Play Stuff Blog

Thinking Outside the (Console) Box  

In my last blog you read about OnLive’s new streaming games-on-demand service (now in beta, expected to be launched in winter 2009). That entry discussed OnLive’s potential for changing the way games are played, which got me wondering about the possibilities for changing how games are developed and distributed.

OnLive claims that the market is ripe for games-on-demand service because there is a trend of “unprecedented innovation, creativity, and expansion within the video game market.” This is easy to agree with. The growth of the industry has been remarkable over the past decade, despite the recent recessional slump in video game sales (which sank over 30% in June 2009). This recent slump may be more reflective of the economic inability of households to purchase consoles as opposed to the games. It can also be attributed to the lack of blockbuster releases in the recent past and the reluctance to spend money on sub-par (or the same old) games.

 iphone_appsFor those who already own consoles or other internet-connected devices, the amount of games available to users has grown, and in some cases dramatically. Take the Apple iPhone, for example. In July of 2008 there were less than 1,000 apps available for download. Compare that number with the present day where 60,014 apps are available for download (with 10,085 of them being games). The PlayStation Network has a relatively modest 200 games available for download, and X-Box is promising an on-demand game download service in August of 2009 with a meager 30 titles at launch (and at full retail pricing). The rate of development of games for the iPhone indicates that there is a growing demand for affordable, downloadable games. The PlayStation Network has recognized this as well, releasing independent games outside of their standard commercial network.

Now don’t get me wrong…. I know there’s an extreme difference between an iPhone game and Call of Duty. But if Apple has proven one thing, it’s this: If you make it easy to develop and distribute games, more people will do so. This not only means more games, but it also means greater creativity and diversity in the gaming world. Peruse this recent list from IGN of the top ten must-have games from the PlayStation Network and you’ll find games that wouldn’t stand a chance in commercial distribution channels. One such example is Flower, and I recommend the following behind-the-scenes video to grasp the full concept and uniqueness of the game.  

OnLive already boasts partners such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, but I truly hope that their service proves successful and opens the door for independent game developers in the same way that Apple and PlayStation have with their downloadable game services. It seems to me that a subscriber service that offers a constantly changing and diverse palette of games will prove more recession-proof than the classic console/blockbuster structure that still dominates the market today and will result in more fun for the end-users.