Monthly Archives: March 2007

Video Games Conquer Retirees

I’ve been blogging a lot about how the gaming demographic is changing, and about how to game industry needs to change with it. When the New York Times reports about the same thing, I figure the idea’s going mainstream, and maybe we can expect the mainstream game industry to do something about it. We’ll see. 🙂 Oh, dare I point out this is yet another reference to the Wii and the Wiimote catching on fire? Metaphorically speaking, of course!

So how will this happen best? With companies focused on vertical demographic niches, and building products specifically for them? Or companies developing games carefully designed to appeal across demographics? I can think of examples of both already. However it happens, it’s growth for gaming, growth for the industry, and fun for the new people who are coming into gaming.  Growth that – because it’s so obviously a surprise for most analysts and industry – if likely to shift and increase growth even beyond the projections I’ve blogged about before.

Video Games Conquer Retirees

There’s a lot more in the article – I highly recommend a click and read. But some highlights:

many also have a new hobby, one they credit for keeping their hands steady and minds sharp. They play video games. Every day residents go to the seven-terminal “Computer Cove” to click furiously on colorful, nonviolent, relatively simple games like Bejeweled, Bookworm and Chuzzle.

Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.
[On Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was installing Wii systems on all its ships.]

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. is a Web site that offers “casual” games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.

“Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing,” said Beatrice Spaine, the marketing director. “Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It’s kind of a MySpace for seniors.”

Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, who introduced the games at St. Mary, smiled and said: “I hear all the time from sisters when they first see the computer, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ And then they can do it. And they actually like it.”

The game industry has been pleasantly surprised to discover this growing audience that is more familiar with Little Richard than Ludacris, and some companies, particularly Nintendo and makers of easy-to-play casual games, have begun to cater specifically to older players. (Microsoft and Sony, two other big game companies, still focus mostly on young men.)

<cough> <cough>

“We actually use something called the ‘Mom Test,’ ” said John Vechey, 28, a founder of PopCap. “When we were first making games like Bejeweled, we would sit our moms in front of the computers and just let them play, and that’s a big way how we would see what works in an accessible, casual game. The problem is that our moms have gotten a little too savvy, so we’re always looking for new moms to test on.”

Aside from casual PC games the other big spur to increased gaming by older players has been the recent introduction of two new game systems by Nintendo of Japan. The hand-held DS and the home Wii console (pronounced “we”) are specifically meant to buck the industry trend toward increasing complexity and instead provide a simple yet captivating experience for players of all ages and degrees of coordination. In many games, players need only swing and twist the Wii controller rather than have to master complicated combinations of buttons and triggers.Jim Karle, a graduate student in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, reported last year that preliminary experiments indicated that playing video games could have a beneficial effect on short-term memory. Mr. Karle has not applied his research directly to older subjects, he said, but he may not have to. He has witnessed the increased popularity of gaming among older players first-hand.


Massively multiplayer algebra

Raph Koster’s blog entry with that title got me onto this cool find:


Check out Hippasus, an MMO where magic is done via math (shades of DeCamp & Pratt’s Compleat Enchanter). The goal is explicitly to teach math, apparently; you earn power and respect by mastering mathematical concepts in a world that mirrors classical antiquity.

Gotta love a description like this:

Different areas will be culturally, behaviourally, visually, and mathematically distinct to allow for an enhanced user experience.

Here’s the URL to Hippasus:, and below are some highlights from their info. This is interesting from several perspectives that I’ve been discussing in my blog. It takes the educational application of gaming farther than most others yet, since it is an MMO designed and created with a specific educational purpose. This is much different, much more direct, and likely a much easier sell than using a mainstream commercial MMO for educational purposes. It’s also an independently-produced special-purpose MMO – something Raph and I have both been talking about, and something we will be seeing much much more of in the near future. And those highlights about the game:

Project Hippasus is an online, community-oriented massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) with the explicit purpose of educating its players in various fields of mathematics. Players assume the role of so-called ‘arithmancers’: mages and sorcerers who base their power in fundamental mathematical concepts.

Project Hippasus is a fantasy online role-playing game in which the player takes on the role of a student of magic in a world paralleling classical history. The player undertakes pilgrpics to gain understanding and mastery over the world’s innate magic; learning, perfecting, and creating their own spells. Magic is based off of a logical system with emergent properties. Through the course of the game users are encouraged and helped to develop logical/mathematical skills which allow them to shape their experience as they see fit.

The game takes place in a world that primarily parallels human antiquity. The world will be physically based on a modified Europe, with plans to later expand into Asia and the Americas. The map will include countries inspired by classical Greece, Egypt, and the Indo-Aryan region (Persia and India, notably), 14th century Italy, a Frankish depiction of Germany (5-10th century), and 13-14th century China, along with some amalgamation of Celtic and Norse cultures.
Different areas will be culturally, behaviourally, visually, and mathematically distinct to allow for an enhanced user experience. Characters will be born into different civilizations based on physical traits defined on character creation. A few regions will be determined based on initial physical characteristics, with clothing options and other accessories of those regions being presented to make the final decision on what area to create the character in.
Areas in the world will have different mathematical concepts introduced to the users at different times encouraging exploration and cross-cultural integration as part of the learning experience.

The world’s most powerful supercomputer is now a video game console

I found this story on a blog by the editors of Foreign Policy magazine. Some highlights:

Over the weekend, a video game system became the heart of the most powerful supercomputer on earth. As I write this, Playstation 3 game consoles all over the world are working together to power through 493 trillion calculations per second in a group effort to find cures for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease, Mad Cow Disease, and several forms of cancer. To put that into perspective, IBM’s Blue Gene, considered to be the fastest unclassified supercomputer, reportedly maxes out at 367 trillion calculations per second. And the Playstation 3 cluster is still growing.

Adding in all OSes, it’s up to 645 terraflops now. Yowsa!

Stocked with seven processors, all tuned to perform heavy number crunching, the Playstation 3 puts the average single-processor PC to shame. (All that computing power is also using quite a bit of energy, but that’s another story.)

Here’s a link to the Folding@Home site at Stanford and here is a table of current data from there (as of Tuesday morning, March 27):

OS Type Current TFLOPS* Active CPUs
Windows 157 164531
Mac OS X/PowerPC 7 9029
Mac OS X/Intel 10 3328
Linux 44 25630
GPU 47 794
Playstation 3 381 29073
Total 646 232385

So here’s a table of my own data – I broke out my calculator to figure out MFLOPS per CPU:

Windows PC: 0.954 MFLOPS per CPU

Mac OS X/PowerPC: 0.775 MFLOPS per CPU

Mac OS X/Intel: 3.004 MFLOPS per CPU

Linux: 1.717 MFLOPS per CPU

GPU: 59.194 MFLOPS per CPU

PS3: 13.105 MFLOPS per CPU

Fascinating, isn’t it? Lots of analysis could be done on that data, but I’ll just focus on just one: with hundreds of thousands of computational data points to factor into the comparison, the PS3 video game console CPU is nearly 14 times as powerful as the average PC CPU running Windows today, and nearly 17 times as fast as the average PowerPC Mac CPU. Not bad for a game machine?

New Escapist issue dedicated to “casual games”

Here’s a link

Escapist Issue 89: About Last Night…

Check out these words from Julianne Greer’s editor’s note:

“So, if the purpose is to entertain, no matter the subject, why do games continuously get bigger and better and brighter and faster? Why are new features/graphics/hours and hours of gameplay added at questionable entertainment value? To push the limits. To utilize new technology. To challenge seasoned players. To please the hardcore.

“Developers are beginning to realize that this might be faulty logic. With more games being made every year, and each of those games, on average, costing more to make, pleasing first and foremost a rather small segment of the population that most people don’t have time to be a part of (no matter how much they might like to), is less than fiscally responsible.”

Uh huh. Especially when one compares how many smaller games could be developed for the price of one top-shelf graphically-intense game?

In Business Casual, Russ Pitts looks at the kinds of games favored by “the other 90%”

Shannon Drake also talks to PopCap games

Though this is off the topic of Casual Games, Richard Aihoshi has a really interesting feature on the future of MMOs – specifically examples of how they are being produced to target demographic niches, rather than to go after the current and usual and established MMO niche. For instance, Disney going after kids with Toontown Online, and teens with Pirates of the Caribbean Online. Even apart from the obvious marketing crossover from things like this, here are some interesting questions that come to mind for me:

How big is the market for online computer-savvy teenagers? Compared to the market of current MMO gamers? How much overlap is there in these demographics (or, more to the point maybe, how little overlap)?

Raph Koster mentioned big media (like Disney) making games, in industry experts at GDC who made predictions about the future of MMOs. But none of them really made the point about smaller and narrower and demographically targeted MMOs. Seems like a Very Important Point – cause of potential market fragmentation on the one hand, and potential market expansion on the other.

Wii versus PS3 versus XBox 360 market share data


No more predictions – the data is in. And a shocker, despite my own predictions. Obviously it’s still early, and it’s still a problem that the PS3 availability has been so bad – but here’s the data and some coverage:

From Forbes: Video Game Sales Jump in February

U.S. video game retail sales grew 53 percent in February, as next generation systems continued to advance and games from Nintendo took three of the top five spots for the month, according to data from the market research company NPD Group.

Software sales grew 28 percent to $441 million.

Hardware sales nearly doubled to $402 million from $203 million in February 2006. Of the three next-generation systems, Nintendo’s Wii, released in November, sold 335,000 units during the month, followed by Microsoft’s Xbox 360 with 228,000 units and Sony‘s PlayStation 3 with 127,000 units.

Wii’s results pretty well blow away the analyst predictions I blogged about a few weeks ago, in Wii versus PS3 versus XBox 360 market share predictions. It is early in the cycle, and PS3 continues to be plagued with availability problems – but on the other hand, we all know that console technology and games is a viral business. If Nintendo can keep the hardware and softwares pipelines full, and maintain a lead like this…

The Reuters coverage added some important data: Nintendo Wii top-selling game console

the Wii is priced at $250, compared with the $600 top-end version of the PS3.

Retailers sold 295,000 PlayStation 2 consoles, the best-selling console of the last cycle.

Note that the Wii even beat the PS2.  I will look into the data, but I’m betting this is the first time any console has beat the PS2 since it released.  That’s gotta have Sony’s attention… added some interesting game software details – but didn’t mention Spore or anything else in EA’s pipeline – Nintendo, Microsoft Tops in Games Sales :

Overall, game sales grew nearly 28% year-on-year last month to $440.7 million, largely based on increased sales on the Nintendo and the Xbox 360 consoles.

U.S. game software sales for EA declined 25.6% in February to $65.8 million

Other game publishers fared better. Sales for Activision increased nearly 20% year on year to $19.8 million and grew nearly 40% in the quarter to date.

Xbox 360 continued its strong performance; sales were up 156% year-on-year thanks to Microsoft’s Crackdown, the best-selling title for the console.

The San Francisco Chronicle has the most analysis of the console difference in
For gamers, Wii is No. 1
Low price, unique controller make Nintendo most popular

Nintendo’s surprisingly popular Wii game consoles have pulled ahead of its competitors for the second month in a row.

(theschwartz: who is surprised? 🙂 )

Despite superior graphics on PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 — which also come with hefty price tags — Wii has managed to win over customers with its wireless controller, cajoling them off of their couches and enticing them to move about their living rooms as if they were playing a real sport.

“The Wii is like a jeep and the Xbox and PlayStation are like a Maserati and a Ferrari,”

(theschwartz: I didn’t only quote this because I drive a jeep 😀 )

One explanation for the Wii’s recent lead, he said, is its price. Nintendo is offering the console for $250 while Sony has priced its high-end PlayStation 3 for $599. Microsoft’s high-end Xbox 360 costs $399.

“We’re still early in the game console cycle,” he said. “This is going to be a protracted console war.”

7-128: Indie game developers expanding the market

Something I’ve blogged a lot about for the last year is how much the stereotypical gaming niche – teen boys and young men – has changed, needs to change, and will continue to change: Shifting gaming demographics. The subtitle on that one, btw, is “Online gaming attracts more women than men (Nielsen study tracks booming genre).”

We all know that the established companies who fund new game development in the industry fund games that are a lot like previously demonstrated successes. Games like games they’ve done before. This is how a “niche” happens in the first place, and how sequels and franchise games happen.

So it’s not the big companies and the big sources of funding who are going to be the sources of new ideas, and especially not them who are going to expand the market by making games outside of the current gaming “niche”. Companies like the one I want to tell you about are doing that – and this company is doing it more profoundly than any I’ve yet seen.

I first found out about 7-128 software ( a couple weeks ago when I found this article: Staying in the game: Salem group shuns retirement to produce computer games. From the article:

“We just felt that there needed to be something that was more family-oriented, that parents and grandparents could play with their kids,” Cynthia Geller said, “and something that would make people really think about what’s going on rather than just reacting. We engage your mind and not just your twitch.”

And, Geller says, Microsoft and Sony don’t market to the elderly, the deaf and the blind. Many 7-128 games have special features for seniors, the hearing impaired and the vision impaired – voice activation and text enlargement, for example. The level of difficulty is flexible, and each game can be set to easy mode.

Many of the games have a sort of throttle that lets players slow them down. That’s to appeal to seniors and people with poor motor skills and cognitive problems.

Most important, the group unanimously agrees, is the storytelling.

How’s that for expanding on the current narrow, young, male gaming niche? Let me reiterate the differences:

  • family-oriented
  • engage your mind
  • make people really think
  • senior citizens
  • hearing impaired
  • vision impaired
  • easy mode
  • Most important … is the storytelling

How many unaddressed markets do you see in that list? 🙂 They only officially launched this year, January 1st. I look forward to seeing how it goes! I think they’re in a great position, obviously, to do more than just have fun creating games, because 1) the appeal of gaming is much broader than its current niche, 2) the technology to run these games is nearly ubiquitous now and 3) there’s a lot of opportunity they are addressing which no one else is addressing yet.

The Boston Globe also featured them last month: Partners in life, business. Nice PR, for such a small and young company!

Their Game Book is a Java based game engine, and key to what they are doing. It comes with four games, and you can modularly add games to it. Their business has a model of releasing a new game every week. How’s that for fresh content to keep customers engaged and having a good time? Their text-to-speech, large text and “easy button” features are implemented in the engine itself – so are available for all games they produce for the engine. Smart on multiple levels, isn’t it?

I’ve installed and checked it out. Many of the games are period pieces, set in fancy New England mansions 100 years ago. The Poirot series from the BBC came to mind – that this is a favorite of my wife’s (and even I like Poirot!) proves the point about expanding the market. I played with the text-to-speech engine on to check that out, and it was like a narrated, interactive murder mystery. Cool! Not console graphics, no. And the whole point about expanding the market is that there’s more to gaming than $10,000,000 console graphics games.

Most people who read my blog are going to find 7-128 interesting from the point of view of their business model and their technology – check them out! They especially deserve some kudos for making games that are specifically accessible to hearing impaired and vision impaired people!

Any other small indie game developers you’d like to tell us about? Please, introduce them in a comment! I like the idea of making an ongoing series of features like this about indies, specifically about how they are expanding the market and bringing some creative new business ideas to gaming.

2D Pixel Art competition for Second Life

Kerry commented on my post from last week about Second Life competition with info about FakeTown and CityPixel, and they are interesting enough I certainly wanted to blog about and link to them.

Both are online avatar-based MMO communities based on 2D pixel art, rather than 3D modeling and rendering. I posted about pixel art last year: The funkiest art you’ve never heard of

Both are web-based communities/interfaces which thus require no download, are innately cross-platform, and work on far broader a range of computers than to the 3D-based MMOs. In the upper right corner of each of those home pages you can click to visit/play them directly. How’s that for proof of lightweight and immediate availability?

Faketown seems to have a more open model for users to create their own content and “sell” it to others in the community – and, of course, has to deal with people abusing the open model. CityPixel provides an address to email one’s art for review and inclusion. That’s a tough business model call, really. Very open to user-created content, with problems and lots of activity? Or less open to user-created content, with less problems, and less activity?

Either way, it’s an important point that anyone really can can make interesting 2D pixelated art, avatars and objects – a pixel paintbrush and some patience even allows me to do that, and I’m no artist. So these environments are way easier to add content to than are 3D-model based environments. Faketown specifically includes integrated browser-based tools to: “Draw Anything,” “Create Animation,” “Upload Photo,” “Upload Music,” and “YouTube Video Link.”

CityPixel seems to be more polished and/or better funded, and to have a bit more focus on social networking.

Anyone else have the sense these could be killer apps if they are done well and catch on virally and globally? Will one of them take off as an alternative to Second Life and the other 3D MMOs? I’ve mentioned the compelling reasons why they could – most particularly that 1) any computer on the planet running a reasonably current web browser gives someone access to them, no download/client/3D hardware required. And 2) it’s a lot easier for users to create their own interesting and goodlooking 2D pixelated art than it is for them to make 3D.

Caveat: both seem ‘early’ – CityPixel is specifically still ‘beta.’

Anyone using these have feedback for us?

Why do we bother?

Why do we bother (obsessively, fanatically) with GAMES, that is?

Kelly MacDonald’s article in the new Escapist is a fun bit of self-reflection for we who bother. I’ll leave her good answer for the end of the article, but let me post some highlights to show you why it’s worth a click and a read:

“Games are incredibly complex now, they’re compelling, they’re edifying. We haven’t been spending our time just making more and more versions of Tetris. People are creating real art, these days. Games are as intelligent a leisure pursuit as anything else.

“The living room resounds with familiar, tolerant laughter. My aunt shakes her head, smiling, and leans forward in her chair. “Come on, Kelly,” she says, looking about as mischievous as a middle-aged and middle-class Edinburgh woman can manage, “you can’t possibly say things like that and expect to be taken seriously.”

We, as intelligent people, love games, and it is a love that is often complex and un-frivolous. We are not a clamoring mob, hypnotized by flashing lights and high scores into wasting our lives in front of a screen. We engage with games on a significant level, and that often has a considerable impact on our lives.

All of which begs the question: Why on Earth do we bother?

Whoever heard of a film buff being forced into a corner and made to defend his pastime from accusations of dangerousness or, possibly worse, worthlessness?

Yeah, fun read – click and check it out!

The Jet Man. Really.

Yes, this is a movie of a jet man, flying with a jet pack.

No, this has nothing to do with a game.

It’s real.

And I’m blogging about it anyway.

Cause games wish they were this cool. 😀

Check out the mechanical details of how the wing works, how he’s steering, etc… I won’t give them away here.

Here’s his site: In the upper right hand corner of the site, you can click EN to see an English language version of the site. But I figure the least we can do is click to his site first in his own language.  Don’t miss his other videos!

Oh, did you notice I tagged this one with ‘User Created’ ? 😀

GDC: User-Creation in Gamespace

Here’s a pretty complete typed transcript from

Very much worth a read if you’re thinking about user-created content, and especially if you’re thinking about user-created 3D models.  But I’m surprised they focused so much on 3D model creation only.  The venue and the products they’re all working on make that likely I guess.  Here’s how Raph said it:

Raph: 3D is vanishingly small in its amount of importance in terms of user participation in these spaces. The number one use of user-created content in virtual spaces is the screenshot. And that is user content creation. It is shared more widely, distributed, commented on, annotated. That’s actually where the action is, things that have a far lower barrier to ewntry. The interesting areas of user-content creation .are in mashup and remix, like they are everywhere else, screenshot commets, WoW dance videos, dancing itself, stuff like that. That’s where a lot of the action is, because that’s where the barrier is low.