For those not steeped in the sometimes arcane world of video games, E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an annual trade show covering all kinds of interactive entertainment. Well, almost all kinds. Social and casual games get little, if any, attention amid the giant displays for Gears of War 3 and Madden 2012, and the idea of gamification is looked down upon by the hardcore gamer types that seem to dominate the show.
However, there are some valuable lessons to take away for those involved in gaming at any level, especially as the industry tried to reinvent the wheel for the umpteenth time.
People are hungry for more game-like experiences Despite a lack of respect for games from companies like Zynga and its peers, one of the hot topics during E3 was Empires & Allies, the just-launched Zynga Facebook game. Unlike a lot of other social games that have very little actual gameplay to them, E&A is a much more game-like experience, combining resource gathering and city building with old-fashioned turn-based combat. For a console game, that’s not a big deal -- for the Facebook audience, it’s a harbinger of things to come.
There’s a drought of new ideas If you’re looking to innovate, the time to strike is now. You could literally walk the halls of E3 and never be without a sequel to a hit game in front of you. In fact, I spotted more than a dozen big “Part 3” games, including Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3, and many others.
The big console companies still don’t know how to attract non-gamers Gamification, at its best, bring game mechanics to a non-gamer audience. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have yet to master that idea. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told reporters he wasn’t interested in free-to-play or social games; Sony made a big bet on a complicated new handheld system called the PlayStation Vita aimed at hardcore gamers, and Microsoft keeps shoving extra features -- voice commands, live TV streaming -- into its aging Xbox 360 console.
Worse still, Nintendo’s uber-popular Wii is starting to look like a fluke. The handheld 3DS hasn’t broken through to mainstream consumers, and the upcoming Wii U console adds needless layers of complexity, and may very well scare off that mainstream audience that made the original Wii a hit.
Cross-platform is key Adding a game element to your product or service is a good start, but companies in the games business full-time are learning that you need to take those game elements and spread them across many platforms. Big console games, such as iD’s Rage, have cross-promoting iOS versions, and many big games, from Dragon Age to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 are leveraging Facebook and other social media platforms in a serious way, creating apps that are way more involved than simple social network sharing. Check out what Activision is doing with the new Call of Duty Elite service.
Games are becoming an ideas business, rather than a consumer products business The old model, putting a game on a plastic disc, trucking to a store, and fighting for shelf space, is slowly being replaced. Cloud gaming services such as OnLive, and digital content downloads from all three big console companies, plus online distribution networks such as Steam and GOG, are reshaping the video game landscape. That means future gamers will expect their games to come not from a plastic box, but simply be seamlessly integrated into their online experiences, which has to be good news for anyone adding gamification elements to their online brand.
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