Is Cable's Finger on Right Gaming Key?


As if the $2 billion spent on video-game software alone during the first six months of this year (up 6.3% compared to a year ago) isn't proof enough about the appeal of interactive games, then consider this: 145 million Americans are active players of console, handheld and PC games.

Devotees of EverQuest, the wildly popular Sony Online Entertainment game, typically spend two hours every day of the week in their cyberworld.

Last month's Pew Internet and American Life Project found that the "geeks-only" image of videogame junkies is passé, with more mainstream users (including women) becoming active gamers.

More Shows

And what is cable TV's response to this social, financial and media bonanza?

More linear TV shows about video games.

Not only is Comcast's G4 network fully devoted to the sector, but Game Show Network, Spike TV and others are trying to find programs that will appeal to the heterogeneous gamer audience.

Meanwhile, gamers are turning to their monitors — PC screens and television sets — to play games or gab with each other about games, not watch TV shows about them.

G4 sure learned that behavior pattern at its recent "G-Phoria" videogame awards show in Los Angeles.

While G4's cameras recorded the on-stage awards event for a network telecast, the hundreds of games developers, executives and fans in the theater generally ignored the on-stage proceedings.

They were too busy playing games on consoles in the hall or just swapping games experiences.

Games Galore

Cable could exploit the games business in a new-fashioned way: playing along via the set-top box and modem.

Buzztime (a company in which I have an interest) has been exploiting its Scientific-Atlanta Iinc. relationship and recent Media General investment to deliver trivia and other games to STB customers.

The Buzztime package enables ancillary subscription and advertising fees for customers, including avid or casual gamers who want something to do while waiting for a TV show to begin — or to play between shows.

And more STB games ventures are rapidly emerging.

Sky Enterprises LLC, a young New York company (with no relationship to Rupert Murdoch's similarly named empire), is ready to rollout the first 70 of its games on a cable system which it will not identify.

Because Sky's "ZodiacGaming" games are currently playable only via S-A STBs (in the 3000 series for now), that narrows the likely MSOs to a handful of initial prospects.

The ZodiacGaming line-up will be offered in packages of about a dozen games for $5 to $10 per month, says founder/president Alexander Libkind, with the emphasis on "family friendly" fare.

He insists parents will spend that sum to entertain their younger children with storybook adventures as well as twitch and strategy games.

He's right in that parents continue to be annoyed about buying $50 software that bores kids within a week. His revolving library of games – including multiplayer games within cable networks – offers cable operators a broadband sales opportunity.

'Kuma: War'

Also debuting this autumn is Kuma Reality Games, which promises to exploit broadband connections to deliver "real world news combined with intense action" gaming.

The first game, "Kuma: War," is a subscription package that will "pull gamers into missions" based on news developments, military intelligence and satellite imagery.

Then there's Zone4Play, an Israeli games developer which has begun making a mark at European cable systems (as well as Web and mobile phone networks). Zone4Play's mainstay card and casino games are seen as paving the way toward online betting — another broadband revenue opportunity.

While these cable-centric games ventures try to find a market, Sony Online Entertainment is unleashing a next generation of games for both its PlayStation broadband connection and conventional PC play.

As with Microsoft's XBox Live broadband service, cable operators may be providing network capacity into the home device —tying up (as indicated above) several hours per day of connectivity, but with no share of the $10 to $15 per month subscriptions or premium play fees.

Murdoch Factor

And Murdoch lurks, inevitably planning to bring the games carried on his European satellite systems to DirecTV if/when that deal is completed.

Cable operators – comfortable with linear programs on niche topics (including big categories such as videogames) – should be thinking about future audiences.

Assembling tiers of broadband and STB game services, from Buzztime, ZodiacGaming, Kuma, Zone4Play or other packagers may be the best way to attract and hold finger-twitching viewsers.

Either that, or it's: "Game Over."