Posted in: Gaming/VR, Industry Highlights, Opinions

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Have you played a game on your watch? Have you strapped on a virtual reality headset? Have you had more fun watching someone play a game than playing it yourself? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have experienced some of the new trends rippling across the gaming industry.

First, with the recent launch of new smart watches on the market, game developers are eyeing the device closely as a new potential platform for gaming. While some developers are skeptics about the tiny screen, others are quickly embracing and innovating new gaming experiences specifically for the watch. In fact, smartwatch game developer Everywear just recently closed a $2.25 million funding round. There is no doubt that people are interested in the future of gaming on smartwatches.

However, game and app developers have a long way to go before gaming on the watch is viable. The majority of the smartwatch games on the market today fall into two basic experiences.

    1) A few words at a time on a tiny screen (Imagine the text-only games like Zork, but on a tiny screen).
    2) Super simple graphics on small screens and awkward player controls like the very early mobile BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) games.

For smart watch games to significantly advance beyond the current state, touch controls need to be refined. In my own testing, I tried to play a simple watch tile-puzzle game on a watch and could not for the life of me get one tile to slide across the screen. While smartwatch gaming is trendy right now, the experience is still not on par with smartphone and tablet games. Over time, more consumers will buy more smartwatches, which will drive developers to continue to see value in smartwatch games, and make the technology and time investments to make these ‘tiny games’ more engaging and more playable.

On the opposite spectrum from tiny screens is VR. It seems like every day I’m reading new articles about VR in the gaming industry. I have lost track of how many companies are developing headsets or controllers aimed at conquering the VR landscape. Big and small companies alike are looking to bring gaming to VR. For example, Microsoft recently announced a partnership with Oculus to ship the Xbox One controllers as the standard Oculus Rift accessory.

Investing in VR is popular for good reason. If you’ve ever strapped on a VR headset, then you know how immersive it can feel. We are in the infancy of VR software development, and it’s already this good! Invariably, when I demo VR to someone for the first time, they say, “Wow” or “Oh, my God! This is amazing!” The experience is so real that they either try to walk around and crash into furniture, or reach their hands out into the real world knocking over whatever is in front of them. The appeal of VR is very real.

Lastly, one of the latest growing trends is watching other people, strangers mind you, play video games. Gone are the days when waiting for a friend to pass the controller was pure agony. Companies like Twitch, Everyplay, Kamcord, YouTube and the new Mobcrush are all trying to cash in on viewers who enjoy watching gamers game. Twitch boasts more than 100 million unique viewers a month and more than 16 billion minutes watched per month. Those big numbers did not go unnoticed – Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch just became official last week.

This trend of watching gamers game is not going away. The Call of Duty YouTube video channel gathers larger audiences than popular television shows like Modern Family and Walking Dead. As more and more people unplug from traditional TV and demand entertainment anytime, anywhere, streaming content is poised to become the new norm.

The gaming world is changing! Smartwatch games, VR, and watching gamers game are just three big trends out there right now. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on other gaming trends you find relevant. Contact me at @BobHeubel on Twitter and let’s discuss.

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