Learning how to play

I have been informed by my teenage son that he wants a Microsoft Corp. Xbox for Christmas. That's the snazzy new gaming system from our friends in Redmond, Wash. My son's request caught me off guard, because he already has a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. PlayStation for the TV and a library of games that he plays on his PC. In addition, he has a gaggle of handheld gaming devices -- most notably the Nintendo Co. Ltd. Game Boy and Game Boy Advance. I don't think my son is unusual, by the way. Even a nongamer like me can tell you that video games are hot!

My counterparts at Dataquest Inc., who keep track of such things, tell me the following:

-- U.S. video game console sales are expected to reach 9 million units by the end of 2001.

-- In the near term, 75 percent of video game sales will be made to households that already own a video game device.

-- Overall penetration of video game devices in U.S. households has jumped to 38.5 million.

So why have the game makers succeeded where mainstream software and hardware makers have floundered? How come my son is willing to buy an alternative gaming platform, but most companies aren't willing to upgrade their desktops or migrate to Windows XP?

Part of the answer, of course, is that my son is 13, and he is not paying for these systems himself. As a kid, he's more interested in the instant gratification he'll get from the new system, and he's not thinking about the redundancy between the many systems he owns. He's also using these devices for play, not work. But he is buying many of the games with his own money, so he has made a small personal investment.

The reason so many gamers are willing to buy the latest and greatest, of course, is that it's all about the games and the improved functionality -- or the perceived improved functionality -- of the newest platform. Gamers are being wooed by the prospect of the games and the better gaming experience, something that most business computer users haven't felt for a long time.

The software and hardware industry can learn something from the gaming industry and its enthusiastic supporters. In the absence of new and exciting software -- and the perceived improvements in the user experience -- most of us will pass on the opportunity to upgrade or buy a new platform.

The same goes for e-business. We can talk all we want to about the improved links with customers and suppliers, online order processing, and a host of other features. But if we fail to excite the users, we will have a hard time getting them to buy into the new platform or application.

Several years ago, I interviewed a computer industry visionary who said if companies wanted to have successful Web sites, they should make them fun -- like video games. It is clear now that he was onto something. It's not that we all just want to sit around and play, but when it comes to technology, we all have a weakness for things that are new, fun, more interesting, and more efficient.

What kind of games do you have a weakness for? Write BarbaraGomolski@earthlink.net.

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