With a US based turnover of close to $15 billion in 2012 and growing (The NDP Group, 2013), there is no denying that the gaming industry, sometimes referred to as the interactive entertainment industry, is booming. However, as the alternative title of the industry indicates, gaming as a concept is diversifying. So where is the industry going? Whereas video games started out in arcade halls and on consoles with titles such as Pong and Pac-Man, they slowly made their way onto domestic computers and stereotypically became the domain of pubescent boys and young male bachelors during the 90’s. Although the term ‘gaming’ still conjures up associations with Return to Castle Wolfenstein and triggers discussions about the effects of interactive violence following the Columbine high school massacre, today it is no longer limited to this particular market.
Three revolutions have since changed the foundations of the gaming market. Firstly, the rise of the internet has not only networked people and information, but has also socialized gameplay, giving rise to online communities of players associating and interacting. Presently, network dependent gaming ranges from traditional first person shooters to far more social games such as RuneScape. Secondly, with the introduction of the Wii in 2006, Nintento broadened the demographic reach of the console market by including new functionalities, turning interactivity into a physical activity and thereby making gaming a family pastime and a fitness choice (Farhoomand, 2009). In other words, by changing how people were gaming, they changed who were gaming. Thirdly, with the proliferation of smartphones, gaming was freed from the living room, the television or the pc. As games are now available at the flick of a thumb anywhere and anytime, traditional consol or pc based game developers are losing profits as location has become irrelevant (Edwards, 2014).
Of course, this is not the end of the line for game development as another revolution is just around the corner. Appealing as it may seem to consider virtual reality the next logical step, this will not change the way in which we play games, where we play games or who is playing games. Possibly, the next big thing is augmented reality gaming, specifically in the form currently embodied by Ingress, a release by Niantic Labs, a Google subsidiary (Niantic Labs, 2014). The revolutionary idea is that location is no longer irrelevant as with other mobile games but has taken center stage in the gameplay design. Players need to interact with their augmented environment as the game takes the GPS location from the phone to reveal a world unseen with the naked eye. In essence, Ingress is a worldwide execution of a ‘capture-the-flag’ scenario with only two teams, blue and green, where the player must walk, phone in hand, from location to location to interact with a real-time online world. Furthermore, the game is designed in such a way that cooperation is necessary to utilize all the options of the game thereby stimulating the creation of both digital and real communities as players physically need to come together. Lastly, Niantic doesn’t decide where the ‘flags’ are planted but solely uses player input to decide how the constantly evolving augmented environment will grow, deepening the involvement of players with their surroundings. As such, Ingress ticks all the boxes spelled out by the previous changes in the gaming industry. It is very social, it is a physical activity and it is happens outside the living room, not by chance but even on purpose. The results are astonishing as the addictive game has drawn in a vast player community with people from all walks of life meeting in their free hours to ‘capture flags’ and have some fun.
What is more, Ingress wasn’t adopted on a whim. For more than a year the game relied on an invite only system with limited invites and waiting lists for new prospective players while the game was in its Beta or testing phase. Through word-of-mouth, the innovators and most critical users were drawn in, in an effort to empower this community of earlier adopters to contribute to improvements to the gameplay. The creator of Ingress was given full support by the Google top brass and during major gameplay events, Google VP’s were flown in to talk to the players and ask them what they could do to improve the experience, empowering the community (Vargo & Lush, 2008). So why go through all this trouble? The game is free of charge which draws in many players, but there is no revenue stream and there are no advertisements. The only value created for the players is fun, albeit very good and innovative fun. By drawing in a loyal community of early adopters and innovators, Google was able to release the game in a fully playable mode and also overcome ‘the chasm’ in the Technology Adoption Lifecycle by heaving reached a critical mass of players before releasing it to the general public (cf. Goes et al., 2014). In doing this, Google was the first (and so far most successful) mover onto the augmented reality gaming market, a market which is for now limited to their own operating system Android. Having established this strategic bridgehead, they’ve indirectly strengthened the strategic position of their operating system and created a new type of platform for gaming (Eisenmann et al, 2006).
Edwards, C., (2014). How Flappy Bird Is Ruffling Feathers in the Gaming Industry. Bloomberg. Accessed on April 11, 2014 via http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-07/how-flappy-bird-is-ruffling-feathers-in-the-gaming-industry.html
Eisenmann, T., Parker, G., & Van Alstyne, M. W. (2006). Strategies for two-sided markets. Harvard business review, 84(10), 92.
Farhoomand, A., & Joshi, H. (2009). Nintendo’s Disruptive Strategy: Implications for the Video Game Industry. University of Hong Kong, Asia Case Research Centre.
Goes, P. B., Lin, M., & Yeung, C. M. A. (2014). “Popularity Effect” in User-Generated Content: Evidence from Online Product Reviews. Information Systems Research.
Niantic Labs, (2014). Ingress. The world around you is not what it seems. http://www.ingress.com
Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2008). Service-dominant logic: continuing the evolution. Journal of the Academy of marketing Science, 36(1), 1-10.
The NPD Group, (2013). 2012 Games Market Dynamics: U.S.