How smart can (and should) gaming peripherals get?

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By Lewis Ward An interesting trend described in my recent worldwide gamer and gaming peripheral forecast is that gaming-related peripherals and accessories are getting “smarter,” or at least more context aware. The forecast focuses on PC and console gaming peripherals from a hardware and revenue perspective, but the trend is already bleeding over into mobile and portable platforms. Let me put some smart gaming peripherals into context. The aforementioned forecast showed PC and console gamers will spend at least $9.8 billion worldwide in 2012 on aftermarket gaming peripherals and accessories. This figure doesn’t include cables, removable memory, or most multiuse products such as TV sets or monitors. The study was limited to the more basic aftermarket categories such as controllers/gamepads, headsets, mice, and keyboards. PC and console aftermarket gaming peripheral spending is forecast to rise ? almost entirely due to uplift in PC-related spending ? to $11.6 billion in 2016. This midsingle-digit revenue CAGR isn’t knocking it out of the park, but the market’s trending positively and is a more significant piece of the overall gaming industry than it’s given credit for at times. Smart gaming peripherals and accessories are of course a modest piece of the overall gaming peripheral market. Within the aforementioned categories, the phenomenon has primarily surfaced in hardcore gamer-oriented market niches. Razer’s Synapse 2.0 freeware, which debuted early this year, is a case in point. This configurator software allows the preferences and settings of Razer Naga and HEX mice as well a handful of Razer’s higher-end keyboards to be saved to the cloud and quickly retrieved and applied if those peripherals are moved to another PC. At a modest press conference I hosted at E3, a Razer executive announced that over 500,000 user profile settings had been saved to the cloud to date. Another example is what Plantronics is doing with its Spokes Software Development Kit (SDK), which also arrived early this year. The PC-oriented Spokes SDK is designed to help developers take advantage of emerging contextual awareness capabilities. For example, headsets, headphones or even speakers might be made aware enough to deliver a customizable audio cue if an important email or call comes in or if a Facebook friend happens to drop into the neighborhood. The Spokes SDK is targeting enterprises first and foremost, but given that Plantronics has launched a developer contest (around integration with Microsoft products), I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see “apps” with a gaming orientation surface by the end of this year. The point here is less that peripheral makers are going to start charging more money for smart peripherals so much as that these value-added features might be “cool” enough to persuade some fence-riding shoppers to purchase one product over another. Coming out of E3, I was surprised how much mileage Microsoft got out of its SmartGlass announcement. The SmartGlass SDK came out about a month ago, and although I realize its contextual awareness relates to smartphone and tablets, I think it highlights a related trend. Whenever it’s commercialized in the coming year, SmartGlass will basically be an optional game enhancement feature that probably won’t cost extra but that will lead some shoppers to take a closer look at Windows 8 phones and tablets. (Of course the Wii U’s “asymmetric” GamePad screen will be used by millions of gamers before the end of this year and Apple just patented the ability to use iOS devices in a virtual controller capacity.) It’ll be interesting to see where the smart gaming peripheral and contextual awareness trend leads in the next year or so. Will devices like the Oculus Rift catch fire or flame out? (Before you dismiss this virtual reality gaming headset, you have to at least acknowledge the ~$1.4 million raised in the past month on Kickstarter is evidence of significant hardcore gamer interest in the device.) At a minimum, game developers and publishers need to start thinking more about how they can take advantage of these “free” alternative screens and emerging smart peripheral features. Perhaps one of them will come up with a novel use that really excites gamers. Direct monetization of smart peripheral and contextual awareness features is going to be tough near-term. I expect one or more to make a mark before the end of 2013, however. Most gamers probably won’t take much notice, but it’s usually the hardcore minority (mostly younger males that play 15+ hours per week, as my recent forecast also makes clear) that lead the charge in this direction anyway. The author is research manager for connected consumer in gaming at IDC ]]>

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