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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.