End of the Line for the PC?; Tony McDonough Reports on How Merseyside Is Playing a Leading Role in the Drive to Use Games Consoles for Global Educational Purposes

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Byline: Tony McDonough

MERSEYSIDE software companies are poised to be at the forefront of a change in the way we use computer technology in schools, the workplace and the home. PC usage has peaked -something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Ready to take its place as a serious tool for educational or business use is the games console.

Up until now the principal use of X-Boxes and Playstations has been for playing games.However, what is not widely known is that the average age of a console user is 30 plus and people are realising that such machines have the potential for more than just playing Tomb Raider.

Sony and Bizzarre Creations are just two companies developing top selling console games for an industry worth billions of pounds worldwide. Now such companies are being asked to start putting their games expertise into software applications for training and education.

It's believed that by developing such software packages the firms could be tapping into a billion pound worldwide industry.

Liverpool has long been a recognised centre for the development of PC and console software and helping companies develop and drive this new change is the International Centre for Digital Content (ICDC),based at Liverpool John Moores University.

ICDC, which works with the digital media industry on research and educational projects, will next month host a conference attended by the big players in the computer games industry including Sony Playstation,Microsoft Xbox and Vodaphone.

The organisation has brought together a project team which includes people from the games industry and even a school head teacher who is convinced using consoles for education is the way forward.

Matthew Southern,project manager at ICDC, said the the development of console-based software could have a significant impact on the Merseyside economy.

He added: ``There are currently 5m consoles in use in the UK according to recent figures but this number is rapidly increasing,partly because of technological innovations but also because PC usage is on the decline.

``There is a cause and effect here but basically, as a worktool,PCs have reached their peak,and in our line of work nothing stands still for long.

``Coupled with this is the console's ease of use, their perceived profile of being fun and accessible and their lower cost ratio to that of a PC.

``This is very good news for our work in developing prototypes of games using a console format for educational purposes that could cross over into every level of education in the UK and globally.''

Games companies have been initially reluctant to look at educational and training software but are now slowly coming round to the idea, tempted no doubt by the commercial potential on offer.

Locally-based companies like Criterion,Sony and a newly-established firm Lateral Visions are now getting on board.

Sony has given ICDC development status -a contribution in kind that would normally be worth around pounds 100,000.

Criterion, which produces software used by games programmers,has also given support in the form of development software worth more than pounds 170,000. …