Delenda Est Carthago

In 256 B.C. the two superpowers of the ancient world went to war. Rome, a rapidly growing agrarian society, needed to secure the Mediterranean coast of Italy against invasion. Which meant Rome needed control of Sicily, because it was just off their southern coast. As a society of farmers, they needed their borders safe to protect their land.

Carthage, a mercantile society, saw Rome encroaching on the Mediterranean Sea and saw a threat to their shipping lanes. Sicily was the main shipping route between Carthage and Italy. They needed control of the Mediterranean in order to continue their dominance as the premier merchants of the ancient world.

Each vision of the future was mutually exclusive. They couldn’t both dominate the Mediterranean, yet neither could afford to lose it. The ancient world was falling away and only the winner would have the power to shape the new era.

The ancient beige-box world of computing is falling away while the new era is busy asserting itself in a dozen different form factors and price points. Google and Apple are two companies currently betting everything on mobile computing, each with very different ideas about how to make money.

Where computing goes, gaming follows. How the average person uses a computer will change drastically in the next decade. How the average person games will change even more.

This is not just another console war.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.—Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs

Apple is an empire built on selling hardware. Yes, they make money from their app store and iTunes, but over 80% of their revenue comes from iPhones, iPods and Macs. Their investments in OSX and iOS are money spent chasing hardware sales.

Apple has built this empire on the power of design. They understood far before anybody else in the hardware space that once you can no longer make money just selling raw computing power, when computing power is commoditized, you can still make money selling a symbol of computing.

Apple’s hardware and user interface design is the envy of every other technology company on the planet. The iPhone on its release was a disruptive technology, but not because it was more powerful than what had come before. Its sheer elegance was disruptive. The fact that Apple could use sheer design to topple the cellular networks’ monopoly on cellphone software is staggering. A hand-held cellular internet device you actually want to use was so revolutionary that it sent every other smartphone manufacturer into a complete panic. It’s no coincidence that 3 years later almost every new smartphone released is some variation on the iPhone design.

The weakness of Apple’s business model is that design can be copied very easily. Hardware design can be ripped off with enough time. User interface design is even easier to copy. There is nothing in the iPhone that was technically revolutionary, aside from the extent of Apple’s control over its use. Every single piece of the iPhone has been implemented before and will be implemented again. As you read this, Google and their partners are rapidly spending a ton of money proving it. Patents, trademarks, brand names and dancing silhouettes set to indie rock tunes can only go so far. Information is cheap. Copies are even cheaper.

We did not enter the search business; they entered the phone business. Make no mistake: They want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them.—Steve Jobs discussing Google’s Nexus One

What happens to Apple’s profit margins on hardware once their competitors catch up?

There’s always more information out there.—Google Corporate 10-Point Philosophy, #7

Google’s official mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” They succeeded so well that they have literally changed the way the world thinks. The existence of Google has fundamentally changed the computing landscape, like the Roman Empire’s roads that crossed boundaries and connected distant cultures. Google is currently busy obliterating the ancient pre-Internet world of computing. But that’s not how they make their money.

Google is an empire built on advertising. Google’s employees are paid with AdWords money. For all the fancy services Google gives away for free, the (comparative) accuracy of their targeted AdWords is the secret to their business success.

If Google’s business model has a weakness, it’s the dirty little phrase called “content aggregation”. You only go to Google as long as you can find what you want. Google needs to know where everything is at all times, which is why Google has an army of computers constantly scouring the internet for every piece of data it can find. They can only do this because the web is an open standard, and the internet connects all of them together for free.

If Google did not act, we faced a Draconian future, a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.—Google’s VP of Engineering for Mobile Vic Gundotra, discussing Google’s motivation for creating Android

What happens to Google if all data is locked up behind proprietary apps again, like the databases from the stone ages of computing—all applications (and their data) requiring approval or worse, a proprietary, closed platform to run on? Google lives and dies by open access to data.

As of May 2010, 59% of all adult Americans go online wirelessly.—Pew Internet Mobile Access 2010 Survey

The past decade has seen computing explode beyond the walls of the cubicle. Now everyone is on Facebook, Google is a verb, and it’s almost a faux pas for anyone to not have an email address. But the computers they’re using to do this don’t look like the beige boxes of my formative years. Laptops now outnumber desktops in computer sales. Netbooks went from a chimera to dominating the low end of the computing market inside of 2 years. Computing has broken out of the cubicle, and that means the computer needs to leave the desk.

The definition of the word “computer” is rapidly coming to imply the prefix “mobile” for the average American. If you can’t put it in your pocket or backpack and take it with you, it’s not going to be relevant for long. And the process of how those computers become unplugged and modified to fit into your pocket matters to the computing industry. Will the content, and necessarily the platform underneath it, be open? Will it be an elegant, well designed little device with every app in its place (and no app out of place)?

Zynga Inc., maker of the Mafia Wars and FarmVille games played on Facebook, may be valued at $1 billion ... . That could make San Francisco-based Zynga the third-largest U.S. videogame publisher by market capitalization, bigger than Take-Two Interactive.—Bloomberg

When computers leave the desk, our games are inevitably going to follow. The videogame industry is changing rapidly due to pressure from social networking and mobile computing. EA is investing heavily in iPhone development. Sid Meier is going to release an iteration of the Civilization franchise on Facebook. And Zynga is busy using the underrated free-to-play model to rake in cash hand over fist.

The driver behind all these changes is the ubiquitous nature of internet access that’s spread thanks to mobile computing. FarmVille is a game you can play in any web browser (and on several phones) and it’s one of the most successful games in the world. It can steal a few seconds of attention (and real world cash) from millions of people anywhere they have a web browser, at any time of day.

Which is why Google has invested over $100 million in Zynga, apparently on the sly. There are rumors of Google Games launching later this year. Google’s platform isn’t Android, it’s the web—and that’s why the most popular game to ever hit a web browser is a perfect fit. Apple currently holds the lion’s share of the mobile gaming market, but that only holds as long as their overall smartphone marketshare is dominant. Which is why Apple has a stronger than normal interest in locking developers into their platform. Once their competitors catch up to their design, their only hope is to maintain that lock-in. Apple’s Game Center, the iOS4 EULA’s renovated stance on cross-platform development, the App Store’s approval process—these are all just fronts in the war to keep game developers and gamers on their platform.

Game development is a business, and they have to follow the money. This won’t just stay in the Facebook time-waster ghetto for long. If you think traditional PC gaming has taken it hard in the aughts, expect to be shocked by the next decade. iPads can play RTS games superbly. A 3G iPad can play an MMO anywhere you can get a cellphone signal. There’s no genre that a PC can do that a multitouch tablet, console, or some combination thereof can’t.

Yes, there will still be PCs. Yes, there will still be consoles. But they won’t matter nearly as much, because your iPad/Android tablet is as powerful as either one. More importantly, you can buy some variation on one for less than $100. I imagine with this crowd there are several of you shaking your head and harumph-ing under your breath. Just remember, there will be a day where your kids will wonder where that weird “QWERTY” thing that pops up on the screen came from.

Google and Apple have been in open warfare for a while now, but gaming is clearly the next major campaign. The winner gets to set the rules about how our games are made, and who gets to make them. On gaming’s little island of Sicily, do we start learning to speak Punic or Latin? It’s just too early to tell.

In 146 B.C., Rome burned Carthage to the ground, destroying almost all records of Punic civilization. Most of our knowledge of ancient Carthage comes from the historic records of the Romans. Rome literally erased Carthage from the face of the Earth.

One way or another, we’re all going to learn a new language.

Comments

One of the best articles I have seen on GWJ, and that's really saying something. History-gasm!

wordsmythe wrote:

It was a trick: The *nix users are actually a loosely related group of time travelers passing through in the background. They include The Doctor, Doc Brown, and Keanu Reeves.

Meanwhile: When are services like OnLive going to move onto the tablet and mobile space? 2015 sound about right?

All I can think of now is an episode of Doctor Who where he keeps running into Bill and Ted.

Can't you imagine David Tennant just staring at Keanu Reeves as he goes "Duuude! *air guitar*"

Yes, there will still be PCs. Yes, there will still be consoles. But they won’t matter nearly as much, because your iPad/Android tablet is as powerful as either one.

Am I right to assume you mean that down the road, we will have tablets that will function as well as any high-end gaming rig, complete with multiple monitors? That's a nice thought.

I don't know, there were comments flying around that the 3DS is approaching the quality of a current gen console. I'll grant you it's doing a slightly different job, but the 360 (the oldest current gen console) is around 5 years old, more if you account for the time it was being designed. Why is it outlandish to think a tablet can't do what a 5 year old console. Something like the Nvidia Ion, a small netbook chipset has more horsepower than the Xenos chip in the 360 (as far as I can determine).

I think the comparisons for the 3DS were to the Wii. Which is just a GameCube and not really 'current gen' in the same way as a 360.

pignoli wrote:

I think the comparisons for the 3DS were to the Wii. Which is just a GameCube and not really 'current gen' in the same way as a 360.

It's actually two GameCubes.

LarryC wrote:
pignoli wrote:

I think the comparisons for the 3DS were to the Wii. Which is just a GameCube and not really 'current gen' in the same way as a 360.

It's actually two GameCubes.

Duct-taped together?
____________________

Relating back to my contention upthread re: crucial differences in gaming interfaces, there's an interesting article on Kotaku by Chris Lepine, who maintains the Artful Gamer blog. It talks about those aforementioned differences and, in one section, compares the effectiveness of an iPhone port of Myst vs. the PC original:

Chris Lepine @ Kotaku[/url]]While the iPhone version of Myst is a wonderful port of the original game, I cannot quite dwell in the world simply because I cannot repress my awareness of my fingertips. I feel like I am playing a game. It is not quite bad enough to totally remove me from the world, but it is enough to remind me that yes — I am playing a game on my iPod Touch and this is a virtual/fictional world that I am interacting with. The PC version of Myst is nothing like that — when I click something I am reaching into the world and flipping a toggle switch.

OzymandiasAV wrote:
LarryC wrote:
pignoli wrote:

I think the comparisons for the 3DS were to the Wii. Which is just a GameCube and not really 'current gen' in the same way as a 360.

It's actually two GameCubes.

Duct-taped together?
____________________

Relating back to my contention upthread re: crucial differences in gaming interfaces, there's an interesting article on Kotaku by Chris Lepine, who maintains the Artful Gamer blog. It talks about those aforementioned differences and, in one section, compares the effectiveness of an iPhone port of Myst vs. the PC original:

Chris Lepine @ Kotaku[/url]]While the iPhone version of Myst is a wonderful port of the original game, I cannot quite dwell in the world simply because I cannot repress my awareness of my fingertips. I feel like I am playing a game. It is not quite bad enough to totally remove me from the world, but it is enough to remind me that yes — I am playing a game on my iPod Touch and this is a virtual/fictional world that I am interacting with. The PC version of Myst is nothing like that — when I click something I am reaching into the world and flipping a toggle switch.

This entirely strikes me as what he's used to vs. something inherent. Seriously stop and think about that for a minute, you're moving a piece of plastic to click a mechanical button, and it feels more natural than actually just touching it? We've all grown up using mice. This won't be an issue for long, or at least for subsequent generations. My 18 month old nephew can unlock and play games on his mom's iPhone. There is no way that is less natural and more abstract than using a mouse.

That ties into something I've been reading and hearing about a bit recently. Like when rabbit mentioned the difference between sitting back/sitting forwards as different experiences, perhaps handheld and tablet games need their own approaches. Just as we whine about console games being ported to PC with minimal concern for the platform with field of vision and control issues, the portable touchscreen game developers are going to have to work out what really works well for that platform. There was mention of gaming on a computer at a desk that instead of just launching fullscreen and taking over, might acknowledge that it's played on a desktop metaphor OS and all the elements it has to exist along-side. Perhaps the best portable games take advantage of being on a light moveable device often with a touchscreen, camera, geolocation, web access, and turns into a completely new beast rather than just a port of something on another platform.

PyromanFO wrote:

This entirely strikes me as what he's used to vs. something inherent. Seriously stop and think about that for a minute, you're moving a piece of plastic to click a mechanical button, and it feels more natural than actually just touching it? We've all grown up using mice. This won't be an issue for long, or at least for subsequent generations. My 18 month old nephew can unlock and play games on his mom's iPhone. There is no way that is less natural and more abstract than using a mouse.

My point is that there's a conflict for some users, even on adventure games like Myst that would seem to be tailor-made for iPhone navigation.

Yes, there may be some adjustment to that down the line for these particular types of games, but that's not going to happen soon...and it doesn't even begin to speak to a wealth of other game types with steeper demands on interactivity.

OzymandiasAV wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

This entirely strikes me as what he's used to vs. something inherent. Seriously stop and think about that for a minute, you're moving a piece of plastic to click a mechanical button, and it feels more natural than actually just touching it? We've all grown up using mice. This won't be an issue for long, or at least for subsequent generations. My 18 month old nephew can unlock and play games on his mom's iPhone. There is no way that is less natural and more abstract than using a mouse.

My point is that there's a conflict for some users, even on adventure games like Myst that would seem to be tailor-made for iPhone navigation.

Yes, there may be some adjustment to that down the line for these particular types of games, but that's not going to happen soon...and it doesn't even begin to speak to a wealth of other game types with steeper demands on interactivity.

I'm just going to put it out there that in my opinion the adjustment you're talking about might take months at most, and I'm talking about long-term trends over the next decade. I just don't see it being an issue.

Certainly could be wrong, but previous shifts in interface design (i.e. adoption of mice) were pretty much non-issues because games eventually become written exclusively for mice. We can already see the beginnings of this with an iPad. Once you get to a certain point of market penetration with multi-touch screens, it's just going to be the way to interact with computers, period. The rest will fall in line.

If current games are awkward on multi-touch interfaces, the games will adjust, not the hardware. You can't take this issue in isolation. By the time it gets to this point, you'll have to justify to people why you didn't make the game multi-touch. And really, I don't see any good reasons that don't boil down to "but we'll have to change how our games work". Of course you will! That's the whole point of the article. Gaming cannot dig in it's heels and go "No! I refuse to change just because everyone else does!" Fundamental shifts like this touch everything.

PyromanFO wrote:

Gaming cannot dig in it's heels and go "No! I refuse to change just because everyone else does!" Fundamental shifts like this touch everything.

Or rather, some games can if they want. The games that adapt and are popular will show the way forward, and succeed better than the old style. There's a reason I don't have keys for turn left/right and look up/down any more. Call it survival of the fittest.

Scratched wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

Gaming cannot dig in it's heels and go "No! I refuse to change just because everyone else does!" Fundamental shifts like this touch everything.

Or rather, some games can if they want. The games that adapt and are popular will show the way forward, and succeed better than the old style. There's a reason I don't have keys for turn left/right and look up/down any more. Call it survival of the fittest.

Sure, they still make ASCII roguelikes. They're not exactly driving the gaming industry forward, or even keeping up with the times.

I'll say it again, nobody is going to go around and take a sledgehammer to old beige-box PCs. They just won't matter in the grand scheme of things anymore.

PyromanFO wrote:

Certainly could be wrong, but previous shifts in interface design (i.e. adoption of mice) were pretty much non-issues because games eventually become written exclusively for mice. We can already see the beginnings of this with an iPad.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the scope of what you're arguing for here.

Yes, to follow your example, there were games that were written exclusively for mouse control, just as there are games that are created exclusively for multi-touch capabilities. But it took a long time for mouse control to become an expected feature in a majority of PC games. Consider the introduction of free look in first person shooters: Marathon, one of the first games to implement the feature, came out in 1994, ten years after the Apple Macintosh launched with a pack-in mouse.

Even today, there are still genres out there that don't particularly work well through mouse control. (Racing games, fighting games, platformers, third-person action games that don't rely upon aiming, etc.) Mouse control may dominate the PC landscape, but it doesn't stand out as the dominant interface for the entirety of gaming. And I see a similar scope of impact for the multi-touch interfaces that are currently the rage in mobile gaming today.

PyromanFO wrote:

If current games are awkward on multi-touch interfaces, the games will adjust, not the hardware. You can't take this issue in isolation. By the time it gets to this point, you'll have to justify to people why you didn't make the game multi-touch. And really, I don't see any good reasons that don't boil down to "but we'll have to change how our games work". Of course you will! That's the whole point of the article. Gaming cannot dig in it's heels and go "No! I refuse to change just because everyone else does!" Fundamental shifts like this touch everything.

Well, I definitely agree that any adjustment is going to come from the software side; the next iPhone probably isn't going to have a slide out gamepad w/analog nub.

After that, though, I think we may just need to agree to disagree on the scope and timing of mobile gaming's future influence on gaming. Even on the Wii, the platform that holds the "old" interface revolution, there are notable games like Monster Hunter Tri that are being released for the platform without any motion control at all. I'm not disputing that multi-touch will have an impact on gaming, but I don't see it ascending to such importance that the majority of games are developed to cater to it, especially not within the next ten years.

You're also misjudging the adoption speed nowadays compared to the '80s/'90s. How fast was the Wii selling the first few years of it's life, how fast are mobile devices with touch screens selling (because extra input devices add bulk, which is what you don't want on a portable device). These things are flying off the shelves the moment they're available, the iphone shifted 1.7 million in 3 days, the ipad over 2 million in 2 months. There's a massive hunger for software to put on them too.

This is not just basement geek stuff, it's not an office computer or a specially configured and tuned hotrod pc. This is consumer electronics.

I think there IS a fundamental difference between iPad-style multitouch interface and a mouse/keyboard or controller interface beyond just "it feels weird because it's not what I'm used to." To run with the Myst example above, using a mouse for Myst is more natural than your fingers because the mouse never gets physically in between you and the world you're supposed to be inhabiting. It sits off to one side until after a while you forget it's there. If the only surface on which the mouse would work was the surface of your screen, blocking part of the view and constantly reminding you that you're separated from the world of the game by an impenetrable glass membrane, that the world which is supposed to be larger than life is in fact roughly the size of your hand with fingers splayed, it would be a very different experience. It's the difference between standing on the deck of a ship and using tweezers to manipulate a ship in a bottle.

Does that mean that Myst shouldn't have been ported to iPad? Of course not. I'm all for anything that allows people to enjoy a game they might not otherwise have played, even if the experience is less than ideal. But I think there's too big a demand for the sort of game that immerses you in its world to expect that all, or even a majority, of games are going to "adjust" to an interface that just plain does not work well for that sort of thing.

Civilization? Sure, fine, you're SUPPOSED to be looking over that game from a great height. Perfect fit for a touch interface. Oblivion? No chance.

Civilization? Sure, fine, you're SUPPOSED to be looking over that game from a great height. Perfect fit for a touch interface. Oblivion? No chance.

My argument is this simply means more games like Civilization will get made and fewer games like Oblivion will get made. That's why this isn't just some weird thing happening on cellphones. It determines what types of games get made, and who gets to make them.

PyromanFO wrote:
Civilization? Sure, fine, you're SUPPOSED to be looking over that game from a great height. Perfect fit for a touch interface. Oblivion? No chance.

My argument is this simply means more games like Civilization will get made and fewer games like Oblivion will get made. That's why this isn't just some weird thing happening on cellphones. It determines what types of games get made, and who gets to make them.

To reiterate:

I wrote:

But I think there's too big a demand for the sort of game that immerses you in its world to expect that all, or even a majority, of games are going to "adjust" to an interface that just plain does not work well for that sort of thing.

I don't buy it. Fewer games like that might get made on mobile platforms that eschew buttons for touch, sure, and rightly so. But the demand for that sort of game is there and it's not going to go away just because the newest platform around isn't the best fit for it. The same way that 2D games didn't disappear when the hardware to run 3D (as in polygonal, not glasses-wearing) games became ubiquitous. They just moved to mobile platforms and download services like XBLA.

Games follow demand at least as much as technology. I mean, right now between New Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Country, Kirby's Epic Yarn, 'Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, and too many others to name, the sidescroller is experiencing an unprecedented revival. There's no technological reason why that should be so: the graphical and interface factors that led to that genre's supremacy in the 8- and 16-bit days have largely been eclipsed by 3D graphics and analog controls. But people still want those types of experiences, and so hardware makers are careful to design their platforms such that they can still be enjoyed unless there's a compelling reason not to.

Apple always pushes new interface concepts hardest, and they've certainly done so with multitouch in the mobile space. But not everyone is down with that. Gaming aside, many people just plain prefer buttons, at least as an option if not the entirety of the UI, and for them, the availability of buttons is a selling point for non-Apple mobile platforms.

Nintendo has the right idea when it comes to this, I think (unsurprisingly, since gaming is the core of their business instead of an afterthought like it is with Apple and Google). Give developers a touch screen to use in games that are best played that way... AND a d-pad and buttons for games that are best played that way, AND (on the 3DS) an analog slider / pad / thingy for games that work best with THAT. It's just a matter of time before someone does the same thing combined with a cell phone, like an Ngage that's not crippled by terrible design decisions. (-:

Quake 3 on android

In one aspect it's doing it very right, wrong in another.

hbi2k wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:
Civilization? Sure, fine, you're SUPPOSED to be looking over that game from a great height. Perfect fit for a touch interface. Oblivion? No chance.

My argument is this simply means more games like Civilization will get made and fewer games like Oblivion will get made. That's why this isn't just some weird thing happening on cellphones. It determines what types of games get made, and who gets to make them.

To reiterate:

I wrote:

But I think there's too big a demand for the sort of game that immerses you in its world to expect that all, or even a majority, of games are going to "adjust" to an interface that just plain does not work well for that sort of thing.

How many essays do you think I can link where Clint Hocking (Splinter Cell, Far Cry 2) talks about the death of the immersive simulation as a game format?

I really should re-read the thread, but I think there may be a grain of truth in "I think there's too big a demand for the sort of game that immerses you in its world". Too many try to do it when it's not suited to their game, or copycat another game just because it worked for them. I don't want to set quotas on how many games a year should show the player being injured by a red screen and heavy breathing, or aspects like augmented reality or HUDs, but sometimes those things do come across as a crutch on a weak game that might be better another way.

Ranger Rick wrote:
peterb wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Does that make *nix users the Mongol hordes or something? The future Ottoman Empire? The Visigoths?

A better analogy would be "that one Japanese army officer living alone on an island who never learned that the war ended years ago, and his side lost."

Except that Mac OS X (and iOS, by extension) are the most common *NIX platform out there right now. ;)

Plus Android and Meego are both Linux based. Whoever wins the mobile war, *nix is everywhere

The nascent cult of Christianity?

wordsmythe wrote:

The nascent cult of Christianity?

More like Judaism: widely persecuted but really at the heart of everything else.

I'd heard a rumor about that.

Malor wrote:

Whether you trust Google or not, one thing they're generally very good at is giving you an escape hatch.

They have a group called the Data Liberation Front whose entire purpose is working with other groups inside of Google to develop ways for end users to export their data out of Google products, into a usable form that can be ported elsewhere.

It's one of my favorite things that Google does.

Now I want to listen to the Punic Wars episodes on the Hardcore History podcast again.

Am I the only person who refuses to use Apple products of any kind? Am I the only person who can't comprehend why everyone is selling the future of computing freedom to a company that wants to lock it up in a box and charge admission just to look at it? I've stood against Apple for the past 16 years and don't see any reason for shifting my position now.

I hate proprietary anything, and as this article's author subtly pointed out, its a draconian archaic practice Apple is hell-bent on continuing. Its a practice that needs to be left in the past, regardless of how saccharinely beautiful the products may be.

I try to avoid buying Apple products whenever I can, but the iPod Touch and the iPad currently have no real competitors. Apple is the Nintendo of the computing world, it seems.