I'll open this with a bit of a disclaimer - some meetings were had at Gamescom with my Walker hat on, the details of which I cannot share.
Right, that out of the way. Last week I had the great pleasure of attending GamesCom, the biggest European trade and consumer show concerning video games. Early estimates put consumer numbers at around 245,000 people - no small beer as a direct to consumer information portal.
Thankfully, I had a couple of days in relative quiet where only trade visitors where allowed to walk the floor, and as the Koelnmesse was large enough to have a separate business centre, I managed to get my hands on the latest tech and get some valuable insight from some of the leading minds in the field.That said, all the observations here are my own...
The first thing I noticed, perhaps shockingly to all of us in books publishing right now, is that the big games companies really aren't that bothered about the iPad. Very few were demoing product on it, and fewer still were announcing significant development for the device. It would seem the smaller, more agile companies that have addressed the market early have dented the desire of the big boys to really commit to that platform. Established franchises will always make the port across, but it seems it's not a device that new IP will be broken out on. The titles I played felt overwhelmingly like bolted-on afterthoughts to the main show on PS3 or Xbox 360.
On the flip side, there was a lot of noise, at least in the business centre, about the opportunities offered by Android. Although the "app" marketplace for that OS is still some way off challenging iTunes, developers and publishers alike were very bouyant about the long-term potential of the plaform. As an aside, I also got my hands on the new Windows 7 Mobile Phone by HTC, and it's a vast, vast improvement on previous Windows Mobile operating systems. Add in Xbox Live integration, including marketplace and avatar support, and we may well have a dark horse in the interactive mobile content space.
By far the biggest noise at the show was made not about 3D, but by motion-sensitive controls. Vast swathes of floor space were given up to Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect, both of which can loosely be described as HD variations on the Wii control scheme for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 respectively. Both looked and played brilliantly.
Both these systems open up some very interesting possibilities for storytelling - but at a price. Creating an interactive book or storytelling experience on these platforms will require significant investment, and until the installed bases are firmly established, it'll be tricky to build a development P&L that makes commercial sense. Until there are 2 million+ Kinect devices installed, say, it's likely that books publisher will be reliant on licensing partners to reach these platforms.That said, anyone brave enough to take it on now will have a pretty clear field in which to operate, and as recent hardware launches have shown, those who get there first generally do very well.
Without giving too much away, there were some immensely interesting possibilities for storytelling shown by Nintendo and THQ. Those intrigued should get searching through the footage from GamesCom 2010 - though I'm not sure how much of that was behind closed doors...
For the books publishing world, my overriding takeway was this - The games industry and ours are getting ever closer, despite the barrage of new technology. It's no coincidence that the best big production games tend to be based on a decent narrative (even Warcraft needed a solid, believable world to set as its canvas), while the most successful casual titles mirror a lot of the virtues we are trying to instill into our apps and eBook experiences. It should be a no brainer, then, that our industry can help games with narrative and creative, whilst they can teach us a lot in how to best use technology to tell our stories.
What we both need to learn, and fast, is the ability to share and connect with each other's businesses in a meaningful and productive way.
Paul is Head of Digital at Walker Books and owner of Orb Entertainment. Follow the bear on twitter: @walkerbooksuk (Walker Books official feed) or @rhodesythebear for Paul's personal musings.