Sunday, January 20, 2013

Disruptive Tech or Deceptive Myth!?

This year is going to be the year of new gaming platforms and devices. Ouya was a major surprise very recently followed by GameStick and the Shield by nVidia and the news and gossip about Steam box. This is just going to be the beginning and we will probably experience waves of new devices which are mostly open systems.

Whether these new platforms succeed or not, there seems to be lots of new opportunities for independent developers to make video games and have opportunities to self publish their work. Unlike the MS, Sony or Nintendo owned consoles which have strict developer and game selection policies, these new platforms are open for anyone to use and create games.

There is a lot of excitement in the air for the independent creative people but how important will these new opportunities be really? I am skeptical about the success of most of these platforms.

Android based consoles and handhelds will provide the opportunity for all to easily make games and their digital distribution channels will enable most to ave their games available to gamers all over the world. Is this really a new opportunity? PC gaming has been like this for a long time now and most recently, android based mobile games have shared the same level of open ness and ease of distribution. PC games suffered a huge decline in their sales, to a level that many big publishers stopped porting their games for the PC, indicating that it is not worth the effort. Android markets are a joke compared to the closed iOS store. Making money off of Android mobile games seems to be a myth more than anything. There are many reasons for these digital failures, piracy being a major one. Lower piracy rates for the closed console devices and the Apple products is one reason games made for them have been able to survive and enjoy a solid paying user base.

A big exception exists for PC gaming and that is the Steam digital distribution portal. The magic of Valve has been to create a software platform that will enhance the user experience and provide added value for the games to a level that it makes sense for the gamers to want to purchase their games from steam and live inside this highly maintained walled garden. Steam seems to be the reason PC games did not die and to seme extent have flourished during the recent years.

A quick review of the current situation in the game market reveals that Xbox, PS3, Wii, Steam and the Apple Store have been highly successful and developers selling their products for these hardware and software platforms have been doing quite good. PC sales other than steam, android and all other mobile platforms have been huge failures compared to the theoretical potential that they should have (considering their open nature and the penetration factor of the platforms in society).

Open systems, open markets and free opportunities for all has not proved to be the best financial solution for sustainable growth in the digital age. Similar conclusions can be made by reviewing the state of the music and film industries too.

I think that the new Android based consoles will experience a future very much similar to the non-steam pc market and the Android mobile market. It will get quite fragmented too and there will be lots of content made for lots of distribution channels and many devices. Not to mention tons of piracy. Epic failures will scare away the developers and the new kids on the block will be forgotten before anything major.

Other than tough marketing opportunities for these new consoles because of fragmentation, visibility and piracy, much lower capabilities compared to PCs and consoles takes away any competition possibility for them in wow factors and considering the fact that many mobile games showed flashes of brilliancy by employing new touch controls for otherwise mediocre games, reverting back to the standard console controls will toughen the challenge to come up with creative game ideas.

All in all, while we should be ready for quite some hype in the coming months around these platforms, I really don't think that we are going to witness a disruptive technology and a paradigm shift.

Having said all this, I do believe that a huge change will happen with the birth of the Steam Box or Steam Boxes! Adding the pleasure of relaxing on the living room sofa with console game pads to the PC games with big screens and the new small PCs that are configured to work with the monster gaming system called Steam seems to be a wonderful idea. This will further strengthen an already strong gaming system. With the new initiatives like the Green Light on Steam, there should be little worries about those complaining that the system is closed and not democratized well.

I think we should be ready for great news about it soon and it sure will be exciting for all developers, especially the ones that are independent.

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