The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

One thing I consider to be a sign of my getting older is how much the videogaming world has left me behind. Whereas I once would play my brains out on everything from Atari 2600 through to Sega Genesis, I now find the latest and greatest game productions, with their superadvanced graphics and gameplay complexity, to be just too complicated for me to get into. It's not that I couldn't figure them out, if I devoted enough time and concentration to them. The thing is, I don't view them as being worth that investment, because ultimately, I don't get that same level of enjoyment from them that I used to from simpler videogames.

I should qualify all this by noting that I do own one of the newest game console systems, an Xbox; but I use it far more often as a DVD player than as a gaming machine. The reason for this is that I just don't enjoy making time to play videogames, like I used to. I'd sooner write, or read, or watch a movie--plopping down for videogaming is pretty low on the things-to-do list.

Currently, the devices I use most often to play videogames are my cellphone, with its two built-in games ("Flying Tight" and "Run For Money") in addition to games I'll sometimes play over the mobile Internet, and my iPod, with its single built-in "Breakout" game (although, if they ever update the firmware for the Windows iPod, I'll be adding a couple more game options). The common thread here is that I play games on them while I'm out of the house and need to kill some time. Rather than dedicate time to playing a game, I consider the game a convenience, something to keep me occupied until the next appointment.

Apparently, there are lots of people like me, who make good use of on-the-go gaming. Whether or not they supplement this gaming with more traditional console or PC gaming isn't known. But casual gamers are getting to be a big segment of wireless phone users, and that's caught the attention of the cellphone industry.

The carriers, particularly Verizon Wireless, have really been pushing these downloadable games, along with ringtones, as the neat-o bells and whistles that come with their service. While many see these things as trinkets meant to distract from fundamental voice/data service shortcomings, there's little doubt that these things have big potential to generate dollars for the carriers.

I can see a dark side to all this. If these casual games, delivered via downloading, are now viewed as revenue producers for the wireless carriers, then it makes business sense that they should no longer be considered throw-ins that are automatically built into mobile phones. Currently, just about every phone you buy has at least one or two simple games loaded right into the firmware. They may not be very complex games, but they are very useful as time-killers. I myself take the games that come with a phone seriously enough to consider them significant sales purchase factors (I know that sounds idiotic, but consider: All the other features on a phone are pretty much the same, as far as battery life, performance, capabilities, etc.; it really does come down to aesthetics like look and feel, and the exact extras). Now, with the re-conception of these games as commoditable products, including any on a phone would undercut that business. The trick is for the wireless providers to convince the phone manufacturers to stop building these gamelets into the phones; but I don't think that would be a problem.