We are going to step away from the internet today for a trek down technology’s fun side — video gaming! For an older guy like me that still fondly remembers the early days of Pong, Asteroids and Space Invaders, the evolution of video games over the past few decades has been incredible. But it seems we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It’s nice to see Nintendo back on top, or are they? Pretty much everyone was surprised by the Wii’s initial successes. An innovative controller, a focus on games rather than eye-candy, and a vision to create new gamers where they had never existed before enabled Nintendo to dominate the early rounds of this generation’s console wars. The controller was cutting edge and allowed for new types of games that could appeal to the masses — and they did! Never before had so many librarians and grandmothers (and librarian grandmothers) fired up the TV and console for some evening entertainment.

But all good things must come to an end, and what proved to be the impetus behind the Wii’s initial success could also be sowing the seeds for its demise. First, the cutting edge controller makes for weak versions of popular games designed for the other consoles. A popular title for the XBox 360 or PS3 can easily be converted to the other platform because they use similar controllers. The Wii’s unique controller makes it difficult for third party developers to include the system when developing games. It isn’t designed for the typical shoot-em-up, but for the quirkier fare that the Wii is famous for. For this reason, many of the most popular video game titles are not available for the Wii at all.

Second, the quirky games and low-fi graphics did not appeal to core gamers. While Nintendo succeeded in creating new markets for video games, this was carried out at the expense of the video game fanatic. Teenage boys and young men still purchase the majority of video games, and these customers tend to look down on the Wii. The Wii seems to be a better fit for young children, adults and casual gamers. And it’s true, grandmothers and librarians are not likely to spend a large amount of their discretionary income on video games. While EA Sports can count on hardcore gamers to buy the latest NBA and FIFA titles every year, Grandma is still happy with the bowling and tennis that she has been playing since she purchased her console. And why should she buy an updated version when she loves this one so much?

And what’s on the horizon for the big 3? Nintendo can probably expect its dominance to be eroded. Currently there have been almost as many Wii’s (50 Mn) sold as XBox 360s (30 Mn) and PS3s (21 Mn) combined. However, the PS3 is gaining ground and is actually outselling the Wii in many markets. Soon Sony will be adding features that will turn the console into a video disc recorder, which will enhance its attraction. At the same time, Nintendo’s latest sales figures have been disappointing. And do not count out the XBox just yet, Microsoft has made clear that it is in the console race for the long haul. Nevertheless, being the first to market did not seem give the XBox enough momentum to maintain its early lead, but just one great game could change all that in this fickle industry.

And what of the future? For the next couple of years, do not expect any major breakthroughs. Aside from the Wii getting a makeover that will finally allow High Definition gaming, the console makers seem content to have sold the razors, and now reap the profits from the blades. But a new round in the war is shaping up. Some optimists have put the date as early as 2010 for the next generation consoles, but most experts agree it will be 2012 or perhaps even 2013 before we see a true upgrade.

And don’t think that the big 3 will not have competitors seeking a piece of the pie. Laptop computers are becoming more powerful and can be taken anywhere, unike a console and television. Handheld gaming devices and mobile telephones are now offering more and more appealing titles. And finally, one company — OnLive — is devoloping a video gaming system that needs no console at all! Users simply need to download a simple plug-in on an old computer, or use a small device that OnLine will provide at a low cost (rumors are it will be free) and the games are streamed directly to the gamer’s screen. OnLive has many obstacle to overcome not the least of which are problems concerning the massive flows of data that will be necessary with a system that does the computing on a server rather than a console. If you think that internet providers are concerned about HD streaming and downloading, you really ain’t seen nothing yet!

I’d like to know:

(1) What is your preferred platform for video gaming?

(2) Do you tend to buy the newest systems and games, or do you wait for a discount or to see which titles become popular?

(3) Tell us about your gaming habits and how you got started!