Five hot tech trends from the E3 technology conference

New motion-controls, platform integration and the introduction of 3D entertainment are just three of the industry-changing trends revealed at the annual E3 gaming conference that will influence the development of the tech industry.

The conference is the biggest event of the year dedicated to video games, with dozens of developers showing off their latest technology and titles set to define the industry for another year.

A new, slimmer Microsoft Xbox 360 console, along with motion-control technology so advanced it can detect individual finger movements without a controller, are just some of the major highlights from the first two days.

This is no small event. Last year over 40,000 people attended to hear announcements and view demos from manufactures now worth billions, including Activision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony.

These companies spend millions on extravagant press announcements. This year Microsoft hired Cirque du Soleil dancers to introduce a number of new titles, while Activision hired rap star Eminem to pump up the crowd before its own conference.

The pricey conferences are evidence gaming has transformed from a niche-favourite into a giant rivalling the movie industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the PC gaming sector alone will turnover $US48.9 billion by 2011, with a growth rate of 9.1%.

Additionally, the Entertainment and Devices Division of Microsoft, responsible for the Xbox 360, recorded a $165 million profit on revenue of $US1.67 billion for the first quarter of 2010. The company shipped 8.8 million consoles during the first nine months of the current financial year, with a total of 40 million sold worldwide since 2005.

Nintendo has been the winner of this console generation, however, selling tens of millions of Wii consoles, with 20.53 million units sold in the year to March 2010, and 25.95 million units sold in the previous corresponding period.

The industry has been able to boost revenue by introducing family-friendly social games, while still catering for older, more experienced players who demand more expansive, complicated and adult-themed content.

But game developers are now creating technology that will not only change their own industry, but consumer electronics as a whole. Here are five of the biggest trends from this year’s E3 conference.

Motion-control

In 2005, Nintendo changed the concept of video game interaction with the Wii motion control technology, which allows users to control different actions on screen by physically moving the Wii remote in different directions.

The company marketed the motion control feature as a simple entry-point for beginners, who might have been too intimidated by older controls which use several different button combinations.

This year, Microsoft has taken that technology a step further. The Kinect feature actually captures the movement of the entire body, and doesn’t require a controller at all. Users stand in front of the screen and move their body to control characters and features on the screen.

But one of the more practical examples of this technology was demonstrated while controlling the Xbox 360’s media features. Users can switch between media files, including movies, using their hands, and can even switch to different places within the file itself by moving their hands across the screen.

With Sony also introducing its motion-controlled Sony Move feature, users can almost certainly expect to see motion-control tech being used on other consumer electronics in the future – perhaps even on PCs.

3D

One of the biggest innovations in home entertainment over the past year has been the introduction of 3D, prompted by the release of the 2009 blockbuster movie Avatar. Major manufactures are now pushing out 3D televisions, and 3D-capable Blu-Ray and DVD players are hitting shelves.

Game makers have caught on to the trend. 3D-capable computer monitors are now available, and major developers are now making their games compatible for the new tech.

The biggest announcement in this field at the E3 conference was the release of the Nintendo 3DS. Banking on the success of the DS handheld console, the company announced this gadget can play 3D games – and without the need for special glasses.

The release is just another example that 3D-capable entertainment will become more popular within the consumer electronics market.

Platform integration

Tech giants are beginning to integrate software on devices as users switch between different “screens” throughout a normal day. A major example is that apps on PCs are now able to be synced with the same apps on smartphones.

During the Sony conference at E3, developer and publisher Valve announced it would bring its popular Steam content delivery system to the Playstation console. But the most interesting part of that announcement was that the company would now allow Playstation players to compete against players of the same game on a PC.

This means gamers are now no longer shackled to competing with users on the same platform.

Integration isn’t just happening in the gaming world. Apple announced last week users would be able to share books on the iBooks platform between iPhone and iPad, while Google Chrome lead designer Glen Murphy recently told SmartCompany the internet giant is developing ways to sync up apps on different devices.

“In the immediate future, we are focusing on things like integration. People have many different computers, a laptop, desktop, etc, and we are working on things like syncing different devices.”

The PlayStation announcement is just one example that software makers are now developing ways to sync up a user’s software experience, no matter what device they use.

Social networking

Social networking has been one of the hottest topics of the past year. The introduction of services like Facebook and Twitter on the Xbox 360 are examples that gaming companies are taking these networks seriously.

Users now want to be able to connect with their friends, no matter what they are doing. The use of social networking in gaming has already been popular on the iPhone, and now consoles are catching on.

But the bigger trend here is that entertainment businesses are now using social networking as a way to attract users. By combining Facebook and Twitter with gaming, users can brag about their scores, share tips and tricks and show others what’s happening in their gaming social circle.

Businesses need to pay attention to this, because the clear trend is that users want more social networking features. Online stores have already started adding Facebook and Twitter integration so users can share products and add comments, and this will become even more necessary as Australian online retail continues to grow.

In-program Services

One of the biggest trends in gaming has been to offer users a game, and then add on that by offering smaller pieces of the game for more money. This allows users to enjoy the same game for longer, but earns the developers more revenue in the long run than developing a second full-length game.

This is already popular on the Apple App Store. The introduction of in-app commerce last year has allowed game developers, and even publications, to add on their games and magazines by introducing updates that can be bought within the game itself.

This has become popular through the introduction of services like “cloud” gaming, and the use of the Xbox Live and PlayStation Network platforms. The business model is simple – get users to buy games, and then charge them to access services that enhance the gaming experience.

The trend here is that software, particularly apps, will become smaller and simpler. Instead, companies will now charge users within the app itself for more features. The benefit is that users can pick and choose what they want, while developers gain more revenue overall.

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