Gaming is a moveable feast, stop waking sleeping giants

23 Aug 2010

Siliconrepublic editor John Kennedy’s take on the week that was. From Sony PlayStation’s Move to Microsoft putting Xbox games on the Windows 7 phone, gaming will never be the same again.

When technology converges, exciting things happen. We saw this with the internet and music, the only people not laughing were the music industry. The trick is spotting the nexus point and moving in fast before most of the established order know what’s going on.

Steve Jobs is still laughing. Why? The key to success in technology is spotting where roads converge – he spotted where the internet met mobility and music. He made products like the iPod; he made a lot of money. The music industry was still bloated on CD sales and did nothing. The fat move lamentably slow.

Jobs applied the same trick with smartphones. It’s not a trick really, it’s hard work and vision. He saw that smartphones as they were around 2005/6 contained all the moving parts but were phones for the people designed by engineers. You would have needed a computer science degree to operate one of them.

He moved to get phones made that even a three year-old could figure out. And so was spotted the opportunity to drive software and music and video and all sorts of ‘magical’ stuff to people on the move with devices like the iPhone and more recently the iPad. The old order, the Nokias and Sony Ericssons of the world continued to push phones designed by engineers for engineers.

Google are no slouches, they cottoned on to the trick and have taken Apple on at the same game and now have 17.2pc of the smartphone market from less than 2pc a year ago. They spotted the obvious problem that manufacturers weren’t circumventing and circumvented it – here’s an operating system, let the engineers build the hardware.

People have been very quick to diss Microsoft in all of this and how it allegedly failed to spot the mobile opportunity. But as we learn about people who are quick to diss, they usually have the smile wiped from their faces. Never wake a sleeping giant. Never, especially one that spends US$8bn a year on R&D. So don’t slag a sleeping giant either.

Microsoft, cosy in the assurance that operating systems and console gaming systems were the way forward, seemed to be readying its position for dominance in cloud computing and must have had a sharp hard shock when it realised a shift was occurring towards mobile and social gaming and that tablet computing had returned to vogue. Not really, I suspect they just want to get the products right.

The critics had a field day. Until this week. Microsoft pulled a clever stroke with the launch of prominent Xbox titles like Crackdown and Halo appearing on the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 platform that it – like Google with Android – will license to competing phone makers like Samsung and HTC and others. Microsoft said that there will be 50 games for Windows Phone 7 devices on release.

But not only that, Microsoft’s Kinetic games system for the Xbox 360, which uses camera technology to eradicate controllers from consoles, will hit stores in November to compete with Sony PlayStation’s Move platform. Throw in mobile and imagine if your movements on the street using accelerometers and GPS actually corresponded to Kinetic games too? I dream … I hope.

Apple is no slouch on the gaming front either and it emerged that UK copywriting firm Cooper Murphy Webb has carried out a poll amongst Britons in possession of an iPad and found that the majority (37pc) preferred their iPad over the laptop, desktop, mobile phone or dedicated games console. However, 35pc still preferred console gaming with a further 22pc choosing the PC or laptop instead.

It would seem this is nearly predictable. But if it was, however, it wouldn’t be fun. This brings my mind racing back to 1997 when Microsoft saved Apple from bankruptcy. Who would have thought that today Microsoft and Apple are neck-and-neck in valuations?

The moral of this story is that as the world moves irrevocably towards the mobile cloud, physical gaming and new device form factors, never diss the original of the species. Never slag a sleeping giant. Now, I wonder what Nokia has up its sleeve?

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years