Flash, Silverlight the future of video games?

According to the BBC, gaming giant Electronic Arts is fed up with having to code the same game three, four or five times over. That’s the downside of the console wars – several incompatible systems.

The article says that streamed server-based games will be increasingly important.

A few observations. First, the PC is the nearest thing to an open platform right now, and it’s interesting that PC games typically cost around 30% less than those on the top consoles. For example, the hot new FIFA 08 typically sells for £40.00 on PS3 or Xbox 360, £25.00 on PC. It’s cheaper on DS or PSP, but must be considerably cut down on these low-powered devices. The Wii is somewhere in between.

Second, I’m writing this after seeing the amazing things being done with Flash. Microsoft’s Silverlight is also interesting in this context, as is Canvas 3D – OpenGL running in the browser.

That’s still three separate platforms; but since they are all cross-platform, there would be no necessity to code for more than one of them.

Third, Flash games are already very popular. If you calculate market share by time spent playing, I guess Flash games would already show a significant portion (I’d be interested to see those figures).

Fourth, the success of the Nintendo Wii proves that although geeks care deeply about who can shift pixels and calculate transforms the most quickly, the general public does not. All they want is a playable and enjoyable game.

All this suggests that the business model behind Microsoft’s and Sony’s console strategy is flawed. The idea is to buy market share by subsidizing the hardware, then profit from the software sales to your locked-in users. What if users can get the same games by subscribing, say, to a hypothetical EA Live, and play the games on a variety of devices? The money is still in the software, but there is no hardware lock-in. Prices could fall, and game developers could spend more time being creative and less time re-implementing the same game for different platforms.

Flash is actually in the PS3 and PSP, but appears to be an old version. If Microsoft isn’t thinking about Silverlight for the Xbox 360, then it should be. But if my logic is correct, then the investment Microsoft and Sony have put into game studios is actually more valuable, long-term, than the money they have put into hardware.

That said, the online experience is not yet good enough to threaten the consoles. I doubt it will be long though. A key point is hardware acceleration in the Flash player. H.264 video will be hardware-accelerated in the forthcoming Moviestar release of Flash 9. I am confident that a hardware accelerated gaming API will not be far behind.

One thought on “Flash, Silverlight the future of video games?”

  1. Interesting theory. You may be on something here. It will continue to be a struggle between companies who want full control over the platform, however. It may not be hardware, but it will be Flash, Silverlight or Canvas:3D.

    Microsoft will, of course, only want to write games on Silverlight.

    Sony won’t want to write games on Silverlight at all because Microsoft owns it and could dictate licensing terms.

    Everyone will be leary of using Flash because of Adobe.

    Maybe Canvas:3D has a chance.

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