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The Billion Dollar Market Microsoft And Sony Are Ignoring

Jan 16 2014, 5:46am CST | by

The Billion Dollar Market Microsoft And Sony Are Ignoring
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The console video game market remains huge. Last September, Grand Theft Auto 5 generated over $1 billion in revenue in its first few days, a feat even the wizards of Hogwart’s and Middle Earth never matched on the silver screen. And the new PS4 and Xbox One have generated tens of billions in hardware sales since their launch last fall; the pricey boxes combined for more than 7 million units in just the last few months of 2013.

Not that long ago, the rise in casual gaming on mobile devices was predicted to be the downfall of game consoles. No doubt this alternate game format has had an impact, but clearly the console market is far from dead. Nevertheless, just coming out with new versions of Halo and Uncharted isn’t enough to let the console makers convert big groups of new users.

What could Sony or Microsoft bring to the market that actually would draw in newcomers to console gaming? One market they seem to be ignoring is cognitive enhancement, a.k.a. brain training. Neuroplasticity researchers have demonstrated that our brains are indeed malleable. We can not only learn new specific skills, we can even improve the general functioning of our brain.

To exploit this opportunity, firms like Lumosity and Posit Science have rolled out brain training games. Lumosity in particular has been aggressive, raising nearly $70 million in funding and signing up a reported 50 million users across mobile and other platforms.

These aren’t the only players. Fellow Forbes contributor David DiSalvo just wrote about an effort at the University of Wisconsin, the Games+Learning+Society (GLS). They are designing games to increase one’s ability to focus – see How Video Games Will Help Us Steal Back Our Focus. And, as I described in Video Game Improves Multitasking Skills, another firm, Akili Interactive Labs, is working on games to improve multitasking as well as detect Alzheimer’s disease.

The problem with the current generation of brain training games is that they simply aren’t much fun. Compared to highly addictive games like Candy Crush Saga (see Five Marketing Lessons From Candy Crush Saga and immersive console games like the Call of Duty series, brain trainers seem more like calisthenics. You play them because they are supposed to be good for you, not because you want to.

Perhaps the biggest issue is the difference in the scale of game development. $65 million sounds like a huge amount of money for an app developer, but a big chunk of that goes into marketing and other expense categories. And, of course, a brain training company has to offer a variety of games. If any one game had more than a few million dollars in development expense I’d be surprised.

Numbers like that look like a rounding error on the budget of a console game hit. GTA 5 reportedly cost $265 million to develop, and titles like Tomb Raider, Disney Infinity, APB, and others likely cost $100 million or more. These budgets enable armies of developers, artists, testers, and so on to create incredible experiences that people want to play. Not only do people buy the game, as they might a movie ticket, but they often become regular players logging dozens or hundreds of hours playing.

Imagine if you charged the team that developed GTA 5 with creating a brain training game, and gave them a 9-figure budget – you’d have the potential to improve millions of brains at the same time as the gamers engaged in what was to them fun and even addictive play.

Marketing, Not Technology
In one sense, the distinction is more marketing than technology. Video games already change our brains. Research shows that people who play action games on a regular basis are able to make faster decisions and multitask better.

These hypothetical brain-enhancing blockbusters wouldn’t look like the current crop of brain-trainers. Rather, they would have to incorporate elements that have been shown to yield specific cognitive benefits as part of their gameplay. This isn’t implausible. Today’s games often force their players to do all kinds of things – solve complex problems, deal with multiple attacking enemies, learn repetitive motions, and all kinds of other actions. Game players who would never pick up a book of puzzles don’t object at all when they must find creative solutions to the problems that game developers put in their path.

The marketing of such games would indeed have to be a balancing act. Sell a game as a brain-enhancer, and gamers will avoid it as boring. Indeed, one would have to take the same approach as a vitamin-enhanced soft drink. Yes, it’s the same soft drink with the same flavor you love, but now it’s got healthy vitamins that you’ll never actually notice.

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that more than 50 million people have shown at least some interest in cognitive enhancement by downloading an app or subscribing to a service. And one doesn’t have to spend $100 million to develop a game that will play for hours and keep coming back – look at Candy Crush Saga’s success. Its design is far, far simpler than console blockbusters but the game has proven to be addictive for many millions of players.

Why do you think these two worlds haven’t come together in a bigger way? Is there real potential here to develop cognitive enhancers that people will crave?

Roger Dooley is the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011). Find Roger on Twitter as @rogerdooley and at his website, Neuromarketing.

Source: Forbes

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