Future of video games in your hand

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

Greg Canessa, the man who conceived and drove Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox Live Arcade casual games division – which is often referred to in Microsoft circles as "wife-crack" for its characteristic ability to addict women previously not interested in their husbands' digital amusements – has left the company. His new gig? Vice-president of video game platforms for Seattle, Wash.-based PopCap Games Inc., the maker of notorious work-time devourers such as Bejeweled (which you can also play online)

The move is part of PopCap's strategy to put its games not only onto consoles, but handheld devices as well.

With the casual games market expected to be worth $5 billion US by 2009 according to some forecasts, up from an estimated $1 billion out of today's North American total of $7.4 billion, Canessa's jump paints a clear picture of where he expects the action to be.

Canessa outlines his new role in an interview with Wired.com's Game Life blogger Chris Kohler:

It’s a broad in scope role. It encompasses everything from vision and strategy to execution and marketing. It will all be part of my group and charter. Business development will be part of that as well. It will be about taking the stable of franchises and games out of PopCap's studio and adapting, customizing it for different platforms – adding multiplayer, new play modes, HD, customizing the user interface and display for Zune, iPod, Apple TV, Nintendo DS, PSP.

He mentions his outlook for casual games – and cellphones – later on:

Casual games, gaming in general, will continue to penetrate into the psyche of the mass market public. We ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of where it’s going to be in the next couple years. More and more soccer moms and grandmas will play. It’s going to continue to grow into non-core demographics. This is relevant as it pertains to devices that are not currently earmarked as gaming devices: mobile, set-top boxes, Apple TV, MP3 players and other devices in the home that will reach the non-gamer – people who don’t think they want to play.

He's on the same page as David Gosen, the CEO of English casual games company I-play, the trade name of Digital Bridges Limited.

At the Casual Connect conference in Amsterdam today Gosen asserted that mobile – cellphones – would be the dominant video games platform of the future, relegating console gaming to a platform for a niche of gamers.

According to Gosen, who cited research from Informa Telecoms & Media and Montgomery, at the Casual Games Association meeting, mobile phones already have five times the installed base of consoles and mobile phone subscribers are set to reach 2.8 billion subscribers worldwide in 2008.

"Its reach and multi-functionality positions mobile as the number one mass market entertainment device of the future," Gosen said.

Canessa seems to think so. I guess we'll see.