It's perhaps a sign of how little major game industry news was made at the 2009 Game Developer's Conference that Google's simple announcement of a new series of video game themes for its iGoogle personalized home page was one of the best-attended press functions of the show.
In the midst of a dark, noise-filled warehouse space converted into a temporary gaming hub, complete with Guitar Hero and Street Fighter IV setups, we caught up with Google's ubiquitous vice president of search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, to talk a little about the company's very tentative initial inroads into gaming.
Why is Google interested in gaming right now, and why iGoogle themes?
The iGoogle engineers--all of them--are gamers. Video games are not only something that reflects your interest, but they're really emotionally connected to the user. Everyone's got that experience of finding a new trick or winning a game. It's also something that provides an element of whimsy that our team wanted to put in.
Gaming companies are very particular about how their IP is used. How hard was it to get nine different companies on board ready to launch at the same time?
I have to say, it was relatively easy. For the publishers of the games, they were very excited to connect with their fan base in a new way. iGoogle is a dashboard for people's day, and tens of millions of users log on each day.
I think it's really interesting to think about how a video game can participate in people's home page experience, when you open that browser the first thing in the morning.
A lot of people already have game modules in their iGoogle pages. This seems like a very logical leaping-off point toward something like that for the games represented here. Are these themes the first step toward integrating that kind of in-browser game content?
Absolutely. We think that games are social, and as iGoogle becomes more and more social--we launched chat last week--we'll know who your connections are, and that will allow you to interact with all your friends and start playing games on your iGoogle page. And they won't be just single-player games, but (also) multiplayer games.
So how long until we see Street Fighter from Capcom, for example, as an iGoogle gadget?
We can't speculate as to when, but I will say that there's an amazing opportunity there.
Google's new gaming themes are available starting March 25. The initial release includes themes based on franchises from the following nine publishers:
Activision: Call of Duty: World at War, Guitar Hero
Blizzard Entertainment: World of Warcraft
Capcom: Mega Man, Street Fighter IV
Eidos: Tomb Raider: Underworld
Electronic Arts: Burnout Paradise: Ultimate Box, Dragon Age Origins, FIFA 09, Mass Effect 2, Scrabble, Spore, The Godfather II, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, The Sims 3
Namco Bandai Games: Galaga
Nintendo: Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong, Mario, Wii Sports, Zelda
Square Enix: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time
Wizards of the Coast: Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering