In January 2007, Steve Jobs stepped on stage. He pulled a phone out of his pocket.”It’s a phone, an iPod, and an Internet device all in one. Are you getting it yet?”
He didn’t know it at the time, but Jobs was about to change the face of gaming forever. The iPhone and subsequent smartphones popularised ultra-cheap and casual games.
The iPhone wasn’t the only game-changer, either. The face of video games has changed so drastically that we probably wouldn’t have even been able to predict where we are today just five years ago.
Game companies are on the cusp of unlocking the true potential of the Internet for video games. Odds are in favour that the way we play games will be completely different, again, just two or three years from now.
We’ve never been in a more exciting time for gaming, and we’re nowhere close to finished innovating.
You might be surprised to hear that there are very successful companies that let you play console-quality games through what is essentially a web browser.
You'll probably be even more surprised to hear that the technology actually works. I've played through a dozen games, including new titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Saints Row The Third on OnLive, a cloud-based gaming service.
The gameplay experience is comparable -- even a little better -- than playing the game on a console or on a high-powered PC. You get the added bonus of being able to play those games on any Internet-enabled device. Soon enough OnLive will be available on tablets and smartphones.
If you're looking for a disruptive technology in the gaming space, this is it.
Back when the Super Nintendo, Playstation and other home consoles dominated gaming, video games would cost anywhere from $40 to $60.
Nowadays, you're likely to get pretty angry if a game on the Apple App Store costs more than $1.
Bite-sized game prices on the Apple App Store, and subsequently other online stores, have attracted a whole new breed of buyer that is willing to pay a few bucks for a game.
And just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's a terrible game -- look at Infinity Blade, a game on the iPhone that has graphics rivaling recent consoles like the PlayStation 2.
Nowadays, gamers don't even play against each other at the same time.
Playing a multiplayer game usually meant inviting friends over and beating the crap out of each other in a quick round of Smash Bros. Then you could play against your friends -- and people you didn't even know -- at the same time through the Internet.
Many online games today are asynchronous -- meaning gamers play whenever they get a chance, even if their opponent isn't playing, and are still competing against other players.
Zynga's players log into FarmVille and CityVille for only minutes at a time.
That's a pretty drastic change from a few years ago, when even shorter play sessions would still be upwards of 20 minutes. Play sessions could be as long as 10 hours for bigger online games like World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.
Those kinds of play sessions still exist, because traditional games persist and they demand longer attention spans. But companies like Zynga are able to attract millions of players (Zynga has 277 million alone) with bite-sized play sessions.
Everyone thought the Nintendo DS was a wacky piece of hardware -- it had two screens, and the bottom screen was a touch screen.
Blasphemy! A flop! Useless!
Fast forward a half-decade and every home console features some kind of touch or gesture-based control scheme. Nearly all modern smartphone games have touch-based controls.
Guess it wasn't a fluke after all.
The Nintendo DS changed mobile gaming by introducing touch-based controls and two screens. Nintendo did it again with the next version of its console, which has a 3D display that you don't even have to use glasses to view.
The Nintendo 3DS screen uses what's called a parallax barrier, which tricks your eyes into seeing specific pixels. Your right eye sees a specific image while your left eye sees a different one, and it gives off the illusion of a 3D image.
The technology is still in its infancy, but it shows a ton of promise and is the first major leap forward in displays in gaming since high-definition displays were finally affordable.
It's rare these days that the most popular games do something incredibly innovative with graphics or controls or have a really unique gameplay mechanism.
Instead, the best-selling games are highly-polished cinematic thrill-rides that take you on an emotional rollercoaster and never let you take a breath. Franchises like Mass Effect, Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed all set the standard with absolutely gorgeous graphics, incredible storytelling and superb voice acting.
The next closest experience is literally going to watch the best movie out right now. Except instead of watching someone dick around on the rooftops of an ancient civilisation on the silver screen, you're controlling him.
Valve, the makers of first-person shooting games Counter Strike and Half-Life, shook things up once again in 2003 when it released digital distribution service Steam.
Steam ushered in a new era where game discs are increasingly less relevant and most players just download a game directly from the Internet. You can even download games on home consoles like the Xbox 360 instead of buying a hard copy of a game (though the hard copy is still the more popular option for consoles).
Digital distribution became even more popular when App Stores came out and made it even easier to get games. Electronic Arts launched its own high-profile game digital distribution service called Origin earlier this year.
Discs and hard copies of games are basically over. With a few simple hacks and about 15 minutes, you can create a hard drive that stores your entire library of Wii games and carry it wherever you go.
And now it's easier than ever to create a game that will go on and make millions.
Take Doodle Jump, for example. Igor Pusenjak and his brother Marko built the game about 18 months ago and it took the Apple App Store by storm, becoming one of the most popular paid apps. Since then, gamers have downloaded Doodle Jump more than 8.5 million times.
The lower barriers to entry mean developers can experiment with more innovative and creative games. If it isn't successful, they can quickly start developing a new game for a small cost and try again and again.
Then there's indie sensation Minecraft, which has been downloaded more than 10 million times. Developer Markus Persson doesn't have a publisher and relied on viral channels to promote the game, and it's a runaway success. Mojang Studios, the game developer behind Minecraft, also launched an iPhone app for the game yesterday.
It's a better time now, more than ever, to be an independent game developer.
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