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Kids, these days! They phone it in (when they play video games)

Posted by Michael Warshaw  June 11, 2013 10:08 AM

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By Trevor Stricker, founder, Disco Pixel, Kendall Square

Schoolboy me had an orange plastic clamshell that opened up to reveal two screens of Donkey Kong. If you were good, you could jump from the girders on the bottom screen to reach the top screen, and jump on more girders.

A Nintendo Game & Watch had a single, lonesome game on it. So we'd trade. You might get to borrow Mario Bros. (with its calculator screen that displayed just a few positions of Mario, there was nothing super about it). Or you might get stuck babysitting an unused Snoopy Tennis. "Multi-player" basically meant watching another kid play your game to see if he could get further.

JRgamewatch.jpgHand-held games are terrific. Every child of the ‘90s played a Game Boy. Every child of the 2000s played a DS. How popular were they? Nintendo had a period where it was more profitable per employee than Goldman Sachs. When the masters of the universe are bested at their top metric by some guys who actually make something, you can assume that that thing is pretty awesome.

But now, poor Nintendo is on the wrong side of a trend. The stock has been floating down over the years like Mario in his raccoon suit. Something disruptive this way comes: That glass slab in your pocket. A smartphone plays games just as well as anything dreamed up by famed Nintendo designer Gunpei Yokoi.

In the video game biz, a debate raged for years about whether the console would kill PC game. Some thought user-friendly consoles would become much more mainstream than driver-update-requiring PC games. Meanwhile, Valve came along and built a billion-dollar business selling mainstream games on the PC. That made it hard to say the PC was dead, or even suffering from a little sniffle.

The thing is, a console isn't quite as necessary as a telephone. And I've yet to see anybody pull out their laptop on the Red Line. But a guy playing Owlchemy’s Snuggle Truck on his iPhone? As common on the T as a Red Sox hat.

Cell phones that can play games are soon to be in everyone's pocket. When you’ve got one, it is hard to justify another device just for video games. Smartphone games as big business is already happening. GungHo Entertainment is the poster child for a successful mobile company of 2013. Its title Puzzle & Dragons was earning more than $3 million a day in January. Recently, its market cap briefly eclipsed Nintendo.

"But wait," some might say, pipe in hand, as a phonograph plays gently in the background, "I'm not interested in trifling mobile stuff like puzzle games or endless runners. I like Video Games. Zeitgeist and depth and sparkly shaders." When there's a platform with an install base of everyone, where some are making bajillions, the publishers of video games won't ignore it. Brainasium will make a sequel to Eternal Death Slayer for it, as will every other big publisher. Maybe you'll even hook it up to your TV and play with a Bluetooth controller.

But more to the point, the games of tomorrow will be created by and bought by the kids of today. Middle schoolers play Androids on the bus. Toddlers are entranced by iPads. I took my little niece to see dinosaurs at the natural history museum. A Tyrannosaurus Rex towered over us, its huge jaw agape. She rushed past the old pile of bones to the trivia-displaying iPad mounted in the exhibit, just like the one she loves from playing Dora.

She won't need to escape the calculator graphics of mobile to the high-rez world of the PC. She'll grow up without having to fight for time on the living room TV. She'll grow up with a game machine always in her pocket. Maybe she'll become the Shigeru Miyamoto of the 2040s? If she does, maybe she'll write a blathering opinion piece about being a youngster playing on that primitive iOS version 7. It couldn't hold a candle to the Occulus virtual reality mind jack in her cell phone.

Trevor Stricker is founder and president of Disco Pixel in Kendall Square, maker of Jungle Rumble, a rhythm game in which you bang a drum for freedom, happiness, and bananas.

The State of Play blog, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors. MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.

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