Ben Cousins: Forget pride, make games for wearable computers

Former DeNA exec predicts vast gaming audience for wearable devices - "in the billions"

The prominent industry consultant Ben Cousins has advised developers at Barcelona's Gamelab conference to get past their pride and tackle the enormous opportunity presented by wearable computers.

In a talk called "What Comes After Mobile?", Cousins - a former executive at both Electronic Arts and DeNA - indicated that the time was right to start thinking about what the next big platform for gaming might be.

Based on its current trajectory, mobile gaming - defined as games on smartphones and tablets - is on course to be worth more than 30 per cent of the industry's revenue by 2016, becoming its biggest single sector overall the following year. The days when mobile was an emerging market are long gone, Cousins argued, and the rewards for any developer who can predict the next major computing platform - and create compelling games for it - will be great.

"You need to be comfortable working on something that isn't sexy. Something which is new, and may be alienating for your peers and colleagues"

With close analysis of trends in the development of computing technology since it first appeared, Cousins reasoned that whatever follows mobile will be smaller, simpler and more accessible to more people than anything that went before.

"It would be completely crazy if the next big gaming platform wasn't smaller than a mobile device, if it wasn't simpler in terms of its interface, and if it wasn't physically more accessible than a mobile device," he said. "That would go against all of the trends that we've seen in computing over the last 70 years."

In fact, the earliest examples may already be here, in the smartwatches and headsets that mark the early onset of wearable computers. Cousins acknowledged that the development community as a whole has yet to take this new market category seriously as a platform for gaming, citing two familiar objections: "I don't buy it, wearables are stupid" and "I can't imagine ever playing a game on a wearable device."

In both cases, Cousins said, the objection represents a failure of the imagination; an inability to think outside of the current paradigms that dictate what form games take and how people interact with them. And yet games have been present on every generation of computing technology since the creation of Spacewar in 1962, evolving and changing to suit the strengths and limitations of each one, and the hardware evolving in turn to better suit the needs of its users.

"Creating games for a new platform requires a specific kind of attitude. You need to have an open attitude to innovation, you need to be willing to take risks, and you need to be willing to do new things to solve different kinds of problems," he said.

"You need to be comfortable with failure, as you discover all of the quirks and restraints and weaknesses of these new platforms. You need to have a lack of pride. You need to be comfortable working on something that isn't sexy. Something which is new, and may be alienating for your peers and colleagues."

Cousins offered Rovio as an example: a company founded in 2003, "when games on mobile devices were total crap." Similarly, Supercell founder Ilkka Paananen founded his first mobile company in 2000. "The big winners started really early, making games for phones in the pre-smart era," he said. "The long time they spent committed to that platform gave them an advantage.

"We can definitely see a future where cheap wearable devices give us the opportunity to address a gaming audience wherever they are, whatever they're doing"

"This is the kind of attitude that the big winners of the next computing generation will have in terms of games."

And, as the evidence that Apple is poised to introduce a smartwatch becomes more abundant and convincing, that generation may well be about to experience its first pivotal moment. Indeed, Cousins went so far as to state, "iWatch is happening. This isn't theoretical any more."

"It looks very clear that we're going to have a new computing platform from Apple this year," he continued. "Let's not forget that Apple is the company that created the personal computer with the Apple I and II, the company that really defined what mobile devices were with the iPad and the iPhone. If anyone can define a new computing paradigm, it's probably Apple."

And the final trend in the evolution of computing platforms is the most seductive of all: with every new generation of computing hardware, sales have increased dramatically. From a handful of room-sized supercomputers kept under lock and key in the Forties, to what is estimated will be 5 billion mobile devices today. And according to Cousins, the audience for gaming on wearable devices could be bigger still.

"We can definitely see a future where cheap, multiple wearable devices - smaller, easier to use, low power consumption - give us the opportunity to address a gaming audience wherever they are, whatever they're doing.

"An audience in the billions."

Related stories

Spanish games companies have "multiplied by a factor of 8" since 2005

Barcelona leads the charge in a burgeoning local industry

By Dan Pearson

Nearly 100 games compete for Gamelab Indie prize in Barcelona

And we have 20 passes to give away for the show

By Dan Pearson

Latest comments (15)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
"An audience in the billions."

The smartphone market is already roughly that. Anyone who can afford a phone and will ever want/need a phone has a phone.

Wearables may be the next fad, but I can't see how someone that can't afford phone could afford the luxury of a wearable. A new market for sure, but not a bigger one. And this time, millions of microdevs will be ready to pounce on it and kill any early leaders.
9Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
Forget pride - think of SAFETY. We already have device distracted drivers killing far too many people, Google Glass making others into walking targets who get offended because they don't consider what they do intrusive with that camera filming away in public and cities where device theft is not only at an all-time high, but some of these crimes can get violent because thieves want that hot tech and don't mind emptying the gene pool to get that stuff. Wearables will combine at least two of these three perils and I certainly don't want to be dodging anyone distracted by a game when I'm trying to walk a relatively straight line down the street.

Eh, whatever - those BILLIONS of people all have the right to do what they want, but I'm going to be wearing elbow claws here in NYC if it gets too stupid out... :P
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
is he talking watches? cause Im just not seeing that watch thing going anywhere. I personally think it will be Apples first big misstep in the post Jobs era. Who the hell wears a watch anymore? Sure 30 years ago, we all did, now..umm hardly anyone does and why should we ever again?

As for google glass? the human brain cannot focus on more than one task at a time, google glass has a whole assortment of issues before that ever reaches any type of mass adoption.

Home/Business VR , now you getting somewhere, but its hardly a secret that VR is the future.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 25th June 2014 8:28pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (15)
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
@Todd: Maybe Apple will sell those iWatches to whatever police department Dick Tracy works for? That or they're planning to remove the clock feature from the next line of iOS devices so people will NEED to buy a watch... :D
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop3 years ago
Anti-Glass sentiments remind me of 30 years ago when everyone used hate on people who pulled out a mobile phone in public as insufferable idiots showing off their flashy over-expensive toys because "why are you so important you need to be always contactable?". Now they're ubiquitous. The current version of Glass is clunky, expensive, and very noticeable. The tech won't always be.

As for "who even wears a watch" - there are over 1 million watches listed on Amazon. Someone must be buying them. Wristwatch sales are actually increasing
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Coote Independent Game Developer 3 years ago
Smart watches will catch on, simply because it's inconvenient to keep pulling your phone out of your pocket every 10 seconds to see who is trying to call you, who has just favourited your last tweet, or (ironically) to tell the time. For games, that means notifications when someone is attacking your base in Clash of Clans. Or when your virtual pet needs feeding, it'll bounce around on that watch screen, yapping at you with it's puppy dog eyes.

Google glass, I'd agree with the comments in the article in that it's less obvious how to use it, and probably will be a case of having a play to see what the capabilities are. Even then, we've seen a lot of developers have a play with Oculus Rift, and still not come up with anything more exciting than cookie cutter horror games. (Not to say that's the case across the board, but the more original uses tend to be exceptions, rather than the rule). Same with second screen gaming, same with Kinect.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
I'd say VR will find its best success outside of the games sector in entertainment situations, museums, virtual tours and the like where short hops into the tech become what people pay the most money for.

While it will also sell initially and often to gamers who want the experience and have something to run it on that's up to spec, I'm not sure the binge gamers out there will be all into the technology unless the tracking is flawless, any sort of motion sickness issues are minimal and yep, the eyestrain thing isn't a problem.

You all KNOW there's going to be some people who want to or will try to spend ten hours or more immersed because they paid for the thing and damn any safety warnings, they want to see how long they can go for before their eyeballs want to walk out of their skulls with little protest signs. I'm betting on YouTube and other sites filling up with videos of such experiments in success and fail varieties because, yeah... some folks have too much free time on their hands.

Me, I'm in sleep mode until a commercial version ships out, as all the fantastic demos in the world are awesome, but it's like walking past a really great bakery every day that's closed to the public until they come up with the best treat you've ever had they won't sell until the recipe is perfected.

@Anthony: A lot of people were annoyed at cellular phone because pay phones were still VERY common, phone booths were more private (where they still existed) and could be accessed almost anywhere, so they didn't see the need for a portable phone at that time. To see some guy or gal on the street barging around with a shoulder bag phone and briefcase was quite a sight, especially if the person was loud and a bit defensive about his/her right to scream at someone in public even if it invaded someone's privacy.

Now, you can't go anywhere without hearing someone's private details babbled out loudly, people are worried that their calls are being monitored and/or their data is being used or stolen and so forth and so on. Every bit of progress has its bad points - we tend to overlook those by looking at the big positive picture first and foremost (until we get surprised by something on that bad side, of course)...
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ruben Monteiro Engineer 3 years ago
@Anthony Gowland

I wonder what happens to your Pro-Glass sentiment after you get run over by a car driven by an idiot watching youtube or texting in his mobile (or both).

Mobile phones are useful, but far from essential. Glass is even less than that. It's a desperate attempt to create a need where one doesn't exist.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Renaud Charpentier Game Director, The Creative Assembly3 years ago
If it has a processor, memory, display and www access it's going to have games on it, whatever "it" is.
Now which one of "these" will prevail and become a big enough market so that devs can live on it, only shamans/and/or crooks claim to know in advance. Rewind 10 years ago and find me the guy saying Smartphone and Tablets would be the next booming game markets. The words "smartphone" and "tablet" didn't even existed for what they are now.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Renaud Charpentier on 27th June 2014 5:17pm

2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 3 years ago
Curiously, both Jade Raymond and Richard Lemmarchand also centered their Gamelab talks around the new devices that may or may not present new forms of gameplay. VR, wearables, drones, internet of things...maybe the platform of the future won't be a single device but a combination of some of these gizmos. Food for thought, for sure
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Adam Jordan Community Manager, Ubisoft3 years ago
Yup games on even more smaller close to my dream of playing an entire game in one pixel!
5Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
@Adam: I know that was a joke and yup, I did laugh loudly. My old eyes are getting weary of smaller and smaller screens, but that took over 40 years of gaming. Now, we can do it in five! Whee, progress? :P
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Christopher Ashton Carlos Software Programmer 3 years ago
I could see games being a gateway to making some people take more active approaches in their lives. Akin to the Wii Fit, Dance Dance Revolutions, and Dance Centrals of the world. I think people enjoy those games a lot and it makes them more active and "workout" while doing so. I could see some kind of game that makes it more "fun" to share with friends their records and progresses, and it would be a natural fit for some of the ready made apps on phones already.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Adam Jordan Community Manager, Ubisoft3 years ago
@Greg: XD Glad it got that reaction and I agree, comparing the history of computing to the last 10 years, it's amazing what can be done and achieved. Heck I'm still impressed with the fact we can literally 3D print complex structures, let alone a 3D printer that can literally build full sized houses!

Also will leave you on a thought after reading about Zenimax leaping on the VR wagon...I wonder if they will be making a Pipboy watch that would have the Fallout's playable on it....anyone from Zenimax reading this, you can credit - Adam Jordan and send the cheque to... :P
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe3 years ago
Gaming on a watch only leaves one hand free, and any watch bigger than a couple of fingers wide is likely to look clunky and ridiculous... so I'm thinking these games are going to be either 1 button or (at most) 2 button games? Touchscreen is an option but then you really are going to be covering up the screen really easily.

Sounds like an interesting challenge for a designer...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.