In my last article I got pretty specific with theater customizations that not every theater gaming client would need. This month I’ll dial it back in a and give a broader field guide to identify the particular genus and species of your gamer client. This will give you an edge on design recommendations, as well as building a bit of trust and camaraderie with the clients.
A platform is broadly just the device you choose to play your games. There are three major categories: mobile, dedicated handheld, PC and console. Of course as things progress, there is significant bleed-over within the platforms. For instance, the Sony Vita and Nintendo Wii-U handhelds can be played through a console on the big screen — BYOD for home. And, mobile tablets and phones can act as thin-clients for larger computers doing remote processing like Sony PlayStation Now and the OnLive cloud service. Steam’s console platform (like Lee wrote about in this column) is attempting to entice PC gamers into the living room with essentially a compact, big screen friendly PC. Platforms are really all just a type of consumer hardware, so you’ll never make any money selling the equipment itself — it would be more of a convenience service you could provide by purchasing and integrating it for the customer.
Almost all mobile games fall into the casual and arcade category. Games like Candy Crunch Saga, Temple Run, Plants vs. Zombies are all examples of casual games (which are worth billions in revenue). With tablet and smart-phone games, you can show clients how to project their small displays in the theater system. Apple’s iOS devices and Airplay work well. Some games that use tilt as an input work well for this. For most casual games, looking down to see where you should touch is impractical. One exciting addition to IOS is handheld external game controllers. For years, Apple turned up their collective noses at buttons for game control — but without tactile feedback, using a touchscreen as a controller is a frustrating and second-class experience. Now with iOS 7, Logitech as a few other manufactures have come up with physical handheld and shell controllers that will really change the mobile gaming market.
Somewhat related are dedicated handhelds, such as the popular Nintendo 3DS and (less popular) Sony Vita. They don’t relate much to home theater gaming – except for the ability for the Vita either play on a big screen, or conversely play PS4 games on the small-screen.
PC gamers are a different breed and attracted to PC gaming for a couple reasons. PCs are almost endlessly upgradable. While consoles are frozen in place for up to five years — a PC can be on the bleeding edge of technology for as much money as you are willing to bleed out of your bank account. This can lead to a particular smugness on their part during Internet flame wars. The other big difference comes from the extra control from using a keyboard and mouse. The keyboard gives you hundreds of possible saved shortcuts and a mouse enables pixel perfect twitch aiming. The mouse also lends itself to real-time strategy games. The big downfall also comes from the keyboard and mouse when it comes to big-screen gaming. Even with some kind laptop stand, sitting in a recliner is terrible with a keyboard and mouse. As I mentioned earlier, Valve’s Steam solution to this was to create a more compact PC with a standardized operating system and a controller with two touch pads that could better mimic a mouse. This doesn’t really help with several genres of games that people love on PCs, such as real time strategy games and massive multi-player games (like World of Warcraft). My solution to this problem for you, the HomeAV integrator is to put a desk in the middle of the theater. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out. PC gamers spend significantly more money on their setup than the equivalent console gamer. If you think you’ve successfully identified a hard-core PC gamer — that person absolutely would love to have a comfortable desk, seat and an amazing projector that envelopes the view in a wall-sized image. There’s no reason you can’t also have comfortable theater chairs arranged in the room as well — but float this idea out there. In future posts, I am going to mockup what this might look like so you can better pitch the idea to clients.
Console gamers are familiar territory for theater gaming. It really lends itself to lounging in comfy chairs staring at a large screen. The trick as I’ve mentioned in my last article, is adding value beyond plugging in a console into a switcher. One of the keys to this is keeping the hardware organized and providing custom integration where possible. I’m a big believer in adding touches like charging cradles for controllers into furniture near the seating. One interesting thing to note about the PC vs. console gamers is that they can’t play multi-player games across those two systems. Gamepads lack the precision of a mouse, and matching players across the two platforms would be unfair and a major technical headache for developers.
In my next column, I’ll go into the types of games available, which isn’t directly tied to the physical design of the theater additions, but will help you bond with and understand your client better and may help you give better suggestions that will lead to future sales.