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Do video games have a future at CES?

Do video games have a future at CES? Exclusive

January 18, 2013 | By Chris Morris

January 18, 2013 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

The circus has left town here in Las Vegas. The 100-inch Ultra high definition sets have been packed up. The tens of thousands of unread show dailies have been recycled. And the folks at Razer are back at their headquarters gleefully polishing their Best of CES award.

As the hangovers dim and perspective starts to set in, though, it's worth taking one look back at CES and seeing what it means - and could mean - for the video game industry as a whole.

Certainly, games made a mark this year. Razer's Edge was the belle of the ball. Nvidia turned heads with its Project Shield and the video game possibilities of the Tegra 4 chip. And the Oculus Rift VR headset wowed select show goers (including us) with an update on where things stand with its virtual reality headset.

There were plenty of other companies with products on display. Sphero, the iOS controlled ball that never met an electronics/gaming trade show it didn't like, was there. And Sifteo, the interactive cube video game system, made its booth debut to whip up general interest.

And, of course, there were the companies that make you slap your head, wondering why they're bothering spending the money - like Intellect Motion's Smotion, a set of LED sensors attached to a belt worn by the player to track movement and simulate it onscreen.

Game hardware goes beyond E3

Despite the fairly notable presence video games had at this year's CES, however, it still felt very much like an afterthought. Sony didn't so much as hint about the PlayStation 4 during its rambling keynote (which was desperately in need of a big moment). The PS3 was on display at the company's booth, but many PR people working the show stared blankly when asked about the Vita.

Even the Razer's victory was tainted by the CBS/CNET/Dish Network scandal, where Dish Network's Hopper was the original winner, but disqualified by the parent company due to legal battles.

It puts video games in an interesting spot in terms of the overall entertainment and electronics culture. Games themselves, of course, have their own showcase - and as the industry evolves, that will continue to change. But game hardware has, in many ways, outgrown E3.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have long since moved beyond their video game roots. Both systems are just as functional as set top boxes as anything by Roku or Apple. And the Wii U has the same sort of potential.

Last week Sony executives told me they see the PlayStation as the heart of the Sony Network Entertainment push. And Microsoft, which crowed last year that non-game apps had become more popular than multiplayer games, holds a very similar view.

"We really look at it as an entertainment system," says Blair Westlake, corporate VP, Microsoft Media & Entertainment Group. "It's both games and entertainment. We realize that for a huge percentage of our users, they like to park themselves on their couch and use the Xbox as their primary means of accessing entertainment."

1-2-3 Combo

So why, then, do game systems voluntarily take the back seat at this show that celebrates entertainment? (Yeah, I know CES claims to be electronics focused, but once you get past the iPhone cases and the speaker docks, the vast majority of the products at the show are focused on improving the overall entertainment experience.)

CES could easily become the first punch in a one-two-three combo for the game industry to build both awareness and excitement about the growing feature-set of gaming systems (with GDC and E3 being punches two and three). All systems are forward enough on the collective radar of consumers and media that fighting for space in the news cycle wouldn't be problematic. And it would cut back on the gorging of information that takes place at E3 every year, where companies tend to drown each other out in the race for coverage.

To make it clear: I'm not advocating that CES should become a video games' playground. E3 does a good job of covering the industry's needs for that aspect of game systems. But as manufacturers continue to evolve what the console - and, for that matter, the handheld - is going to be, they need to consider ways to reach out to different sorts of media and a different audience.

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