[Back from Las Vegas' CES, Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft reflects on a few of the top takeaways from the show, from connected TVs to the uncertain console future.
We didn't see big console announcements or unveilings of stunning new video game franchises at CES in Las Vegas this week -- nor did we expect to.
Instead, we saw products and services that will play vital roles in the future of the video game industry. And that's more exciting than any plain-old console reveal.
Here are Gamasutra's key takeaways from CES this week:
Connected TVs will become more game-friendly
As usual, TVs were everywhere at CES in all kinds of formats. Last year, there was plenty of buzz around 3D. But this year more than last, "smart" TVs that are connected to the internet showed off massive potential to influence the future of video games.
What smart TVs can do is put video games in the living rooms of people who really didn't intend to buy a video game player, but might be pleasantly surprised when they get one as part of the package. It's ninja-like living room infiltration, but maybe that's what it'll take to expand the audience.
During CES, OnLive announced a partnership that puts its streaming game tech
into all Google TV devices, and competing cloud gaming firm Gaikai announced a major deal with LG
that will add streaming game functionality to LG's Cinema 3D TVs. Gaikai CEO David Perry was coy
when he told Gamasutra that another big TV announcement was on the way.
We also found that Panasonic has a developer program, and -- mysteriously -- Toshiba's smart TVs had an empty game tab.
And video games for connected TVs are not just about streaming games from the cloud. TVs at CES were more app- and game-friendly than ever. Make decent controllers as part of the package, and we'll see where this goes.
Oh, and of course, these TVs look bigger, better and sharper than ever -- but does that really do much to expand the video game market meaningfully? Not really, but we'll take them anyway.
The fight over mobile game players
There's a war brewing in your pocket. (Or is it your phone on vibrate? No, it's a war.) It's a war that's subtler than Qualcomm flexing its mobile Snapdragon chips or Nvidia pumping up its Tegra 3. This isn't a war over pushing pocket polygons, but a war over the players, and where customers will choose to buy their games.
We know where Apple users will get their games, but the Android marketplace is still famously fragmented. That's not driving away companies from the platform, however, as they can't ignore the massive install base of Android.
And where opportunity lies, so does competition. Companies such as PlayPhone, DeNA/Ngmoco and OpenFeint are in an intense race to form partnerships with major carriers to gather as many users as possible. PlayPhone told Gamasutra about a partnership with AT&T that will have PlayPhone's social games portal pre-installed on AT&T Android phones -- a pretty big get for a company many might not be familiar with.
The fight goes beyond the three companies mentioned above, as some phone manufacturers have their own marketplaces (Nokia's Ovi Store), Amazon is using its sizable leverage to push its Android app store, and there's the default Google Android Market. We'd love to say it's going to get easier for Android game developers going forward, but all signs at CES say things will just get hairier. But at least it's exciting.
Android tablets, ahoy!
We love our iPads, but sometimes it's hard to not stare longingly at the rapidly-evolving Android tablet space. Thanks to the openness of the platform, manufacturers are building an immense variety of these devices, from the top of the line down to, more interestingly, low-priced, base models.
These cheap tablets are what have the most potential to drive a growth in the tablet user base, and open up an audience to tablet games. For example, chipset maker Nvidia showed off a small Asus tablet with impressive capabilities that will retail for just $250, or half the price of a base iPad, and much friendlier to people's wallets worldwide.
But there are also the higher-end tablets, and companies including Nvidia and Qualcomm
were proudly showing these off, with tablets running 3D-intensive games covering the walls of their booths. The two chipset makers are working closely with game developers, adding their games to Qualcomm's GamePack and Nvidia's TegraZone chip-optimized discovery platforms.
And core console gamers should take note as well -- tablets are coming after your boxes. These tablets have the capability to connect to your television, and receive input from a controller, and display games that are near console-quality in terms of graphics. The tablet gaming future is bright.
Where do consoles go from here?
The game consoles were there this year, despite CES not really being a "video game show" per se. But seeing these consoles right alongside the rapidly-evolving spaces of smartphone, cloud, connected TV and tablets made the console model appear all the more sloth-like.
Nintendo was showing off its upcoming Wii U, which the company demoed in summer last year, as Sony also brought the handheld Vita and its PlayStation 3. Microsoft highlighted Xbox 360 and Kinect features that gamers are well aware of.
What was more interesting than the consoles was the clear theme at both Sony and Microsoft's CES media briefings -- these companies want customers to have a unified experience across all of their owned platforms, and that experience will respectively be facilitated by the Sony Entertainment Network, or through Windows' new Metro interface.
We're not predicting the death of consoles here (as we heard people from some tech spaces gleefully predict at CES), but what's going to need to happen is a substantial revolution -- a redefining of what a "console" is in terms of content delivery, the kinds of developers they attract, the kinds of games they host and the way users interact with them. We're wondering what the big three can deliver.