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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."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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