It’s strange that in 2019 we’re not all playing games on headsets or via a microchip embedded in our brains, like so many movies made us all believe would happen. Actually, gaming in general has progressed a lot more slowly than everyone in the ’80s thought it would. (Marty McFly, you disappointed us.) That’s not to say that developers haven’t tried—just think of 2013′s Google Glass, and how the techco claimed everyone would be walking around with goggles within a decade. Or look at VR, which continues to fight for relevance with the masses, even as its adoption remains niche.
To entice users away from the cotton candy of gaming (sugary, sweet, not a lot of substance) Google created Stadia, a subscription-based cloud gaming service. The 4K-streaming paltform will launch in November, the tech giant says.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is diving into the interactive and eSports space with Mixer, a video game live-streaming site. It recently lured the internet’s most-watched streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, away from Amazon’s Twitch, where he was the first (and only) star to hit 10 million followers.
Not to be left behind, Apple—arguably the primary purveyor behind the free-to-play movement—is rolling out Apple Arcade in fall 2019. The aim of the service, which will launch in 150 countries, is to bring ad-free subscription gaming to the casual user and meet them where they’re already playing with exclusive original titles from the likes of LEGO, Cartoon Network and Disney.
But with all of these new pathways opening up, no one is quite clear yet what will take off, particularly with kids. So companies are putting their eggs in different baskets to see what approach draws young players in and expands their brands to keep ahead of the competition.
This week, we’re looking at different company’s video game strategies. On Monday we dove into Cartoon Network’s virtual reality plans, then looked at Aardman’s way of blending story and gaming, followed by why Nickelodeon is betting on subscription gaming. Today is a look at LEGO’s new Apple deal and closing thoughts on the future of gaming.
You’re a child’s plaything
On the other side of the subscription equation, LEGO is jumping in feet first. In March, the Danish brickmaker was announced as one of the few launch partners for Apple Arcade. This subscription platform will include LEGO Brawls (pictured), a multiplayer game that allows players to dress up the iconic figurine and collaborate with teammates to build, control and battle machines; and LEGO Builder’s Journey, which has been kept largely under wraps—though LEGO Games VP Sean McEvoy says it focuses more on the physical aspects of building.
“It takes great advantage of the tactile nature of Apple devices and allows you to really feel like you are manipulating and placing bricks,” says McEvoy.
The reason LEGO is so eager to be on the ground floor of this new era in subscription gaming is similar to Nickelodeon’s rationale—subscriptions offer the notion of fair and transparent monetization and maintain a safe online environment for kids, McEvoy says.
What’s more, across its gaming properties, LEGO is putting a big focus on finding ways to build multiplayer experiences where two to four users can all play simultaneously. McEvoy says his aim is to make it easier not just for people in the same room to play games together, but people in different locations, too. One of the benefits of the Apple platform is that more than 250 million people in the US already own an iPhone, according to statistics company Statista (not to mention other Apple connected devices). That pool of people makes it a lot easier for several players to join in one of these new LEGO offerings.
McEvoy and LEGO also plan to blend digital and physical play by focusing even more on augmented reality. The toyco had previously tested different takes on AR, but the one McEvoy is most excited about is showcased in LEGO Hidden Side (pictured, below).
Released in February, it involves eight playsets (costing between US$19.99 and US$129.99) for children seven and up. When users activate the free AR app, they assume a first-person perspective and play with two characters to explore sites and solve paranormal mysteries.
His plan for LEGO games is to continue investing in the Hidden Side platform, and other similar products. But that doesn’t mean he thinks AR is the perfect gaming experience for the future. The toyco is looking at different ways to expand its offering of these types of AR executions and how it can move beyond a reliance on a handheld device.
McEvoy believes the real power play is in wearable tech that can be integrated with current AR offerings—that’s when things will become even easier for the user and the tech will really take off.
“We’re pushing ourselves to try to be in some more emerging spaces, and I think AR counts as one of those,” says McEvoy. “There are some really great executions in the marketplace already. We feel like we’re joining that big team, and Hidden Side is a great first shot fired in the right direction. There’s a very significant future for this technology going forward.”
Is there any intelligent life here?
Ultimately, the future has many different options. Companies are hedging their bets and hoping that whatever they invest in—VR, AR, subscription services or a blend—will take off. But no one actually knows what the future holds. It could be a technology that no one has even heard of yet. A few years ago, who would have thought the portable handheld console Switch would completely upend the gaming industry?
Or, for the glass-half-empty types, the future could be a lot less exciting—especially as users continue to flock to free-to-play games.
“I tend to look at where people want to spend money,” says NPD’s Piscatella. “There are 211 million gamers in the US, and 49% of them have spent zero dollars on gaming because all they play is free-to-play content. We’re in a really weird time in the gaming industry, where the entire market is moving and no one really knows where or how it’s going to settle.”
This is the end of our series on the future of gaming for kids. You can check out all of our previous stories here.