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May 2015

The Return of the Arcade


For sixty years, arcades were as american as the coca cola and pizza stuck to the knobs, buttons and joysticks. As a child of the nineties, there was nothing as exciting as the heavily greased yet insanely sticky Street Fighter arcade in the corner of our local burger joint. I will never forget my best friend's birthday parties of Whitey Fords (an arcade), or community trips to Space Plex where they had Capcom Versus Marvel, Virtua Fighter and when our parents weren't looking, Mortal Combat.

Over the past fifteen years, increasingly capable home consoles, mobile gaming and the affordability of big screens TVs combined to decimate this market. My seven year old doesn't even know what an arcade is.

This is all about to change. Because the fundamental gaming experience is about to take a giant leap forward. 

Ever since Atari, video gaming has been about learning new fine motor skills to manipulate increasingly graphically accurate experiences. The Wii changed the game by introducing gaming in a truly natural interface. The Wii (and by extension, the Xbox Kinect) brought us halfway towards a natural, immersive experience. We waved our hands and moved our bodies, but we didn't feel any haptic friction or feedback. Without this closed feedback loop, it was hard to cross the line between fiction and reality.

Home consoles (and mobile phones) have done an admirable job of bringing us deeper into a flat experience. But it's just that, a flat experience. The cost of setting up an accurate, truly immersive gaming experience would be too steep for most families, and the space required will be too large for most homes (for now). But the experience of a fully immersive, virtual reality environment as an augmentation of our physical space, is intriguing. Consider the video below.

While this experience would likely be too costly for a single family, the economics of the arcade could be a great fit for this experience. The cultural fit of the arcade would reward players and celebrate "watchers" much like the arcades of our youth. Big screen broadcasts for spectators and friends could transform this isolated gaming experience into a return to gaming as the social and societal catalyst it once was.

The arcade of the future may not feature giant boxes and joysticks. In fact, it may look and feel similar to laser tag and conventional sporting events. But I believe the economics, technology and societal factors behind the arcades of yesteryear will return with the rise of immersive VR gaming. It will cost more than a quarter to play. And we will get to be the old people, commenting on how when we were kids, there were these things called "bits" and "pixels".

When the basics become commoditized, invest in your CX

This weekend, the wonderful Casey Newton over at The Verge posted a comprehensive review of the many, leading photo backup and cloud storage services. Nearly every service listed offers oodles of storage, location tagging and auto-backup from my mobile device. The very basics of photo backup have become commoditized.  

But these photo services were built by engineers to solve a technical issue - limited storage space. What these products lack is an understanding of our human needs - sorting, fixing, viewing and sharing photos.  With cloud storage quotas growing to near-irrational sizes, storage size is no longer a rational differentiator. To stand apart, it's time for a focus on the customer's needs and customer experience. 

A focus on CX would produce a "mom friendly" one-click service. Once you download the app, your photos and videos would automatically backed up to the cloud, and possibly also to your home computer. Photos and videos would be automatically fixed, doing the basics like removing blur, shakes and red eye. Parents will appreciate automated tagging of children (the spec is simple - define the face a few times, and it will be automatically tagged moving forward). De-duping and simple, controlled sharing (with one click sharing to Facebook, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram) would round out the basic feature set. And lastly, this service would allow users to easily send photos to their favorite online photo printing services.

Google+ has many of these features, but it's stuck on Google+. My Mom doesn't even realize she has a Google account and would never understand their sharing or sorting features. Once again, Google+ photos is a great technical solution, but a bit more focus on the CX would make it far more user-friendly. Way back in 2013 I shared my frustrations with the mobile photo backup space. Reading Casey's thorough roundup, most of my frustrations remain.

But there is a ray of hope.

  • Microsoft's new corporate direction shows a strong push towards freemium and cloud based tools. One Drive is a nice solution, and a bit more work would make this a more viable photo back and management solution. Microsoft also seems the most likely to build in deep integrations with leading "sharing" services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram.
  • Google+ Photos is probably the most capable solution from a big name company, and their recent moves to integrate photos into Google Drive are a step in the right direction. But Google needs to translate their technical tools into a simpler customer experience, building in better third-party sharing integrations, better tagging and lifting their storage quotas a bit to remain viable for more than a couple of years worth of photos.
  • Facebook Photos already allows me to tag my kids, and will automatically back up all the photos on my phone. Their automated photo fix tools are also becoming increasingly capable. Better photo search, tagging and downloading features would round out their app.
  • DropBox's Carousel is nice, but it's still not feature-rich enough for me to consider a real "mom-ready" browsing and management solution.

What would you want to see in a CX-centered photo and video backup and management solution?