Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Let the Games Begin!

As I have discussed in previous posts, the video game industry dwarfs all other forms of digital entertainment by a large margin.  The most successful movie of all time (to date) was Avatar, and just the "Call of Duty Series" will out gain it in total revenues by a laughable margin. 

It always happens around the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday time that most new gaming products come out, whether they be software or hardware.  Last year it was the Nintendo Wii U.  This year the heavy hitters, Microsoft and Sony, released their next generation of consoles.  The releases marked a trend that all of us should take very seriously for many reasons.  The first and foremost reason is my belief that technical innovation in the entertainment industry drives IT forward in the business arena.

Some of you may find that statement hard to believe.  In order to understand why I would say something like that you'd almost have had to grow up in the late '70s, 80s, and early/middle 90s.  You know, the dark era of pagers, monochrome monitors, and 10MB hard drives.  The mere fact that we have become so technologically advanced in such a time is a strong indicator that something powerful is driving us forward. 

Taking a look at the modern PC and such applications as SAP, Microsoft Office, and even Facebook, we can safely discount them as drivers of modern innovation.  Since I believe in a future, such as described by Ernest Cline in his book "Ready Player One", where real business is done in virtual world, let me give you some proof.

Over Christmas my household was a lucky recipient of a new XBox One console device.  Let's look at a few of the amazing innovations that were included in the unit to enhance gaming.

Biometrics
This technology is used in the business world to authenticate people by identifying unique physical characteristics about them.  They include: retinas, fingerprints, palms, and voice.  Using the newest version of the Kinect sensor, my XBox One knows whenever I walk into the room where it's set up.  As soon as I enter the room, a message appears on the TV screen saying, "Hello Christopher!"  I'm not completely sure what it cues on, but I think it might be facial recognition.

I was trying to enter the setup area on it shortly after installation and couldn't find the button.  I asked my wife if she knew where it was and she simply said out loud, "XBox! Open Settings!"  Sure enough and to my amazement, that very screen opened up.

There are several games including one about zombies that key on noise in the room and/or the player's heartbeat.  If the game senses an increased pulse rate, characters in the game respond.  In the zombie game, if you make noise in the room where you're playing, the zombies inside the game can hear and come to investigate.  Talk about creepy...

4-D Feedback
This particular term refers to an experience that stimulates and reacts to four senses.  With the new controllers a person must rely on sight, sound, tactile, and aural feedback in order to fully play.  In several upcoming game titles people will have actual, complete conversations with in-game characters!

The concept of 4-D is important because both the military and certain industries are starting to incorporate the same technologies into their operations.  Drone operators in the military aren't just using joysticks anymore.  They wear VR (virtual reality) helmets and manipulator gloves or suits in order to operate sophisticated, remote-control drones.  In the medical field, surgeries involving many organs including the heart and brain are starting to become virtualized in terms of how a person remotely guides devices to perform delicate work that a human could not. 

The same things are happening in many fields within Life Sciences and in certain manufacturing disciplines where precision is paramount.  Recently, even Amazon has talked about bypassing UPS (not a bad idea after their December fiasco) in favor of delivering packages to your house directly by drone!

The Take Away
All of these advances in business are actually following technologies developed previously for games.  As an IT leader or CIO, it really behooves you to pay attention to what's happening in the field of gaming.  It was games, not business, that drove the trends in computing that led to massively fast processors and huge storage arrays.  Sure, businesses have now harnessed that tech but it is an example of one industry reaping the benefits from another, as an afterthought. 

Games and entertainment will always be the engine of innovation that drives technology forward in all other aspects of life.  If you can learn how to identify those trends early, you'll be in a great position to help your own company be a differentiator, not just a follower.  In other words, you'll be able to be Netflix/AppleTV and not a Blockbuster/HD DVD.

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