Thoughts on the Big Game

You probably thought this would be a post about the Super Bowl, huh? Well, I couldn’t care less about that. But these are three news bits from the last week that I enjoyed and can all loosely be tied together with a football theme.

Image: Microsoft

I am so glad that most of the commercials for the Super Bowl end up online immediately, and in many cases, uploaded well ahead of the game itself. This means I didn’t need to watch the game itself to see arguably the best commercial of the lot.

I have enjoyed video games all of life. But I’ve probably never once given thought to how I would enjoy them if I wasn’t fortunate to have both hands and all ten fingers. I guess the closest I’ve come to experiencing anything remotely similar was the couple of times I’ve had an arm or wrist in a cast. These times forced me to improvise, but they were temporary.

Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller for Xbox One allows just about anyone to play video games they never thought possible. And the world is so much better for it. We are already living in a world where there is a wider range of games made by the most diverse group of game developers. Now we are entering a world where more people can play and enjoy those games as well.

It’s a beautiful, uplifting piece. I, for one, am looking forward to the games these kids grow up to make themselves.

Now let’s switch gears from American football to real Football.

I was an impressionable youth in the early nineties when the Premier League was formed. I saw mostly highlights but I was drawn to flashy, winning teams. Manchester United was the only team for me after the first season.

Players come and go, but few become Legends with a capital “L.” Ole Gunner Solskjaer is right up there with the very best Man United Legends. I loved watching him play, most of the time coming on as a substitute. He quickly grew a reputation for changing games on their head. There was an air of excitement when you saw him standing on the touchline, readying himself to enter the match. And we’ll always have Barcelona.

In this interview with the now caretaker manager of Manchester United, he reveals that he played nearly as much football manager games as he spent playing actual football. He even credits playing the game with how he approaches managing a real team to this day, especially how he evaluates and treats youth players.

In many cases I feel that it would be hard to reliably translate skills you pick up in a video game to real life, but strategy and simulation games such as Football Manager are researched and developed to such high accuracy and complexity that they force the player to make similar decisions that would face an actual Premier League manager. It is not impossible to fathom a future where a professional manager is not bred from literally playing at the highest level on the pitch but rather one who played Football Manager on the highest difficulty.

It almost makes me feel good about all time spent playing games throughout my life. Unfortunately, my chance of managing Manchester United is slim to none at this point.

This last news piece only relates to football in that it takes a look back at gaming industry revenues for the last fifty years, or roughly for about as long as the Super Bowl has been played.

The graph itself tells a fascinating history of the industry. You can see the initial rise and dominance of Arcades in the seventies. The console boom and crash of the mid-eighties. Which leads into the long resurgence of consoles and handhelds through the nineties. And with the arrival of mobile gaming the early 2000’s, the industry has continued to grow to new heights year after year.

The Bloomberg article itself is not all roses as it focuses on the last few years of stagnation and decline in the overall health of the industry, citing, ” China’s stricter approach to game approvals, a shortage of big console hits, and fatigue among players for battle-royale titles like Fortnite” for the down turn.

The first point is probably to blame for the decline in overall revenues due to the sheer size of China’s potential market, consoles and handheld systems, which are far more popular outside of China, appear to be largely flat year over year. I would also agree to some extent that there have been somewhat fewer “huge” games, or maybe there have just been more titles with huge expectations that have released only to miss their intended mark (cough… Fallout ’76… cough…).

That being said, one could point to Red Dead Redemption 2’s achieving the second largest entertainment opening weekend ever or how Super Smash Bros. Ultimate became the fastest selling game in Nintendo’s history in less than a month. You could also argue that Fortnite fatigue is a bit overstated when you see that more than 10 million players gathered concurrently to watch a Marshmello concert in game.

There’s no denying that the industry is struggling in the short term – large, AAA companies like EA and Activision are struggling to find their footing as the industry changes around them, most companies are struggling to match the business of making games with quality of life issues, and the current console generation is nearing the end of its life cycle. But to me it seems more like we’ve stalled on an extended loading screen, waiting for the next great content to load in, and we can set off on our next great adventure.

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