trust.

In all this craziness, the mass public will be like - ok that's cool, that's new - but I need something I can rely on, and that I'm already somewhat vested in (as our economy puckers up) and at the same time customer service for everything new, old, and ‘wtf’ is one of the few areas that will shine if someone can get that right!

This brings us back to the basics of stability. The things that everyone already has in their household.

Consoles (current ones)
Mobile (Tablets & Phones)

Look a little closer. Any/all of them are/will be Internet connected!

The Internet is the common ground (platform) in all cases. Therefore, release your products Internet friendly, scalable, with a hobbyist approach to add-on and customize (presently depicted as ‘monetized’ but I’m referring to ‘expandable’ like a Lego Kit - NOT taking a Lego Kit apart and selling each piece in order to piss off your patrons by not allowing them to build the Lego Set that was sold to them). Should people have to install front end clients? Good question. But I'm sure that most people would say that it is easier to forget that we installed Firefox than it is 'GameGodUber_v2.0_r3.7 (30GB MIN.).

wes bogdan
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Imagine if you could play halo,mario kart and killzone but need only 1 box because sony,ms and ninty had the same system under the hood and things like ui and online,trophys/achievements and achomplishments were the difernchating more would we waste $500-1000 on the two systems we really didn't want just to play xx games.

That could be funled back to game purchases and dlc and superfans wouldn't change alegence but xbox gamers could play against sony fans in team deathmatch on halo 5 which would be spectacular fun.

Of course either :playstation,xbox or wii would pop up no matter the box and ninty could be the kiddy stripped down unit while ms and sony duled to the hardcore and were better suited as set top devices.

Ninty should be a consultant on controler innovation and sony /ms would have tablet screens on their pads but better than wii u .

With google and apple coming in by 2015 this would be good strategy and of course there's valve and nvidia as well.

Time will tell but right now you can throw your chips up place your bets and let it ride because eventuially the chips will fall where they may and what will be who knows....

Michael Rooney
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Just watching the coverage it felt more like everything else was less exciting than that gaming was more exciting. There weren't that many huge exciting things out of CES this year. Usually there are a handful of products where I go, "WOW THAT'S FLIPPIN AWESOME," but there weren't very many of those this year for me.