Jan2008

The phenomenon that is the games console market

The old adage that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is all well and good. But in a world going madder by the minute, it’s worth remembering that the electronics industry (usually) has a serious purpose.

Now, if that sounds a bizarre way to start an editorial, I should remind even regular readers that I personally have very little time for games - unless we are talking the more physical type (as in a round of golf). I must confess that certain (carefully vetted) educational PC games have found their way into the Marchini household of late, and the effect on six-year-old Alexander’s maths ability and wordpower has been impressive to observe. But arcade-style games (as they used to be known) are a no-go area.

So it is a never-ending source of wonder to me that the games console industry continues to grow as such an alarming rate. And here is an industry based on “froth and nonsense” that is driving the leading edge of electronics development. Surely the world has gone mad? Or should that be sad?

The latest figures from US research organisation NPD reveal record games console sales during 2007, with a gob-smacking 43% increase in revenues from consoles, software and accessories. And that equated to a colossal US $17.9 billion. Dare I suggest that if that sum had been spent on medical electronics research, or perhaps space exploration then the world (and the electronics industry) might be in a better state than it now finds itself?

Notice I didn’t suggest spending the money on defence. In days gone by, it was often joked (and used as fodder for Hollywood screenplays) that the games industry was a thinly veiled training ground for the warriors of tomorrow. Well, my second “I don’t believe it” news item of this week came in the form of a survey, carried out at the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, which dared to suggest that its surgeons were less likely to kill you on the operating table if they warmed up for an hour beforehand on a Nintendo Wii console.

I have no objective way of telling whether this is true or not. Certainly, the fine control required for certain games might sharpen a surgeon’s skills. But it is certainly a departure from the “old school” of surgeons, who would probably have prepared by refreshing their knowledge from some learned medical text.

Either way, it’s a fine piece of PR for Nintendo - the company that accounted for 52% of the games devices sold in the USA last year.

So perhaps I’m being a little unfair on six-year-old Alexander. But should I encourage him to play games on the grounds that it will help him become a doctor, or should I encourage him to train as an electronics engineer and devote himself to console development?
This comment was originally published in the Electronicstalk Newsletter

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About the Author

Electronicstalk and this Editor's Blog are edited by Laurence Marchini

Laurence Marchini

Laurence Marchini began his career in the electronics press with the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1980, cutting his teeth on a variety of learned and member publications, ranging from IEE Proceedings to Electronics and Power. He moved on to join the launch team of the innovative weekly Electronics Express in 1986, and became Editor just 18 months later. Sadly, Electronics Express lasted just four and a half years, wound up by the infamous Robert Maxwell. However, Laurence had already jumped ship and joined the world of electronics PR with the agency of the 1990s, Smith and Jones Communications. It seemed Laurence was lost to the world of journalism. But after 11 years we managed to lure him back as launch editor of Electronicstalk. Laurence is married to Sally and has a young son, Alexander.

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