Paul Jackson, de facto gadgeteer-in-chief at Forrester Research, wrote a characteristically fascinating report a few days ago on the consequences of Microsoft’s announcement (News.com) of “Live Anywhere” at E3 . The report itself is behind Forrester’s paywall, but the gist is that Live Anywhere will make gaming genuinely cross-platform across console, PC and mobile phone; will therefore make gaming a lot more mobile; and will make the social network an integral part of the gaming experience.
These are all big developments, not just for gaming (Guardian Gamesblog) but for technology in the mobile and social networking spaces generally. The “hook” for MySpace is the music – the initial inspiration for the great MySpace diaspora was a common desire to share music and promote bands. Similarly the hook for digital communities Bebo and Facebook is pre-existing networks at school or college. One of the reasons for the failure of many, many MySpace clones is a lack of understanding that successful networks have these underlying hooks, and a new Microsoft network based on interactive gaming has a lot more chance of becoming the fabled “next MySpace” than anything else I’ve seen in a while. Microsoft also has a far more realistic chance of cracking the elusive converged portable phone/game/media device than the absurd, and now thankfully aborted, efforts of Gizmondo (Wikipedia).
It doesn’t end there though. The other significant asset Microsoft brings to this party is Virtual Earth (SearchEngineWatch), Redmond’s competitor to Google Earth. Google is perhaps further down the road to the real prize here with its 3D mapping acquisition and its attempts to create 3D models of major US cities (BetaNews) but Microsoft has the deeper pockets and there seems no reason it can’t catch up in the 3D virtual world stakes.
And that’s where converged mobile gaming really gets interesting. We’ve already seen a handful of games designed to spill over from virtual space into the corporeal world – PacManhattan (and closer to home even the occasional proposal for a PacManchester) as well as the lesser-known (and now seemingly-defunct) mobile phone game BotFighters (Wired) that ran in Sweden, Russia and Finland. Wikipedia has a list of such mobile, locative games here.
If this is the prize that Microsoft is ultimately aiming for then it’s a very big prize indeed. The US gaming industry is already worth $18 billion per annum (Wired) and one in four adults regard gaming as their primary entertainment. The purchase of in-game advertising expertise in Massive, the roll-out of Virtual Earth and now the E3 announcement all seem to point in this direction – the creation of multi-platform locative games within persistent gameworlds that overlay and interact with the corporeal world. World of Warcraft meets MySpace meets PacManhattan meets...well, perhaps Halo or Perfect Dark. Only Microsoft with its combination of assets and expertise is remotely close to being able to create anything so ambitious, and as the only potential owner of a virtual, worldwide, persistent gameworld that also functions as the ultimate virtual social network I have a feeling that in the wake of the E3 announcement Microsoft looks gravely undervalued.
Update: hours later, it occurs to me that (as an avid Terra Nova reader) I should really acknowledge that Terra Nova had a number of these ideas a couple of weeks ago...