As poker mania sweeps across the country, mutterings of Two Fat Ladies and Big Slick buzz around felt-topped kitchen tables. But as friends and acquaintances battle for tournament supremacy, pay attention, because the players in the loser's lounge often gather around a video-game console. When the dust finally settles around poker hysteria, video games are in the perfect position to fill the gaming void.
Jason Della Rocca, executive director for the International Game Developers Association, says the gaming industry has already arrived. "It's this neverending tidal wave," says Della Rocca. "It just keeps collecting mass."
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 50 percent of all Americans-and 75 percent of heads of households-play video games. The games have similarities to poker that are helping them reach the mainstream, in the same way poker has: Both video games and poker are blind to gender, age, social environment and physical abilities. Both boast professionals and have a media following. Just as poker birthed heaps of accessory opportunities for entrepreneurs, so have video games-perhaps more so. The video-game market continues to innovate with products like exergames, which encourage physical activity, and Nintendo's new physically responsive controller (for example, gamers playing a fishing game use the controller as if they were actually casting a reel). And neither is a fad-the average gamer has been playing for 12 years, according to the ESA. While poker has been the recent beneficiary of widespread attention, it's been a part of American folklore since Wild Bill Hickok was shot in 1876 holding a dead man's hand.
Della Rocca notes that many gamers are beginning to recognize that not just teenagers and young men, but their moms, wives and girlfriends are interested in games. "Those who are not really part of the gamer culture are starting to wake up to this," he says.
As nongamers begin paying attention to the industry, entrepreneurs can benefit by pushing in their chips now with opportunities in service, development, accessories and more. Entrepreneurial niches exist in advergames, mobile games and "serious" games, where simulation or learning is the goal. In addition to the much-anticipated arrival of Microsoft's Xbox 360 last year, this year marks the rollout of Sony's Playstation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution. Della Rocca says the marketing and promotion dollars invested in these launches should definitely attract even more mainstream attention to video games. The wave is only getting bigger, so don't wait until the River to jump in.