The Rules of the (Video) Game Have Changed

August 31, 2011

In anticipation of NCF's upcoming CEO Leadership Series event with the head of Electronic Arts (EA), a colleague shared with me a video from EA showing their lineup of games for this year.  After watching it, I couldn’t help but thinking that, as with so many things today, the rules of the game are changing.  And this time, quite literally.

As you watch the video below, consider how EA is presenting its games.  It’s hard to spot a television or desktop monitor anywhere.  Instead, the tablet is at the forefront.  There’s been a lot of thought put into how tablets may be changing the publishing industry or music.  What about for the gaming industry?

When I was growing up, you interacted with a game with a controller, mouse or joystick.  Video game developers constantly improved graphics and deepened story lines, all to further immerse you into the environment on-screen.  Armies of graphics designers, story board artists, and writers would craft first-person shooters and simulators over years of development. Tablet games by necessity are entirely different.  You need no extra devices to play; just a touch, tap or swipe of the finger.  Getting immersed in a game now is more direct and tactile than visual and emotional.  Same result (addiction), just through different means.  And while tablet games may be relatively simpler to make, game developers must deal with a product cycle for tablet apps that's counted in months, not years.

When EA held a conference callwith investors in July, CEO John Riccitiello had this to say about the rise of tablets:

"Most of us on this call recognize that the industry has radically changed and the pace of change has accelerated dramatically.  Gone forever is the 4-to-5 year console cadence that gave developers ample time to invest and retool for the next big wave.   Consider that just 18 months ago there was no iPad, Google was experimenting with Android, and most big games were limited to a single revenue opportunity at launch.  Consider that each of the major consoles now has a controller that encourages users to get off the couch and get into the action.  On smartphones and tablets like iPhone and iPad, the top paid apps are all games.  Recognize that the fastest growing revenue streams for console, PC, smart phones and tablets are all digital."

If tablet-based games represent the future, game companies will likely need to fundamentally reconsider their approach to product development and marketing.  EA may already be well on the way to doing just that.