Gadgets are boring, but video games are weirder than ever

Austin Carr

BLOOMBERG – For the past two decades, I’ve been clinging to my beloved Nintendo 64. What could ever match the video game console’s audacity of design and nostalgic allure, from its spaceship-like controller to the timeless art of its games? (Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey is the most underrated sports title of all time. Fight me.) Yet, for whatever reason, in the last year alone, I have suddenly found myself overwhelmed with a variety of contemporary gaming platforms, which now clutter my apartment like a freshman dorm room.

The breadth of choices in gaming stands in stark contrast to other areas of technology. Android or iPhone? Facebook or Snapchat? Google or, um, Google? For many categories of consumer electronics, the titans of Silicon Valley churn out indistinguishable products, while the video game industry represents the rare corner of the business not entirely hampered by hegemony.

There’s been a “renaissance” in gaming over the last decade or so, says Lewis Ward, an analyst at market research firm IDC. Propelled by more than two billion consumers worldwide, the market has become so diverse that Ward has had to develop an ever-growing “taxonomy” of competitors.

Beyond core consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, there’s the smartphone, tablet, and streaming-based hardware from the likes of Google and Roku.

There’s been a huge push into cloud-based games from Tencent Holdings and Nvidia that can be streamed over the internet.

Samsung Electronics, HTC Corp, Lenovo Group, Sony and Facebook are investing heavily in virtual reality. PC games continue to thrive, and there are fascinating new upstarts such as Panic’s Playdate.

It still takes a lot of money to compete. Video games are expected to generate USD174 billion this year, according to IDC.

Nintendo has watched its fortunes rise and fall and rise again between each new risky release.

The Switch, with its mobile-inspired hardware, almost whimsical user experience and embrace of indie developers, has proven such a radical, and prosperous, departure from the Xbox and PlayStation.

That kind of appetite for risk doesn’t exist in phones or search engines, where it’s futile to even try to compete. For now, we’re stuck with bland rectangles and, um, Google.