I’m 51 years old and became a video gamer organically. Meaning, I actually played the games the first generation of video games tried to emulate. The first electric try at football was this, and it amused the hell out of us but made zero sense as a “simulation” of football. When Mattel released it’s handheld video football game in 1976, it sold truckloads of them and all it did was beep and flash lights at us. It was a step up in logic but still miles away from anything resembling football.
Mattel’s Intellivision system brought electronic football to my television for the first time and I wasn’t the only one enthralled by the stunning graphics and sounds of 1982. It was a baby step but a huge leap from beeping red LED’s. Then the North American Video Game Crash of 1983 happened and hopes were dashed across the video game landscape. Is this how it would end? Enter Nintendo and the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 and the 8-bit revolution was on.
At that point in time, a 24 year-old male excited about video games was best served keeping it to himself. But the NES exploded on U.S. soil and gaming finally had a foothold in the public consciousness. It also brought the glory of Tecmo Bowl and all the insane 9-man football a geek could ask for. Still a little short of “real” football but the only game in town and still a fun and excellent approximation.
John Madden insisted on real football with 11 players and in 1990 the 16-bit Sega Genesis console was the first that had the horsepower to make that happen. This allowed Sega to close the gap with Nintendo and the Silver Age of Video Gaming began in earnest. Madden Football would go on to be a billion dollar, multi-platform gamechanger and evidence that football has always been America’s game despite baseball’s long held claim to the title.
In 1994, Sony upped the ante with the original Playstation and the video game world shook at the titan they had created. It was the first system to sell 100 million units and Sony produced it up until 2006 and just 6 months before unleashing the PS3 on the public. It means they were producing the original during the heyday of it’s equally revolutionary PS2 (“Honey, it’s a DVD player.” is how I sold it to the ex-wife as an essential in the family room) and just before it took the covers off it’s third generation monster. That’s an era of shelf-life in video game terms. Likewise, the PS2 continues production today while the PS3 is the current Sony flagship.
By the time we get to the present day rulers, PS3 and XBOX 360, game consoles have become ubiquitous in everybody’s living room. No longer relegated to a niche “gaming” section of the family entertainment system, Sony and Microsoft have led the charge to make their boxes essential. But a funny thing happened on the way to world dominance. Steve Jobs and Facebook.
In January 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone and I’m sure nobody at Sony or Microsoft’s game divisions thought it would have any impact on them. But by starting the “Smartphone” era, Jobs inadvertently supercharged a gaming sector that had been virtually ignored and starving for content: the Mobile Gamer. Before the iPhone, gaming on a cellphone was a matter of putting up with the limitations inherent in the device and NOBODY would ever tout what an awesome game they were playing on their phone. Then the Android phones went on line and mobile game designers had a new chemistry set to play with and new benchmarks were being set daily.
Now, your grandmother has probably heard of and maybe even played this game. After Jobs and the iPhone fired the first shot over the console’s bow, Facebook and Zynga teamed up and let loose a torpedo in the form of “Social Gaming”. Suddenly “Farmville” and anything else you could suffix with -Ville to make a game out of soared in popularity. And for reasons that consoles don’t have an answer for.
As Facebook become a daily habit for many people, Zynga’s simple yet addictive resource management games lured in millions. Many gamer’s pooh-poohed the notion that anyone playing these was a true “gamer”. But as Zynga’s rise in popularity and profits continues, this has proven to be a short-sighted view. What was happening was nothing less than a seismic shift in the landscape. Gamer’s have been schooled that games are a separate compartment of entertainment with special rules and conditions. Mostly involving a dark room, massive TV and plenty of Mountain Dew.
No one foresaw being able to play visually pleasing and mentally challenging games or accurate simulations on a phone. Or that social games like Words with Friends and the Ville stable from Zynga would find the massive audiences that they have. I love my PS3 and the fact that it’s also a Blu-Ray player and Wi-Fi ready out of the box were highly motivating factors. But I honestly use it more for streaming Netflix and Pay-per View movies these days. That’s because I don’t go a whole day anymore without some kind of game fix handy. In fact, I can emulate every NES, SNES or Sega Genesis game EVER on my phone and I can tell you, a few laps of Sega Grand Prix will make time standing in line easier to take. Games are so good they are being labelled “Production Killers” by people playing them while supposedly working.
The advent of the tablet is another challenger to the console throne. With the graphics these devices are capable of, the only thing tablets need do is come up with a control scheme that hardcore gamers intuitively understand and consoles will start to die for good. Why have a box anchored to my TV when I can carry my game with me? Factor in convenience and PC’s, phones and tablets also win the content distribution battle. OTA sales and updates beat having to go to a store and buy a physical disc. This will be the first year more movies are streamed than watched on DVD.
I believe video games are headed down the same road especially as mobile media devices improve and delivering content instantly becomes the standard customer expectation. I’m not getting rid of my PS3 anytime soon, it has more than a few years of use to go. But the days where it is the sole provider of gaming entertainment are coming to an end. It will be interesting to see how (or if) Sony and Microsoft handle this new reality.