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.