(Note: This was written for the Games of 2020 content put on by Game Developer magazine. I won a free ticket to GDC 2009.)
The massive success of WiiFit was a wakeup call, not for the game industry, but for Maytag and Whirlpool. With a dash of simple game design, a simple bathroom scale outsold the most popular bathroom scales in the history of mankind by an order of magnitude.
A cadre of lapsed game developers, reinvigorated by their new 40-hour a week jobs, saw the obvious business opportunity and leapt for it. The resulting product: cloud connected household appliances combined with simple games and an augmented reality feedback system. The resulting consumer boom is widely credited with ending the economic malaise of America’s Lost Decade.
The basic technology was quite straight forward. Hook up some inexpensive sensors and a wireless connection to assorted dishwashers,vacuums, refrigerators and washing machines. Add a feedback device in the form of a vision aware monocle. Viola, you’ve turned your every day environment into an omnipresent game machine.
The monocle displays a high definition HUD over the players normal view of the world. A camera with depth sensing captures the 20 megapixel scene at 60 FPS. This is then converted into a 3D representation and game objects are inserted in.
The resulting image is then redisplayed on the monocle. Such augmented reality systems are now quite popular. Why watch a static George Clooney on a TV screen when you can be doing the dishes and map a youthful George Clooney’s face and voice in real time onto that of your spouse?
Application games were initially simple mini-game collections when you cleaned and tidied for points. These were pooh poohed as a fad by gaming geriatrics who still thought it was hip to wire a heavily DRM’d box to a “television”.
Luckily, they eventually died out along with all the other solitary gamers. Over time, market competition drove the development of rich story lines, massive multiplayer worlds, and 18+ content involving the surprisingly successful maid games genre.
Appliance gaming uses the popular “Free”-to-Live model. Appliances are provided at no charge, dropped off at your door by burly men who are themselves 80th level delivery paladins. Players pay for new play modes and status abilities.
For example, you can either play 20 hours or pay 300 yuan to unlock the warm rinse cycle on your washing machine. Since your household cleaning patterns are automatically Twittered (or Twoogled ever since Twitter engulfed Google) to your extended friends network, washing with highly taxed hot water has become an irresistible item drop in billion dollar franchises like World of Washcraft.
Once wives and girlfriends found that their men were addicted to vacuuming as long as it involved augmented reality death matches, signups went viral. Within two years, 82% of American household considered themselves to be a moderate to compulsive appliance gamers.
There are downsides. Household arguments often devolve into husbands pleading to do ‘just one more load of laundry.’ The industry’s current biggest challenge is breaking away from the ‘hardchore gamers’ and wooing women back to housework. Nintendo calls this the Pink Ocean.
Our bright future
Ian Bogost, Senior Vice President of the Hoover Games and Consumables division was caught on government spyeye commenting. “Given the correct reward system, you’d be completely shocked at the things we can convince people do with a vacuum cleaner. Why coerce when you can persuade?”
His lunch companion, Sir Miyamoto laughed knowingly. Then they both hopped onto a co-op WiiBike and sped off on a tour of the Los Angeles Crater.