Finding Our "What If..."

In a climate in which "gamification" has become a buzz word and game elements are permeating our daily lives, game developers still prefer to play it safe. It's time to unleash our creativity once again.

I wrote an article recently on the concept of using existing technology to create more immersive interactive experiences.  I hypothesized that, as long as we kept certain “rules” in mind, it is possible to create realistic experiences in the home that players might never be able to experience otherwise.  The responses I received were disheartening.  It seems that we, as an industry, have lost our ability to say “What If...?”

Against a backdrop of multiple studio closings and layoffs, Disney Interactive has laid off a significant number of it’s employees. When I think of end-user experience, I look to Disney, so this was very sad news indeed.   Meanwhile, the responses to the prospect of creating experience were that it can’t be done and that the studios which have tried, have failed.  We feel much safer putting out tried and true franchises than we do exploring innovation and new IP.  

What seems to be missing is our ability to see the things that are kicking our own butts.  As Jesse Schell pointed out in his “Design Outside The Box” presentation at DICE:

"Mafia Wars: There's definitely a lot of psychology here, because if someone had said 'Hey, we're going to make a text-based mafia game that's going to make over $100 million,' you'd say, 'I don't think you'll do that.' Right? But then they went ahead and didn't care and did that anyway.”

The point is, people are willing to pay for original ideas given the right motivation. Witness the sales numbers of Kinect; a system which, to date, has one highly rated game according to Metacritic. Only one.  Games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Wii Fit  and Dance, Dance Revolution all provide evidence that players will pay to buy peripherals to play a unique game.  But, we didn’t see it coming.  The future is now.  

Gamification has started to put games and game elements into our daily lives.  Kinect, Move, and Wii are getting players off of the couch and interacting with games in ways that were not possible a few short years ago.  The amount of homes with home theaters of some sort grows each year.  Consumers are primed for new and innovative in-home experiences.  We just have to give it to them.  

We can put players inside a story that revolves around them while plunging them into Feudal Japan and letting them explore the rich culture and environment.  We can create games which let players look out of the window at the Earth from the space shuttle.  With some creativity, we can teach them to fly.  We have to put our creative heads together and stop saying ‘it can’t be done.’  It’s already being done.  

Triotech Amusement has created the XD Darkride, an interactive virtual rollercoaster that combines ride physics with fps capabilities.  EyeClick has created interactive floors, walls and windows.   We have 3D TV, biofeedback devices, and innovative controllers.  Some of this is still out of the price range of the average consumer.  However, the home theater movement didn’t happen all at once.  It grew as the technology became available.  Before we can expect consumers to invest in innovations to improve their gaming experiences, we must first build amazing experiences.  I think we can do it.  Those of us who try will be rich.  Or, we could just play it safe.

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