The New Definition of Video Games

The New Definition of Video Games

When it comes to critics and the video game industry, sometimes, you have to draw a line in the virtual sand. Case in point: Our recent column for CNN entitled What Does ‘Video Game’ Mean, Anyway?, which explains why it’s ludicrous to look to falling retail sales as some sort of canary in a coal mine indicating that the hobby is on the decline, or worse… destined for extinction.

The reason why? More people are playing video games than ever before, in more different forms and contexts than we’ve ever seen and a greater range of price points, not to mention enjoying an unprecedented range of titles covering more topics than yesteryear’s garage designers could ever have imagined. Just one problem: We still use the catch-all term ‘video games’ to define all forms of digital diversions from casual games to social games, iPhone/iPad apps and free online downloads, when in fact you’re actually taking about dozens of different types of electronic amusements that engage and entertain in as many different individual ways.

Perhaps the moniker ‘interactive entertainment’ is more appropriate for use today, given that the brief, coffee break outings you see on Facebook and those 60-hour epics meant for PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii platforms remain among the most popular attractions, yet couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. Ditto for downloadable indie titles exploring topics such as love and loss, alternate reality games (ARGs) and massively multiplayer online (MMO) outings based on bite-sized digital purchases (“microtransactions”) – it hardly seems fair to lump them in with generic spaceship shooters or platform-hoppers for handheld platforms such as the Nintendo DSi and PSP as well. As a number of industry luminaries ranging from Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins and The Sims creator Will Wright to real-time strategy guru Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games fame point out in the first episode of Game Theory, this is no longer a single winner-takes-all industry catering to the same market or limited range of platforms. Rather, ‘video games’ can now refer to everything from karaoke simulators to virtual pets, motion-controlled fitness programs, experimental interactive art pieces and treasure hunts that involve scanning the real world for ‘hidden magical artifacts’ using your smartphone’s camera. And that’s before you even consider location-based social networking services like Foursquare, Gowalla and other so-called ‘funware’ applications and their role in the gaming canon.

In other words, as the article points out, maybe we shouldn’t be attempting to look at all aspects of such a diverse and broadening artistic medium through the same lens. Perhaps we’d instead do better to examine all aspects of the industry as self-contained niches with their own ecosystems, cultures and – most importantly – metrics for success. So the next time someone asks you why the games industry is doing so poorly, don’t just point out that sales numbers fail to reflect digital purchases, online subscriptions, microtransactions and many more of today’s most innovative and growth-positive gaming areas. Also feel free to ask them to clarify which particular industry – MMO, social, casual, indie, cloud, etc. – they’re referring to before you can offer up a complete answer. Although, yes, in all fairness, you’ll probably come off like a pretentious ass by doing so. Still, no pain, no gain, right?

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.

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