The diffusion of an innovation

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Now that E3 has wrapped up, images pervade my thoughts of the many innovations and games announced and displayed at the show. Yes, there were many sequels shown—in fact, almost all the biggest games of this year's show have a number at the end—but video game sequels fare better in the hearts and minds of gamers than their counterparts in Hollywood. And so that's where much of the money goes: the tried and true, the license or franchise, the guaranteed return on investment that bean-counters prefer over the uncertainty of innovation.

What gets me most excited about a game is not whether I have had any prior experience with it, such as with a sequel in a series or franchise; or whether it contains any recognizable characters or locales as with a license. For me, it's the possibility of going to a new world undiscovered, or experiencing gameplay mechanics unfamiliar yet comfortable and natural to the touch. It's a game which defines a new genre, or defies existing ones; a game so gratifying to play, it demands playing over and over again.

It is no wonder that with all the mulling over I've done this week about the announcement deluge that was E3, the one image that continues to circle around my thoughts is that of the Nintendo DS. What is it about this device that is so thought provoking? I think I've got an idea or two.

Touch screen. The touch screen, like Sony's EyeToy before it, means a completely new source of input for a console game machine. Along with a new interface comes new game ideas and development possibilities. Such an innovation has the potential to create enthusiasm and excitement toward developing for the machine, the end product of which will likely be numerous and varied games exploiting the new handheld's capabilities. This, in turn, increases the probability of adoption by the mass market.

Wi-Fi. By making their new handheld Wi-Fi compatible, Nintendo is opening the door to worldwide connectivity for handheld games. However, not only are online games about to hit the mass market, I'm seeing the DS as being a mass market PDA device as well: instant messaging, chat, and...

Voice over IP. It's no accident that Nintendo is building a microphone into the DS—a handheld device with two screens, by the way. Besides the possibility for speech recognition, I believe the killer app for the new handheld device will be interactive chat applications using voice over IP technology. The only remaining piece yet to fall into place would be an integrated cam for video chat.

Time will tell whether this new innovative device will bear fruit or waste away underdeveloped. Nintendo has proven itself as an innovator and one capable of mass market appeal; its software continues to be the most sought after of all entertainment software in the world. The cards are stacked in their favor.

With the fierce competition of the games industry today by three gargantuan technology behemoths, it truly is an exciting time to be into games; but even more exciting to me will be participating, as the industry embraces an innovation and rolls out completely new ways of playing, interacting, and communicating.

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