Gaming in the Future with Set Top Boxes

August 30, 2011 Posted by zachary

Previously, I had written about how the defining feature of gaming’s next generation will be a greater focus on accessibility. Today I would like to focus on one specific aspect of this: Bringing games to where the people are.

In the short history of gaming it has been an almost universal truth that people had to go to where the games were to play them. We had arcades which we had to drive to in order to play games. We had dedicated games consoles that people had to buy, set up and switch out games. We had PCs but were still limited in that people had to actively go to the game/computer store to buy games to play. In all these instances, the games did not come to the people. The people had to go to them.

In the future, games will be everywhere there are people a screen and an input device. You can already see this in mobile phones. Since the rise of the mobile phone with a screen, we have had gaming. It was limited in its scope to tetris clones, snake, card games and other limited graphic games. Now we have two prominent smart phone developers that have brought high resolution gaming to the public. People are used to carrying phones and now have the ability to use them as micro PCs including playing games on them.

Look at Facebook as well. Here we have a social network with over 500 million users. People join this service to get back in touch with old friends, keep up to date with current friends and family and just talk about themselves. It comes as no surprise that gaming followed. The majority of Facebook users play at least one game on the service. A smaller but still significant number use Facebook primarily for gaming.

So what does this mean for the future of gaming? This means we will see a greater emphasis on bringing gaming to the people raher than asking them to come to us.

How will this be done? I think it will come via a partnership with cable and satellite providers. They have millions of subscribers throughout the world. These people are ripe for an introduction to gaming. The majority of these people do not own a gaming console or at the least have one on a secondary tv such as in a kids room. But almost all of these people have a set top box or DVR. This is where these people will find gaming in the future.

I am aware that several pay tv providers have attempted what I am suggesting in the past. Unfortunately, the games they offered were limited in their appeal and presentation. They were no better than many early phone or Flash games. They were not able to offer any real compelling content to the user. This, however, is changing.

Let’s look at one example that doesn’t quite meet the prediction I am making but is pretty close. This is OnLive. This service allows the player to own a simple box with almost no real horsepower to play any number of current release PC games on their TV or computer monitor. They don’t have to worry that their PC’s specs match the requirements of the game because all their OnLive box is doing is sending input and receiving and displaying the output. It just transmits data. This is all that is needed to bring gaming to the people. Unfortunately, this still requires the potential players to seek out gaming.

What can happen is for a major game provider such as OnLive, or maybe a gaming portal like Kongregate to partner with the cable and satellite providers to offer gaming through the DVRs that people get with their service. This gaming “channel” can be offered as an extra tier in much the same way people purchase HBO and certain sports networks. The key however is to offer the user some games by default in much the same way they offer basic tv channels.

What I am describing is still not perfect, but if you could offer people a subscription based service for games through hardware they currently own they will follow. They will find it much easier to switch from the tv channels to the gaming channel on the DVR than it currently is to switch from the DVR to a gaming console.

Now the question remains, who will make the first move?

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