In the past five years, innovation in the video-game industry has
moved at the pace of a hungry Pac Man. Today's games feature 3-D
graphics, lightning-quick play-action, and music like a techno-
party dance track.
Still, amid this creative renaissance, the stereotypical video-
game user remains the same: the teenage male.
But that could change.
If electronic giants like Sony and Microsoft have their way, the
video-game console will not only be used by teenage gamers, but
would soon become the center of family entertainment - a
multipurpose megabox with which people can play DVD movies and
browse the Web, as well as operate major home appliances like the
dishwasher or garage door.
The idea of consolidating disparate electronic devices into one
machine is often called "convergence." It has been a buzzword in
the electronics industry and among savvier consumers since
engineers realized machines could use digital technology to store
more information with less space.
For most of the past decade, technology experts have speculated
which machine - PCs, televisions, cable boxes, among others - would
score best with consumers as an entertainment center. The debate
has recently heated up, though, with studies showing people look to
their PCs to perform the nitty-gritty of word processing and
spreadsheets, but not for pure entertainment.
Enter the video-game console, which operates the games
themselves, plays DVDs, and, more important, will be in 44 million
homes by 2003.
"Sales of personal computers are growing modestly," says Bob
Alexander, president of Alexander & Associates, a technology
consulting firm. "But when these game machines come in, they go
from zero to 40 million households in a few years. They attract
much more interest across a cross section of Americans."
Suddenly in the lead on convergence
"If you go back five years and look at all those conferences at
PC shows nobody was talking about video games being part of
convergence," says Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive
Digital Software Association. "Now, what most people agree is the
first potential convergence device is coming from the video-game
Japan's Sony sounded the industry's battle cry last spring when
it announced the new version of its wildly popular PlayStation game
console would play DVDs and, soon after, include a broadband
Experts agree the PlayStation 2, set for release in the US later
this month at $299, will take the gaming experience to a new level.
But Sony intends the PS2, and its progeny, to sell more than just
Kazuo Hirai, head of Sony's computer division, says PS2 is "not
the future of video-game entertainment, [but] the future of
"Sony clearly sees PlayStation playing a convergence role, and at
the center of home entertainment," says Marjorie Costello, editor
of CE Online News, an electronics-industry online newsletter. "It's
what they call part of their vision of e-Sony."
A victory in the convergence war would mean a boom in game sales,
which already account for one-third of Sony's profits. It might
also help Sony corner the market on various electronic goods - like
music speakers or video cameras - by making the PS2 solely
compatible with Sony products.
More important, perhaps, a central console could connect with
home appliances as well. Companies like the Morrisville, N.C.-
based Home Director Inc., now offers to wire people's homes with
Internet connections in every room and, in the future, every
Mark Schmidt, Home Director's vice president of marketing, says
the video-game console might become the place where families of the
future monitor everything from their refrigerators to their air