We’ve come a long way since the Persians first played checkers, reportedly the world’s oldest game, some 5,000 years ago. The first major shift in gaming came with the introduction of electronics, which is credited to William Higinbotham, who created a video game in 1958 called Tennis for Two.
But it wasn’t until 1975, when Atari released Pong as a home game, that video gaming entered its full-tilt era. Since that milestone, video games have evolved in truly innovative ways that give a sneak preview of where society is headed entertainment-wise.
Much has been written about the game culture that suggests that video gaming is turning people into a nation of isolationists. Nothing could be further from the truth. As CNN recently reported, 31% of people who play games online in Los Angeles form offline relationships. The national average is 18%.
That’s an opportunity creatively exploited by a Menlo Park-based company called Xfire, who has released an instant messenger (IM) application for gamers. Currently, more than 317 million people worldwide use IM, and the appeal of communicating via computer continues to spread fast.
If you know why east coast folks leave you voicemails at 6 a.m. on the west coast, the concept behind IMing is easy to grasp: It’s far less intrusive. You don’t want to whip out your mobile phone to call someone who you’re playing a game with to chat. It’s far easier — and much more game friendly — to “store and forward” via Xfire. Another benefit: Xfire won’t crash the game.
Sure, IMing is largely a Generation Y phenomenon, with 71% of teens regularly instant messaging, according Jupiter Research. But the potential exists to vastly expand IM’s use in business, an idea not lost on Five Across, which launched a collaborative IM package called Intercomm in early August.
But due to video gaming’s young demographics, most aging boomer business managers have yet to take a serious look at the industry’s amazing stats. In 2003, videogames were a $11.2-billion-a-year business, according to the NPD Group, and the industry enjoyed an 80% penetration of U.S. households with children. The psyche of gaming is so entrenched, that a recent survey by the NPD Group found that most boys would rather play a GI Joe video game than play with a GI Joe action figure.
In Japan, kids are now considered part of the “thumb generation,” because of their incessant use of their thumbs to play games and send text messages on mobile phones. Still, there’s plenty of evidence that gaming is mainstreaming beyond its core male youth audience. Game analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities recently told the L.A. Times, “When I was in my early 20s, it was socially unacceptable to be playing video games. My parents thought I was a complete moron. Now the socially acceptable age for gamers is about 6 to 40. In another 20 years, the upper age will be 60.”
In fact, real life and gaming life are becoming so blurred that new ways of interaction have sprung to life. Second Life that is. This game, developed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, is taking the virtual concept to the limit with “virtual land sales” that have some “residents” paying as much as $550 for an acre of Second Life land.
To better enjoy this mind-blowing virtuality, you definitely need to lie down. And what better way to do that than on a Sound Lounger PM300, a speaker-equipped lounging mat developed by Los Angeles-based Pyramat Interactive? Pyramat is perhaps the coolest example of a hot new trend that blends innovative functions with furniture.
Another breed of creative thinkers is pushing the mobile gaming platform. Think no one plays games on phones? Think again, because JAMDAT Mobile’s Bowling is the most popular mobile game of all time, with 2 million copies sold worldwide. And even that platform has yet to tap the realm of what’s possible, as demonstrated by Flow’s MiniFizz, a mobile game for women.
MiniFizz exploits a little-known fact that college-age women play games almost as much as men. College women spend 2.7 hours per week playing computer games online, compared to men who spend 2.9 hours, reports Harris Interactive.
If all this makes you feel like reaching for your box of dominoes, rest assured that you’re not alone. The 83 million casual gamers who play canasta, checkers, and chess online dwarf the users of hardcore titles like Grand Theft Auto. But games like GTA get all the buzz.
Xfire co-founder Dennis “Thresh” Fong, a self-styled “Michael Jordan of video gaming” and Quake World Champion, says the idea behind Xfire was to “basically eliminate the whole process of finding other players.” Looks like we’re about to embark on another wild ride into futuresville.
Digital tennis anyone?