This week Activision CEO Bobby Kotick expressed his opinion that gaming will “eclipse” film and television within the next five years by essentially crossing the “uncanny valley,” bringing the emotional connection between humans and computer generated characters full circle. Though graphical processing will continue to improve, the fact is that graphics alone aren’t going to fuel a mass-media takeover. Bridging the uncanny valley may be possible, and it might even happen in the next console generation, but it’s not going to be enough win over the entire film and television audience within the next five years.
I do agree with Kotick that gaming will eventually eclipse film and television, but the reasons for this have little to do with the relative graphical quality of interactive characters, and more to do with the overall experience of interactivity. The difference between games and films goes much deeper than the fact that one uses computer generated images and the other real images. The visceral feeling of physical control is what sets video games apart from all other forms of media. As the gaming industry matures we’re learning that the same feeling of interactivity can be applied to other forms of media – like music, for example, a medium that, like film and television, has executives across the world sitting Shiva.
But the music industry is experiencing its own resurgence on behalf of interactive entertainment. It lives on in the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, where people are still willing to pay $17 dollars for an album that came out 30 years ago. Consumers are hesitant to pay money for something they know they can get for free (like music, movies, and TV). However, even if they don’t get something tangible out of it, they’re willing to pay for an experience. That’s why Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and especially the Wii, have had so much success outside of the hardcore gaming fan base, because they market the experience that these products provide, not the technical features.
Consider the trouble both Microsoft and Sony have had tapping into growth markets by marketing their consoles’ features. Each manufacturer has gone through numerous model SKUs, trying to find the right combination of features and price. Contrast this with the past console generations and it becomes clear that people aren’t buying consoles for the same reasons anymore. The modern gamer wants Internet functionality, online play, streaming movies, downloadable games, and in many cases accessible control schemes. The next generation of consoles might be able to bridge the uncanny valley, but graphical prowess alone won’t capture a mainstream audience unless the hardware has all the above features – and probably more we haven’t yet thought of.
Media consolidation is where the gaming industry is headed, and it will take a broad range of entertainment features – not hyper-realistic graphics alone – to really “eclipse” film and television. Graphics are certainly an important part of gaming and will continue to advance, but the future of consoles will be about the overall interactive experience and how it can be blended with other forms of media we’re already familiar with. In other words, gaming isn’t going to eclipse the film and television industries, it’s going to consume them.