Will Korea dominate home gaming?

You may think that a lot of game consoles are sold in the world, but the volume of televisions sold is even more massive, currently at about 80 million flat screens and perhaps 70 million CRT sets this year for a total market of 150 million sets. Samsung dominate the market with over 20% of the flat screens and LG have over 11%. Korea have television manufacturing in their pocket.

One of the possible future models for the gaming industry is that the individual gamer does not own any games and does not even download them. Instead the games sit on a server and are played in what is effectively a web browser. This is how most casual PC games work today. And it is what Runescape does. It has huge advantages in game updates, multiplayer, distribution, anti piracy and loads of other areas. The main downside is speed of reaction in shooters and racing games.

But the biggest advantage of server based browser games is that they require only minimal hardware in the home. In fact the hardware is so minimal that it could be built into a modern TV for very little extra cost. So imagine if the Koreans were to do this. That would be, say, 50 million home gaming devices installed worldwide every year. Dwarfing the volume of consoles from Nintendo Microsoft and Sony.

Obviously they would also have to set up the servers and publish the games on it, which would be a massive undertaking. But the upside would be equally massive. Tens of millions of people paying monthly gaming subscriptions, rising to hundreds of millions after just a few years. It could become one of the world’s biggest businesses.

Obviously the hardest hit would be Nintendo but they could end up making even more money as a provider of games for the servers. Sony have the advantage of already being a big player in the TV market. And Howard Stringer has recently said that they want to be number one. You can see why. You might think that Microsoft, as a software company, would be out in the cold. But no, they are ahead of all of us. A year ago they announced a joint venture with Sichuan Changhong Electric Co., a major Chinese TV manufacturer to “jointly develop entertainment products that will link the Internet and television”. I bet that surprised you.


  1. Bruce, it seems that server-based gaming is the wave of the future. And Microsoft, as a software company, is probably better positioned for that evolution than a consumer electronics company like Sony.

    Sony is a terrific hardware manufacturer, but consumer hardware will become more commoditized in the server-based world. The trick will be to form smart alliances with the network infrastructure players and then crank out lots of value-added software and services. This is an activity with which Microsoft has plenty of experience.

    Of course, there is nothing to stop Sony or others from also being aggressive and innovative in this arena. But, ironically, Sony’s love of its own consumer hardware innovation could slow it down a bit. It is going to be fun to see how this unfolds.

  2. “But the biggest advantage of server based browser games is that they require only minimal hardware in the home.”

    This is the bit where you’re wrong, the game has to still “run” on the hardware in the home, even with browser games. Unless said hardware is the level of the other consoles, the games will be worse looking (compare any browser game to Crysis sometime).

    Certainly this is a valid and superb idea for “casual” stuff, nearly solving the problem of chucking 50gb of Metal Gear Solid 4 down the internet every session, but it won’t work for “grown up games” any decade soon.

  3. Dudley, it is my (perhaps wrong) understanding that if a screen is mapped in memory you can send whatever you want to each individual pixel. Exactly as a console does. So the only drawback with browser games is speed of response which only matters with shooters, driving games and anything else that works at reflex speed.

  4. Short version, not with current internet bandwidth you don’t. There’s a reason graphics cards have bandwidth in the many GB/S range. Speed of response is more critical then you imagine there, not only drivers and shooters, but any sports game, any platform game, any RTS game… you’re pretty much left with the casual games again.

    You also have the problem that if all the processing is taking place on the server, that requires massive, MASSIVE power in said servers (including custom gfx cards and all that entails). You’d effectively need a £500 PC min for everyone online.

    I just did some very brief calculations. To keep a TrueHD game going at the rate you describe (given there’s not time or spare CPU for compression of images) you need an internet bandwidth of about 469MB/sec or as they sell them in the UK, just under 3800Mbits/sec. So about what…25 times Virgin’s best claimed? And how often you Virgin users get 20mbit constantly off 1 connection to Korea? And that’s without latency issues, a 1 second ping to Korea would actually be good. As you note, not suitable for any action game.

    One day maybe, now? You’d be better building PS1 level hardware into that TV (which is pretty much £0 now) and selling games the way they do in the PS3/PSP store for download onto SD Cards.

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