Posts Tagged ‘ video games ’

Bridging the gaming gap

(note: this post is for a short assignment in my Interactive Media Management and Economics course on great ideas in the business of new media)

The Nintendo Wii gaming console passed the three-year mark last November. It didn’t feel like that shopping for one several weeks ago.

Pooling together undesignated Christmas money, I finally had the means to purchase one of the popular machines. But finding one on the shelves, even after three years of constant sales, remained an elusive challenge.

After three-weeks, six stores and plenty of patience, the Wii was found and quickly took up residence in my living room. All of this effort was required for an item that in tech terms was born nearly a generation ago.

Yet even three years in, sales of the Wii have stayed strong. The 67 million units sold are considerably more than any other console still on the market. The top-selling game of 2009 may have been for other systems, but the next four highest sellers were exclusive to the Wii.

This strength comes despite internal hardware considerably less powerful than competitors. Compared to gaming machines from Sony and Microsoft, the Wii has inferior graphics, a poor online component and no HD capability. Game developers are even starting to flee the console, seeing potential elsewhere.

But what the Wii introduced in late 2006 is a simple idea that has permanently changed how we view video games from both a technical and cultural standpoint. It launched the widespread use of a motion-sensitive controller that looks and feels like a TV remote, with technology that detects where the device is pointed and what direction it moves through the air.

Motion-sensitive technology has been around for a while, but it wasn’t until the Wii that the idea of using the technology to control video games entered the marketplace. The very concept of motion had long been at odds with gaming, which was viewed culturally as a passive experience undertaken mostly by socially awkward kids holed up in dark rooms.

No longer. Upon release the Wii immediately sold out of all locations, and it took years before searching for one on retail shelves didn’t resemble hunting a rare species in the wild. The commercial success didn’t come from appealing to the traditional gaming consumer, most of whom dismissed the console for its processing deficiencies compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Sales came from redefining and expanding the market to include adults, senior citizens, families and other demographic groups who previously had never touched a game. Even 100-year-olds could get into video game bowling when it so closely resembled the real thing.

The brilliance of the idea to introduce motion sensitive technology to the gaming world was that it instantly made the product relatable to the entire public. The line between games and reality blurred to the point that anyone who enjoyed physical activity outside could embrace a form of media previously associated with solitary indoor use.

Nintendo’s competitors have taken notice, with Sony preparing to introduce a motion-sensitive controller and Microsoft poised to launch a controller-free gaming system that reacts to human movements. We’ve seen the commercial staying power of a system that connects the digital to the organic, appealing to those long alienated by the industry. It’s an idea that could take hold in other forms of media that as of now still require a passive audience. The more media takes on an interactive model that requires physical stimulation, the more it breaks down traditional barriers to widespread acceptance.

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Putting an ‘untouchable’ brand up to interactive scrutiny

Mickey-004

The next time some company starts fretting that an interactive approach to communications puts the integrity of their brand at risk, tell them about Mickey Mouse.

It’s hard to find a more carefully managed corporate brand that Disney, and no symbol is more entwined with the company than its most popular cartoon character. Through the decades Mickey has served as both a corporate logo and a company spokesperson, a squeaky clean character whose image and look remained untouched.

That’s about to change. Mickey is about to change. And video game enthusiasts can make the changes.

As part of an ambitious plan to overhaul Mickey’s image and make him more relevent in today’s pop culture, Disney has signed off on the development of a new game for the Nintendo Wii where players have tremendous freedom in the actions and ethics of the protagonist. The game takes place in a word of retired and forgotten Disney cartoon characters, a realm that Mickey inadvertently stumbles upon and damages.

There are some elements of a traditional action game, but the real focus is on interactivity with the surroundings. Using the Wii remote,  players paint and undo the structures and fabric of Mickey’s physical environment. This offers extraordinary control not just over the game’s content and direction, but on the personality of its iconic protagonist.

“The core of this game is the idea of choice and consequence, and how that
defines both the character and the player,” designer Warren Spector said during the game’s roll-out last month. “By putting the mischievous Mickey in an unfamiliar place and asking him to make choices — to help other cartoon characters or choose his own path — the game forces players to deal with the consequences of their actions. Ultimately, players must ask themselves, `What kind of hero am I?` Each player will come up with a different answer.”

Sounds like Mickey will be getting a makeover.

It really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Disney is embracing user choice and control that are the hallmarks of interactive media. For over a decade they’ve had an interactive theme park. They’ve even embraced the idea of streaming their movies and television programs online.

But what’s really notable here is the trust Disney has placed in opening up a once untouchable icon to reinterpretation by users. That kind of trust is mandatory for companies utilizing the new media landscape. But the payoff of having consumers actively shape and engage with your logo holds enormous potential for future profits.
If Mickey Mouse can shoulder that risk, then no brand is off-limits.

Tapping into the stream

Last time I completed an assignment for school, the year was 2004. Social media had barely budded on college campuses, much less corporate offices or mainstream media entities. Smart phones were almost the exclusive property of the business world and had yet to puncture nearly every aspect of pop culture and personal recreation. Streaming video online was nowhere near a viable way to reach a mass audience. Video games were still tethered to thumb-operated controllers. Newspapers were still turning large profits.

Yet if the pace of communications seems swift during that span, it’s but a trickle compared to the rapid stream of progress the public relations, marketing and journalism fields are poised to face in the next five years. The possibilities are exciting and dynamic, but it will require tremendous diligence and curiosity to keep pace.

I’ve started this blog and a new Twitter account to maximize my engagement in learning and practicing the latest in interactive media as a student in Elon University’s M.A. in iMedia program. The stream of new discoveries will match the breakneck pace of new developments in communications, and I’ll chronicle my new knowledge, research, projects and opinions here. I can’t wait to accelerate my understanding of connecting with audiences in an age where acceleration is constant.