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Games as Platforms

I’m spending some time recently talking about the evolution of platforms, specifically computing platforms. As part of my IST 110 course, I spend time talking about the history of computer games. The earliest iterations of home entertainment systems had no cartridges; the game software was on-board, embedded in the hardware of the device. A good example is Atar’s PONG. Eventually the manufacturers moved away from this model and towards a model of the console as a platform. The Atari 2600 is an early example of this. Today, with things like Xbox Live and the PS Network, consoles continue to expand their roles as platforms with each new iteration.

Another good example is Apple’s iPhone. Samsung, Nokie, Motorolla or any other cell phone manufacturer could have approached the phone as a platform, but they chose to simply build phones. From the very start, Apple conceptualized the iPhone as a platform, not merely a phone. If you glance at the app store, and associated market data, you can see this is paying off.

Our automobiles are well on the way to being platforms. Ford is rolling out Ford Work Solutions in their trucks, morphing your truck from a simple means of transportation to the hub of your business.

Here at PSU, we’re using Movable Type, what some consider to be a basic form of blog software, as a platform. We’re exploring MT as a means for portfolio development, online learning delivery and even personal content management.

I was interested to read last week that BioWare, makers of some of the best video games on the market today, are looking at two of their franchises as platforms: Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. What does that mean exactly? It’s too early to tell, but with the advent of downloadable content (DLC) and episodic content, game developers can no longer create games in a traditional framework, where the game is a self-contained close system. Developers now need to build a game, always thinking about how they can leave the framework open for DLC, user-generated content and other options that starts to make the game have similar attributes as a platform.

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