The huge success of the Wii and Nintendo DS have proven that people enjoy immersion in their video games. The success of 3D films such as Avatar has shown that people enjoy immersion outside of their video games as well. With 3D televisions being released on the market this year, 3D television shows are likely to appear soon.
Interactivity is the most logical next step for immersion, and steps are already being taken in that direction. Different types of entertainment media are quickly converging. The console makers are making large steps to make video consoles the set top box of choice for the home entertainment needs of their consumers. All of the video console makers now have movie and television show streaming capabilities through Netflix. I have decided to cancel my cable television service in favor of video streaming services through consoles, and I know many people who already have.
More people are buying video game consoles than ever before, thanks to the multimedia features of all consoles and the interactivity popularized by the Nintendo Wii. Consoles can even be found in nursing homes now, which was something which wasn’t even fathomable a few years ago. It’s only natural that companies would want to cash in on the popularity.
Games themselves are finding themselves changing as well. There are still a lot of games which are considered “hardcore games”, which are multiplayer first person shooter games, games with a steep difficulty level, and games that take forty or more hours to complete. However, now that the non-gamer owning a console is becoming more and more common, casual games which can be played in short sessions or completed in a short amount of time are a lot more commonplace.
Telltale Games is popularizing the concept of the “video game sitcom”. Games are released over the course of a season, which is typically five games at a rate of one game, or episode, per month for five months. The difficulty level has been tweaked over the course of five years of episodic releases, to a point where the games are now enjoyable to people of a large level of difficulty levels. Each episode is short, and can typically be completed in three to five hours depending on the player’s skill level and the frequency level of hints selected.
In a 2009 interview with Edge Online, Telltale CEO Dan Connors stated he wants to eventually create a “Telltale Channel” where “you sit down, you’d pull down a movie, go over to CNN to watch some live reporting and then you’d flip over to the Telltale Channel and see all these seasons of different products and you’d just select whichever one you want to play… Then couple that with the evolution of the devices – we knew consoles would be the place that was leading digital distribution, but I think everybody agrees that the next place games are going is into the living room and integrated with your cable television and your movies and your everything else. Say CSI is running on CBS and then you turn over to CBS Interactive for an interactive version of it – that’s where we’ve always envisioned it going, and that’s we’ve been working towards for the past five years. From process to the shape of the staff to the amount of writers and cinematographers and license arrangements.”
Things are heading in that direction now. Other companies are making interactive episodes. A Dr. Who series was announced by the BBC to be developed by Broken Sword: The Angel of Death developer Sumo Digital. Piers Wenger, the Head of Drama at BBC Wales and the executive producer of Dr. Who has even stated in the press release for the games, “there aren’t 13 episodes of Doctor Who this year, there are 17 – four of which are interactive.”
The question of whether episodic video games will overtake episodic television shows in the future is unknown at this point, however. The monthly episodic schedule definitely has a strong disadvantage towards the weekly release schedule of most television shows. Most companies doing episodic games at this point are small companies. If the games catch on, it’s certain large companies like Microsoft, EA, and Activision will follow suit. Once that happens, a weekly release schedule could theoretically happen. It just depends on whether the general public buys the games from the early adopters of regularly scheduled episodic game development.
It seems likely. Telltale Games is continually growing as a company, and larger companies are taking an interest in their format. At the moment, immersive entertainment is huge. It remains to be seen in the future if it is a fad, or if it has traction. At one point, video games themselves were called a fad, and now they are a thirty year old industry. The next wave of interactive devices will be a large clue as to immersive technology’s staying power. Sony and Microsoft are releasing interactive controlling methods to compete with the Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo is releasing a 3D successor to the Nintendo DS tentatively titled Nintendo 3DS. If these products prove as highly successful as prior immersive technologies, it only stands to reason that the entertainment industry will push immersion even more. Complete immersion could indeed be a part of the entertainment industry’s future.