Forever Alone No More: Multiplayer Theater Gaming

gaming-industry-aloneDespite some negative stereotypes about people who enjoy video games, most modern games have a social focus. From massive multi-player games that host thousands of people in the same persistent world like World of Warcraft and Dota II, to party matching systems for match based games, which is most of them. Even solitary games now include the option to compare scores to your friends and the ability to easily record and post your in-game exploits. One interesting difference between earlier years of gaming systems and today is move away from gaming in the same room with friends.

I guess in today’s world it’s not surprising — we stay connected with friends around the world through social media. It’s a tradeoff between increased reach with many remote friends and decreased personal interaction. Don’t get me wrong — if I’m a curmudgeon about anything, it wouldn’t be about how amazing the connected world is we live in today. But, if I have friends over in my nice theater gaming setup, I really want to play with them in person, in the same room. There used to be more ways to accomplish this with split-screen divisions, turn-based, co-op games. I have fond memories of playing Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 with a four-way screen split of already marginal resolution — and it was a blast. For the PC world, people have been hosting bring-your-own-computer LAN parties for decades. But if you settle in for a game of Battlefield 4 on a modern console today, unless your friend has her own console and display — you’re not going to play against her in the same room.

Which brings me to a major technology creative innovation from Samsung — it’s just not for a low-end client — the Samsung Series 9 curved 55-inch curved OLED. You can watch an overview from Gary here. The Multi-View technology is very clever, and I’m actually not sure why other manufacturers of 3D capable displays don’t offer it. The feature uses active shutter 3D glasses to show you every other frame. Each of the two viewers see a completely different video sources independently. This kind of setup would be perfect with two consoles as two sources. Another interesting ProAV solution would be to utilize what is being called the digital canvas, which has the potential to be a big deal in HomeAV outside of just gaming or even home theaters. By using multi-image processors, you can roll your own split-screen gaming and movie watching. As many sources arranged as many configurations as you can imagine depending on the hardware. Pair this idea with a 4K projector and wall-sized screen, and you’ve really got something special to sell. There are many choices at different price-points, mostly depending on the level of customization and interactive arrangement of windowed sources. Jupiter Systems pioneered the market for these multi-image processors for command and control, but now you can easily pick and choose from companies like RGB Spectrum, Gefen, Extron, Crestron, TV One/Magenta Research and countless other black box signal processing manufactures.

As a related aside, there are many very interesting things that would come out of pushing a digital canvass in the home as consumer devices move towards the the Internet of things. As wireless standards start to coalesce into one winner that’s accepted and known by average consumers, it will become easier to mix video streams, alerts and UI elements onto a large primary screen. In the future, the consumer will won’t have to shift attention between multiple devices. They will be able to be watching a movie or playing a game, and be able to accept video from a doorbell camera in small window on the same screen. Devices like washing machines will be able to send discrete UI alerts to let you know that the cycle is finished if you wanted to know when to switch loads. Parents will be able to keep a constant baby monitor video or biometric vital info on-screen for peace of mind while relaxing. Visitors should be able to easily send content from phones onto windows on the canvas display with a hand motion — or more realistically now, an Airplay-like button. There are many possibilities that are just starting to open up and the first and most creative integrators will be able to set themselves apart from the competition.

Anyway, back to multi-player video game setups for the demanding social gaming client. One much more simple and cost-effective way to include social gaming in a theater would be to have multiple displays in the room as zones. The key to the setup would be the unorthodox seating arrangement in an average rectangle shaped room. I am envisioning a standard row of three to four seats facing the projection screen, then, back-to-back seats facing the other three sides of the room with screens mounted on those walls. This would provide four separate displays and consoles in the same room with minimal integration complication. Although, if you wanted to get fancy with distribution, I would consider an IP based video matrix like Just Add Power. For PC gamers, consider a row of modular PCs with wall build-ins. Super geeky, but kind of amazing.

These are all options you can present to your clients when selling a gaming theater setup. If you’ve felt out your client and know they love spending time with friends, try pitching one of these multi-player options. As always, consider adding to your demo rooms. Game related setups are sometimes hard for people to envision without as many points of reference compared to movie-centric theaters. Once they sit down and start playing with the family and see what’s possible, you may have created a new type of integration sale.