The Technological Cycle and the Video Game Industry

Tim Wu’s book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, explores the cycle of new technology, in which there is always the potential for something new to come around the corner and usurp power from the current prime technology. For example, when the telephone was invented, the use of telegraphs decreased, and when the television was invented, the radio declined in use. This decline of past technology occurs when disruptive inventions or innovations are created. These disruptive innovations, like the television or the telephone, cause the cycle to move forward.

“The Cycle is powered by disruptive innovations that upend once thriving industries, bankrupt the dominant powers, and change the world.” (Wu 20)

Wu notes that there are two kinds of innovations; ones that sustain the market and improve the products overall, appropriately named sustaining innovations, and ones that threaten to displace the market and the product in favor of something new, which is labeled as a disruptive innovation. These innovations are what make up the market of technology, and there is a cycle to them in the sense that there will always be new technology around the corner, waiting to disrupt the technologic status quo.

This is certainly the case with the video game industry. There’s a pattern to when the gaming industry releases new games and especially new consoles. This particular cycle wasn’t always the case in the United States, but started when Nintendo saved the gaming industry in the 1980’s. Ever since then, there has been a cycle of new consoles, games, and even new companies that stepped up to compete against Nintendo. The cycle thus far can be surmised as releasing new consoles and games in time for the holidays – think late fall into early in the New Year – and slowly but surely adding improvements and developing something newer and better to release in the future.

“The systems will launch in time for the holidays, each will have one or two decent launch titles, there will be perhaps a year or two when the new console and the old console coexist on store shelves, and then the “next generation” becomes the current generation – until we do it all again a few years from now” – Andrew Cunningham in “The NES turns 30: How it began, worked, and saved an industry”

The cycle of technology that Wu discusses is in practice in the video game industry; the sustaining innovations are near constant, especially when gaming industries release what is essentially the same game over and over again, but with new improvements. This is the case in the majority of serialized games, such as Pokemon, Legend of Zelda, and Call of Duty. However, all is not lost in the cycle of technology, for once in a while the industries create disruptive innovations that topple the norm in the market.

Such an innovation is the Nintendo Switch, which was recently released in 2017. It is a hybrid of console and handheld, both of which Nintendo markets, most notably the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii. While other companies are focusing on upping their system’s hardware to support 4K, Nintendo was focusing on the Switch, which proves to disrupt the market for both handhelds and consoles. It disrupts both markets due to its nature as a console and a handheld; it can be taken on the go and fits easily in backpacks for travel.

Nintendo Game Nintendo Switch Play Console Video

While other consoles, like the PS4 or the Xbox One can be packed away and traveled with, the Switch is fully playable while on the go. It has the best of both worlds, the world of handheld gaming, which is easily traveled, and the world of console gaming, where multiple people can play at once. It’s not the first time Nintendo has created a disruptive innovation; they’ve tried before with the Wii and the WiiU, however the Switch is by far one of the most innovative consoles I’ve seen. Nintendo might not always succeed, however their designs have always been unique and aimed with the purpose to disrupt the industry and develop something new.

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