Archive for the 'Games' Category

04
Jan
11

How video games are changing the economy

The Wall Street Journal

OPINION
JANUARY 3, 2011

How Videogames Are Changing the Economy
From Silicon Valley to China to media, they are leading the next productivity revolution. So hug a geek today.
By ANDY KESSLER

This fall, the Chinese National University of Defense Technology announced that it had created the world’s fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-1A, which clocks in at 2.5 petaflops (or 2,500 trillion operations) per second. This is the shape of the world to come—but not in the way you might think.

Powering the Tianhe-1A are some three million processing cores from Nvidia, the Silicon Valley company that has sold hundreds of millions of graphics chips for videogames. That’s right—every time someone fires up a videogame like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, the state of the art in technology advances. Hug a geek today.

What a switch. For centuries, the military has driven technology forward, fostering new waves of industrialization and corporate use. James Watt’s steam engine was perfected with the help of a cannon-boring tool. Computers were created during World War II to calculate artillery firing and to break codes. The military bought half of all semiconductors until the late 1960s. Even the first global-positioning systems (GPS) were funded by Congress, not for navigation but as a nuclear detonation detection system. Add microwave ovens from radar, Blu-ray discs from lasers, or Velcro and Tang from NASA, and there’s no doubt how much government acquisition programs have shaped our lives.

Fifty years ago, President Eisenhower was worried enough to declare that “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” No need to worry anymore. That game (pardon the pun) is over: Welcome to the entertainment-industrial complex.

Consider the Apple iPhone, often touted as the tech symbol of our era. It’s actually more evolutionary than revolutionary. Much of its technology—color LCD displays, low power usage, precision manufacturing—was perfected for hand-held videogames like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, which sold in the tens of millions. Think about how much more productively workers are now able to communicate because of some silly games.

It’s all about productivity. Last week, kids of all ages dropped everything to plug a $150 device called Kinect into their Microsoft Xbox 360 game consoles. Five million sold in the last two months. Kinect, which uses algorithms to recognize faces and gestures and respond to voice commands, allows Xbox players to use only their own movements, no controllers or button pushes needed.

Sure, there are still some algorithms developed for, say, F-16 pilots’ fire control. But without gaming, this technology would be expensive, one-off stuff that never sees much use. Much as keyboards and mice and fast graphics have driven corporate productivity for 40 years—killing carbon paper and Correcto Type—the next decades will be driven by tools that can harness voices and gestures.

All it takes is one application. High-margin industries like finance usually deploy these things first: The early adopters could be traders in commodity pits signaling like crazy folk. The rest will follow.

Videogames will influence how next-gen workers interact with each other. Call of Duty, a military simulation game, has a mode that allows players to cooperate from remote locations. In World of Warcraft, players form guilds to collaborate, using real-time texting and talking, to navigate worlds presented in high-resolution graphics. Sure, they have funky weapons and are killing Orcs and Trolls and Dwarves, but you don’t have to be a gamer to see how this technology is going to find its way into corporate America. Within the next few years, this is how traders or marketers or DNA hunters will work together. No more meetings!

Even the entertainment and media businesses will be transformed. In 1985, Neil Postman of New York University wrote a book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” disparaging the media for ruining discourse. Postman died in 2003, but I wonder what he’d think today: Online ad sales are now more lucrative than newspaper advertising, as marketers follow their customers. Netflix video streaming will change the cable TV business. The videogames Rock Band and Guitar Hero have taught the media how to package something that’s at least 30 years old, in this case music you play along with, and sell it as if it were new.

So why has the military been displaced? For one, capital formation. Governments had the unique capacity to raise (read: tax) the enormous capital needed to fund state-of-the-art projects. But a fully functioning stock market can raise billions for productive commercial applications, bypassing the military connection. Hate Wall Street all you want, but it’s now better than wars at driving progress.

Second, displacing the military is about high sales volume. Often that means lower costs. The $300 Roomba automatic vacuum, which the company iRobot says it has sold to five million customers, helps drive down the cost of the Army’s robotic bomb removers. Volume is especially good at spurring the creation of new applications. Hardware is nothing without software and apps. Caffeine-fueled coders won’t even think about writing apps unless there are millions, if not tens of millions, of potential customers.

Once consumers adapt to these entertaining applications, corporations figure out how to use them to increase productivity. Smart companies are harnessing Facebook connections. Twitter all of a sudden matters. Voice recognition is displacing operators and other frontline workers. Next in the work place will be 3D technology.

The economy is not going to create wealth just because we print dollars, build fast trains, put up windmills, or even assemble military supercomputers. (For the record, Google has the largest and fastest supercomputer, spread over dozens of data centers.) Even China will someday learn that wealth only comes from productivity. That’s found in a different place every cycle—and the stock market will find it first and fund its expansion. So where is it now? It’s staring us in the face and amusing us to a better life.

Mr. Kessler, a former hedge-fund manager, is the author of “Eat People—And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs,” forthcoming from Portfolio.

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28
Dec
10

USC’s new Kinnect Hack

ICT at USC has married a X Box Kinnect unit to World of Warcraft. Very cool.

03
Nov
10

Microsoft Launches New Motion-Detection Device

Microsoft takes technological leap with Kinect

By Richard Waters in San Francisco

Published (Financial Times): November 2 2010 16:58 | Last updated: November 2 2010 16:58

Microsoft is set the roll the dice this week on an ambitious new consumer technology which executives at the software company claim will bring a far-reaching new way for people to interact with computers.

Sold initially as an add-on for the Xbox games console, the device, called Kinect, uses motion-detecting cameras and microphones to sense commands, leading to what Microsoft claims will be a more natural human/computer interface based on gestures and speech.

Hopes for the long-term potential of the technology are running high inside Microsoft, where Kinect – which was originally named Project Natal – is seen as the company’s most important new consumer product in years. The technological advances it represents have also won plaudits outside the company.

“It’s the first meaningful device that combines motion control, voice control and facial recognition – that’s real science fiction,” said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. He added, though, that Microsoft needed to overcome some historic limitations if it was to turn the technological potential into hit consumer products.

Microsoft has spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars in its research labs trying to invent new and more natural ways for people to control computers, only to see rivals steal its thunder with technologies that have quickly won mass appeal.

Nintendo grabbed a lead in the games business with the motion-sensing controller for its Wii console, while Apple’s iPhone introduced a multi-touch interface that has sparked a scramble in the smartphone and tablet computer markets.

Technology companies “are spending more and more time putting gadgets and gizmos in your hand – we wanted to remove that,” said Alex Kipman, who led development of the project.

Microsoft has limited its work with Kinect so far to building the technology into its game console, but believes it will eventually have a far wider impact, Mr Kipman said. Future applications might include its use inside sterile operating theatres, where surgeons would be able to summon up information simply by sweeping their hands in front of a screen and speaking commands, he added.

Adding to its arsenal of technologies to support a more natural human interface, Microsoft last week bought Canesta, a private company based in Silicon Valley which has developed a chip that senses objects in 3D. The 44 patents claimed by Canesta will add to what Mr Kipman described as “several hundred” Microsoft patents already supporting Kinect.

To make the most of the promising new technology, Microsoft would have to focus more attention on it than it had so far shown, said Mr McQuivey. The huge profits it earned from the Windows operating system had historically prevented the company from realising the full potential of new technologies like this, preferring instead to see them as subservient to Windows, he added.

He also said that Microsoft had done nothing yet to encourage other developers to start creating applications that would take full advantage of Kinect, in much the way Apple opened up its iPhone platform.

Mr Kipman said that the Kinect had support at “the highest levels” inside Microsoft and discussions had already been held with other divisions at the company about how the technology might be applied.

Kinect is due to go on sale in the US on Thursday, and in Europe on November 10.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. Print a single copy of this article for personal use. Contact us if you wish to print more to distribute to others.

06
Oct
10

Activision see Game Movies in their future

Activision’s Bobby Kotick has big ambitions.

23
Sep
10

Facebook’s Currency Play

Trying not to be a one trick Pony

19
Sep
10

Games and Learning

The video game enters the classroom.

27
Aug
10

How you gonna keep them down on the farmville?

Just how much time and money are we wasting on casual games?