GamesBeat: Does it seem like the bigger opportunity is going to be in mobile?
Sawyer: Yeah. The biggest exception would be, in some respects, exer-gaming. A wide-open space with a large screen in the living room still seems like it has a lot to offer from a user experience standpoint with exercise. But when you think about the types of exercise that likely will become more ubiquitous and could be very broad population-based? It really is something as simple as getting people out and getting them to move five, ten thousand steps in a day. Research is starting to show that it’s not just how much you sit, it’s sitting for long periods of time. So again, looking at how you might deal with things at work and other things, the mobile platform is becoming where people are starting to spend more time. You can’t do experiences like Kinect in a mobile environment (so far). You can’t do big jumping-around types of experiences. You’re still going to have unique experiences, but my sense is you’re going to see Apple TV and other types of things get amplified, for lack of a better word, and that’s going to be interesting because with Apple TV or something like it, you’re talking about a $99 box that easily could drop to $60. If you were to make that work with some sort of 3G so now you don’t even have to worry about whether somebody knows how to hook up their Wi-Fi hub or anything like that? You could start to see much broader adoption.
GamesBeat: Sounds like the momentum is just getting bigger and bigger here for the whole market.
Sawyer: There’s several things going on, right? One is health care costs and their impact on everybody’s bottom line. Personal, for businesses, government, society in general. That still isn’t quite slowing down yet. So there’s a lot of impetus to start to fix these problems, and that impetus is not shrinking by any means. At the same time, I think I’ve always said that serious games — games for health for that matter — we ride on the back of what happens in the games industry. And the games industry has moved — and technology in general has moved — to a lot of exciting new platforms and capabilities that make it easier for this explosion of games to happen. The whole social gaming phenomenon, things like that, and how you can use that to reach people. As long as those things keep making the progress they’re making, we’ll be able to eventually piggyback on a lot of that. It’s where things come together and happen at scale, with that kind of investment that you talked about earlier. I think those are the signs that show that things really are progressing in interesting ways.
GamesBeat: So are there any other highlights that you think will happen at the conference?
Sawyer: Yeah. I was actually just writing up a list of highlighted talks that I’m really interested in seeing, seeing how they turn out. Konami is going to talk about how they’re doing a version of Dance Dance Revolution that they’ve specifically built for group and school type use. There have been lots of smaller companies like iDance and others who’ve tried to go after this group DDR market, and Konami has now decided to do some work in that space themselves.
Another company that I’m looking forward to is Green Goose, which you may be familiar with. Startup, San Francisco-based, doing stuff with sensor-based stickers that can talk to the Internet. So if you rake it knows it, it knows all kinds of different actions, you can turn just a stick into a sword and play games. It takes that gamification of physical activity to a whole new level. That’ll be interesting.
Another set of talks that I’m really looking forward to is one that came from a dating-violence episode. Out of that tragedy came a group called Jennifer Ann’s Group. They’ve been sponsoring a small contest for people to propose games and build games around the topic of dating violence. So their leader is going to come and talk about that project and the story behind it, and then he’s going to be joined by another project that’s been doing some work on dating violence with games and do a sort of super session on that topic. What’s very interesting and touching to me in the games for health space is just how many different areas people are trying to address with games.
GamesBeat: Sounds pretty good. What’s your outlook?
Sawyer: Yeah. It continues to go. I’m really, myself, personally hoping to see this year further broadening. Some things around the centers, some things around ideas like walking and nutrition, everyday things that can be turned into those kinds of broad-based products that have a chance to not only become investable but by virtue of being investable it’s probably because they have a chance to have a very high impact across a large population of people. Move beyond these lab-based confines that some of this more academic work tends to be stuck with. I think that’s what we have to continue to see and talk about in these broad terms than we may have been two or three years ago.
GamesBeat: Fitbit has launched its Wi-Fi scale. The gamification of bathroom scales seems to be in full force here.
Sawyer: The term “gamification” is one I have lots of issues with, much like many of my compatriots. The term that I like is what I was saying earlier about this notion of integrated games. You’ve generated inputs elsewhere in your life. What can we turn those into? That seems to be what Will Wright’s working on with that “personal gaming” project. I have no idea how they’re doing it or what they’re doing or what they’re thinking in terms of an actual product. But that term of integrated gaming seems more respectful of the player than what many designers have felt “gamification” is, let alone what that became. It’s interesting, I think.
Also, it seems like every time you can find new ways to generate input into a game, that has brought about some form of expansion if not actual market explosion. If there’s been a more consistent way to create new territory and new business in games than generating new means of game input, I don’t know what it’s been. With the exception of maybe social networks. It’s really been that kind of thing. Now, whether or not bathroom scales represent the next big thing, it’s clear that there’s some sort of tie between creating novel forms of input and new games that run on top of that in some sort of blue ocean strategy. It seems, with the sensors, it’s going to be this sort of multi-sensor input from what you carry in your pocket to the bathroom scale to other things. The challenge is going to be creating really interesting experiences. Somebody will do it. That much seems inevitable to me. I wish it could be me, but I have a feeling it’s going to be someone who we don’t even know about yet.
GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat’s fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry’s latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.
[Photo credit: ePatient]