The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) flew through LA like FPS Doug goes through headshots and Surge. No joke. It went by fast. From the parties, to the schmoozing, to the actual convention (no morning after a night of free booze would keep me away from this Akihabara-like event), there’s no doubt that video game publishers, developers, peripheral manufacturers, and marketers have an exciting year ahead of them, ’cause the gaming industry just hit the reset button, and is changing the ways we engage with games, and our approach to marketing them.
Rather than going in depth about every pixel and sound byte, I thought I’d share with you a few winners and losers from the event. Feel free to agree, disagree or flat-out say “you’re out of your flippin’ mind, Edward.”
Video Game Distribution
With the adoption of digital distribution for media and entertainment becoming greater (from iTunes and Microsoft Marketplace for Music, TV and Movies to Amazon and iBooks for eBooks), it was only a matter of time before video games started heading down this path. At E3 there were two start-ups that made their presence known: OnLive and Gaikai.
“Booya!” That’s how I felt as I stepped into OnLive’s booth. It was massive, blinged out and a bit gauche. If you haven’t heard, OnLive is an online video game distribution service that allows users to stream and play video games directly on their PCs (or Macs) without the need of a physical disk or software. Just log in and play from any computer, anywhere (as long as it’s connected to 5Mbps Ethernet). By the end of the year, OnLive aims to have a MicroConsole TV Adapter, which will allow gamers to stream directly to their big-screens. Sweet, huh?
The rub? You not only have to pay $4.95 for the service (although AT&T has you covered the first year, free), but you also must purchase the games at what seems to be full retail price directly from the OnLive site.
Now, this can’t be a successful business model. Can it? You can’t connect with the gamer friends you’ve already acquired in Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network or any number of other community outlets, the license expires for a game you’ve paid full price for in three years, and you can’t game wirelessly. So there goes fragging at Starbucks whilst sipping my half-caf, double decaf half-caf (with a twist of lemon).
Great technology, but the business strategy is lackluster at best. So far they have approximately 11 games under their belt (Dragon Age Origins and Assassin’s Creed 2 being the best, IMHO), and I can’t imagine them acquiring too many licenses after hearing what OnLive’s competitor, Gaikai, pulled off.
Learn more about OnLive
Gaikai: EPIC WIN
Like OnLive, Gaikai is a service that allows video games to be streamed and distributed online. The difference isn’t solely in the technology, however—it’s in the business model—to which Gaikai’s is extremely extensible.
Unlike OnLive, Gaikai refrained from hosting a large-scale booth. Instead, they took a more strategic approach at E3: working deals in back rooms with some of the industry’s largest players. This landed them a digital distribution deal with Electronic Arts, the world’s largest video game publisher. I’m not at liberty to go into details about where this move is headed, but I can allude that it will change the way games are distributed to computers and big-screen TVs—a definite game changer.
In addition to creating this new distribution model, Gaikai is also positioning their service as a new marketing channel for retailers, publishers and affiliates. In knowing that gamers are more apt to pull the trigger to purchase after playing a video game demo, Perry has created a demo network that allows marketers to provide prospective buyers with the chance to demo a game directly within any Web site. How’s that for a play that’s bound to change the way games are advertised? The cost model is incredibly inexpensive, too: $0.01 per minute of streaming a live video game demo. Compare that to the high CPMs of rich media and we’ve got a winner, folks.
So, there are many different ways this service is being positioned, and I find it most interesting as it relates to marketers looking for new ways to reach their audience.
The Nintendo Wii came along and provided us with a new way to game. At the same time, the Wii invited a new audience into our world, while still creating standalone games for core players—and they did it at a reasonable cost for an amazing breakthrough console. Now, four years later, there are two new motion-based console add-ons that promise to, again, change the way we game: Microsoft Kinect and Sony PlayStation Move.
Before going into further detail, I will mention that console add-ons have never sold well—not even the $399 CD-ROM extension for the Turbo Grafx-16.
Microsoft Kinect: MONUMENTAL WIN
We’ve heard about Kinect under the guise of Natal for nearly a year. We knew it was motion-based gaming; we knew it would be played sans controllers; we knew it was going to be awesome. We didn’t know it would be this awesome.
My first experience with Kinect was not within the E3 convention halls, but at Microsoft’s Cirque de Solei event held the Monday prior to the official conference (thanks BitchTech for the invite). It was $10MM of awesome, and gave us a look into which audience this new technology would target out of the gate: family types for family time. Most of the games are currently focused on group activities, such as sports and racing. I’m personally interested in taking out some Storm Troopers, as they did in the demo of a Star Wars Kinect game.
I didn’t wait in a long line to experience Kinect in the Microsoft booth but did give it a romp in the MTV/Harmonix booth (I’ll get into that later). I also spent a lot of time ogling regular citizens as they demoed the device within the confines of the Kinect fishbowls and spoke with them about their rookie experiences. “F**king awesome,” was probably the greatest comment given from a gamer gal who spent some time playing Kinect Sports. Everyone who tried Kinect seemed to have a smile on their face while going through the new motions of gameplay. It brought me back to the days of racing my younger sister in World Class Track Meet with my Nintendo Power Pad.
Where I feel the largest challenge with Kinect is with first-person shooters and certain sports games. Imagining how one might reload, change weapons and climb up ladders seems like a massive feat. To that end, Gears of War producer Chris Wynn told me that those were very specific aspects of gameplay their research teams are currently working on. Stabbing a foe in the jugular, of course, is a no-brainer.
Where I see Kinect’s largest potential is with the ingenuity of developers. Like the Wii, Kinect gives them a new way to imagine the types of immersive games we’ll be playing in the not-so-distant future. It also opens up the way we’ll interact with friends online using the Microsoft Live service. Marketers outside the world of gaming should tap into this service as means of distributing original, interactive content.
In this early stage of Kinect, I feel it’s less about the games and all about the potential of the brilliant user interface. And if anyone remembers Back to the Future 2, they’ll remember that 2015 not only offers us Nike Air McFly’s, but also a future that shuns peripheral-based games, like Duck Hunt.
PlayStation Move: MEH…
Sony’s marketing team describes the PlayStation Move as “the most immersive gaming experience possible.” Pshaw, as if. Seeing that Kinect offers voice recognition and full-on motion sensing without the need of controllers, I don’t quite believe this claim.
PlayStation Move seems like a Wii Plus that offers Blu-ray and full HD gaming capabilities. There’s an added controller that doesn’t require a wire to keep the two connected, the ability to control content in 3D space on the z-axis, and a slew of games that will be available to play after a few software updates, such as Resident Evil 5 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. They also highlighted a game called Sports Adventures, which features an archery game—’cause you know I loves me some Robin Hood role-playing every so often.
Here are my issues with the PlayStation Move. The PS3 is a core gaming console. Brunswick Pro Bowling and Start the Party don’t seem to provide the intense gameplay that comes with titles like Modern Warfare 2, Madden or Dragon Age. And even when they do add these types of titles, I don’t believe core gamers will ditch their broken-in controllers for the two sticks. This is where I feel Sony slightly missed the mark, in the audience targeting. I applaud them for making updates to their legacy games, however, which should keep haters at bay.
Personally, I haven’t seen any breakthrough innovations and ingenuity from Sony in while, although AIBO is pretty awesome. The PS3 is a great console, but I’m in the Xbox camp and am not switching sides to play with a couple of poles.
Rhythm / Music Games
Dance Central: GROOVIN’ WIN
MTV Games and Harmonics did it again. Their latest music/rhythm-based game requires no guitars, no microphones and no drum kits. It requires only you and your sweet-ass dance moves.
As the title suggests, Dance Central is a dance game, and it utilizes Microsoft Kinect’s proprietary hardware. I jammed out to it and have to say, it’s a fun freaking game, no matter your skills on the dance flo’. In fact, it’s almost more fun busting out a busted “Dean Lean” or “Hitch Hike” with friends than trying to pull off perfectly choreographed K-Fed moves. Check out this video and you’ll see what I mean.
I like the game because it’s simple, fun and totally social. It has the appeal for so many demographics: families, college students, 20- and 30-somethings. Heck, even old-timers can get back in the groove to tunes like the Beasties’ “Body Movin’”, No Doubt’s “Hella Good” or Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” Smack it up, flip it, rub it down! There’s even another demographic that I don’t know if anyone’s even thought of yet: people struggling with weight loss. Simply stated, “get off your fat ass and dance it off.”
Great work, guys. This is one of those instances where the developers took an innovative piece of hardware and ran with it. I see this being a massive party hit for a while–especially when booze is involved.
Every Karaoke Game: GO AWAY ALREADY
I can’t explain how embarrassed I felt for every karaoke game at E3. NO ONE CARES! Really. Why are publishers wasting their time and money creating these ridiculous titles? Here’s a scenario: me sitting in my living room, singing a Jason Mraz song by myself with candles lit in the background. Karaoke is like streaking across college campus—only fun when a lot of liquor and total strangers are there to bear witness.
The first in many karaoke fails was We Sing: Encore, created by Nordic Games. It promises awesome songs that you can’t get enough of, like: Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”, the Plain White Tee’s “Delilah” and Gloria Gaynor”s “I Will Survive.” Personally, I never saw anyone besides the cute Swedish booth babe demo the game.
Another epic fail was Disney’s Sing It: Family Hits. Unlike We Sing: Encore, I actually saw someone demo this game–it was a female who picked up the mic and spent all of 15 seconds singing. Can’t say much more than that.
The third and final fail was DefJam’s RapStar, created by 4MM Games. Here’s what some overpaid VP may have been thinking with the game’s inception: “There are all these karaoke games that no cares about. I think it’s because there are no karaoke games that are specifically around rap music. ‘Cause mom, dad and lil’ sis love the s**t out of the Wu.” And boom, RapStar was born. On their site, RapStar features a lot of “think you can rap?” and “think you have what it takes?” language. I don’t get it. It also includes a video from Method Man and Redman, both of whom call you (the user) out for being a chump, or something like that. Within their booth, not-so-funnyman George Lopez took that stage and dropped Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” Give a look, and try not to wince.
Clear 4G Wireless: Strategic Play
Clear didn’t have a booth. In fact, their 4G WiMax service isn’t even available in Los Angeles yet. These hurdles didn’t stop them from teaming up with Dell and Alienware to let gamers go at it on their 4G wireless network and discover the lag-free gaming speeds their network will be providing in the near future. Smart play, Clear, on riding some coat tails and giving these core gamers a first-hand look at your service.
Disney’s Tron Evolution: Bridging the Gap
It’s been more than 20 years since we fell in love with both the movie Tron and its arcade counterpart. Personally, I preferred the video game sequel Discs of Tron. Like the video game/movie dual release of yesteryear, they’re at it again, only Tron Evolution offers players a storyline that bridges the gap between the original movie and this year’s holiday blockbuster, Tron Legacy—a great marketing play for both the movie and the game.
EA Mobile: The Line is the Club
Ever since EA acquired Jamdat back in the day, EA Mobile has been crushing it. And now with the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch becoming the go-to hand-held gaming device for like, everyone, their quest for world domination continues. What I liked about EA Mobile’s presence is that they gave the folks waiting in long lines the chance to demo games on iPads; the perfect way to market their games: let people play ‘em. Now sing along, “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.”
Not Worth Mentioning, But I Will Anyway
Lame. The movies are bad enough, IMHO. I’m already rockin’ a BT headset, now I have to add custom shades to game in my living room?
Please see EA Mobile review. By adding 2.5D to handheld devices that aren’t the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you automatically fail.