Recently we attended the Turing technology festival in Edinburgh, and in particular an event called Gaming@Turing. You know why we attended that one, of course. The focus of the event was to look at the future of gaming from a number of different perspectives, put forward by five experienced speakers from within the industry. These were industry consultant Ernest W Adams, behavioural economist Mark Sorrell, Colin Anderson who is the founder/CEO of Denki, Tom Armitage of Hide and Seek games, and experienced video game writer Rob Fahey, who’s written for websites such as gamesindustry.biz.
The speakers were talking about the industry as a whole, with no particular focus on Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Apple or any other big players in gaming right now. Over the five talks there were plenty of themes that can undoubtedly be applied to Nintendo, however, and with the company facing so many challenges in the coming months we decided to take what we learned at Turing and consider what Nintendo can do now to help achieve continuing success, and what it should consider for the future.
An important focus in the keynote speech to open the event, delivered by Ernest W Adams, was that video games have moved beyond light entertainment and become part of common culture. Gaming is no longer the preserve of enthusiasts locked away in a room, but is everywhere we look. Perhaps the term gamer is itself becoming less appropriate, as we don’t declare ourselves to be ‘television watchers’, for example; it’s just an activity in which everyone partakes. Gaming is getting to that stage, as basic titles such as Angry Birds are accessible, pick-up and play games for anyone.
Beyond the idea that games are now everywhere, however, is the evolving role of how the activity is used. Examples were given of games being used to help patients through physical therapy, or a tactical title called Peacemaker that tries to teach Palestinian and Israeli children about their respective nations’ conflict. Nintendo has arguably been at the forefront of these kind of ideas in the past, with one example being Wii Fit, a game and peripheral designed to help the player to improve balance, improve fitness and lose weight. DS has also seen software designed to exercise the mind, or quite literally to exercise the eyes for improved coordination.
Nintendo has opportunities to take the concept of video games as more than entertainment into Wii U. Satoru Iwata has spoken about a desire to unite a family in the living room around Wii U as one device. We already know that Wii Fit U is on the way, but the additional screen and motion control capabilities of the GamePad must offer potential for software that does more than simply provide a gaming experience, but offer tangible benefits to the player.
The concept of Wii Fit carries across to a term coined by Mark Sorrell, “Gamification”. In basic terms, this means applying video games to activities and mediums outside of gaming, therefore expanding the audience further. An example cited was The Typing of the Dead, an adaptation of The House of the Dead where zombies are killed by quickly and accurately typing on a keyboard. The activity of typing isn’t a game, and this title could perhaps fall under the dreaded edutainment genre, but it has a following of loyal fans. Nintendo’s only too happy to teach typing through gameplay, of course, with the upcoming European release of Learn With Pokémon: Typing Adventure on DS. Learn to type by catching ‘mon or destroying zombies? A bit more fun than well-known PC release Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.
This idea of gamification expands to taking advantage of the medium of television, an area where Wii U can try new ideas. We already know that the GamePad will have basic TV remote capabilities, but we’ve also seen concept videos, such as the E3 presentation reveal in 2011, that show content being transferred from controller to television with a simple flick of the touch screen. This isn’t exactly new, as there are already tablets and smart-phones capable of doing this, but Wii U can apply game-like ideas to these activities and apps.
This idea of gamification expands to taking advantage of the medium of television, an area where Wii U can try new ideas.
For example, 3DS turns a pedometer into a coin generating mini-game, with those coins usable in StreetPass Plaza or in selected retail games. What if Miiverse combined social networking with similar game ideas? Coins for taking pictures with the GamePad, swiping to the television and then sharing through a specific app, is one example. On an even simpler level, using the GamePad for non-gaming uses as simple as switching to TV can contribute to a coin total, or perhaps using a TV scheduler to switch from game to TV show, then back to game, would earn a ‘GamePad expert reward’. We’re sure that Nintendo can produce more creative and fun examples than these, but they would serve a purpose of making the console and its controller the centre of the living room.
What all of this can do, along with extensive apps that turn Wii U into an interactive device beyond just video games, is to bring Nintendo to the front of consumers' minds in an increasingly technological time. Tom Armitage spoke a great deal about gaming mechanics and how we interact with and learn the rules of a game, but that same principle applies to any gizmo we happen to own, whether it’s a gaming system or a smartphone. Nintendo is trying to get to the forefront of a lot of our interactions in the home, and Armitage’s comment seems appropriate: “Systems literacy may be the literacy of the 21st Century”. Literacy is no longer just about being able to read and write, but being able to interact with the world through technology.
On page two we look at Nintendo's need to continue successful brands while producing more challenging, creative games, and summarise our thoughts on what we believe Nintendo should try to do in the upcoming generation of gaming.