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Privacy concerns won't hurt Xbox One, says Bushnell

Serial entrepreneur says consumer backlash against Google Glass, Kinect tech won't matter if they're cool enough

Yesterday's revelation that the US government has been accessing central servers for a host of Internet giants and tracking individuals' chats, e-mails, documents and connection logs for surveillance purposes has sparked a new round of privacy concerns in tech circles. But where some consumers might be nervous about having Google Glass track their every movement and glance, or having an ever-vigilant, always-on Kinect in the living room, Nolan Bushnell told GamesIndustry International that any furor over the new pieces of tech is unlikely to hurt their prospects.

"Whenever I hear backlash, I say, 'Boy, that's going to be more successful than I thought it would be," Bushnell joked. "It's just the reality of the crazy world we live in."

"Whenever I hear backlash, I say, 'Boy, that's going to be more successful than I thought it would be"

Nolan Bushnell

While Bushnell was particularly interested in Google Glass and said the wearable tech will be "important," he didn't offer a prediction for how successful Xbox One would be, specifically. He did however address the decline of the console gaming market. Bushnell ruled out a second crash like the one in the early '80s, saying that one "was really suicide," a result of companies glutting stores with absurd amounts of software. While that upheaval was swift and catastrophic, Bushnell predicted a much slower decline for the current industry.

"I think that the idea of a closed system is going to be increasingly difficult in general," Bushnell said. "But systems die slowly."

While Bushnell said people will always want "the eight-foot experience" of playing games in a living room in front of the TV, he expects TV manufacturers to increasingly incorporate game-playing functionality into their sets. The jack-of-all-trades approach may leave the TVs at a disadvantage when it comes to horsepower, but Bushnell said he thinks it's much more likely that gamers will eventually buy dedicated upgrade cards to plug into their sets than spring for dedicated console hardware.

One controversial aspect of the next-generation consoles has been their emphasis on always-online experience and the ways they could be used to impose limitations on things like used games. For example, Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox One will need to check in with the company's servers every 24 hours or lose the ability to play games, raising the possibility of a day where those servers are shut down and the system's entire catalogue becomes completely unplayable.

"I'm actually nervous about that a little bit," Bushnell said of how always-online trends would impact preservation of games. "I played games 30 years ago that I would like to be playing right now. Particularly since I have some quirky tastes and some of the stuff I really thought was important, not many other people did. So it sort of fell into the trash heap of society."

While Bushnell believes there are preservation efforts underway, he doesn't think the game companies themselves are doing much to preserve their works. It's an attitude he said was common even decades ago when he was still running Atari.

"With the coin-op game business, I wanted to keep one of every game we ever had," Bushnell said. "But the number of times various people said, 'Gee, why don't we get rid of these old things...'"

Bushnell's current focus is BrainRush, a serious game developer exploring ways of accelerating the learning process through games. Along those same lines, Bushnell is delivering a keynote address at The Serious Play Conference, set for August 20-22 at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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