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Netbooks are the Next Gaming Platform

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/9/2009

The video game industry netted over $20 billion dollars in 2008. It continues to expand into new markets and new platforms. The Netbook is the next logical platform for growth.

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    What is a Netbook

    Some people hear netbook and they think notebook. That is not entirely accurate. A netbook is basically a small, ultra-portable laptop or notebook with a low price point.

    Unfortunately, there is no absolute hardware definition for a netbook. They run regular computer operating systems (OS) and software. They are not mobile devices like an iPhone or a Blackberry that must use a specialized OS. Their core functionality is general Internet use, email, web browsing, office productivity software, and other tasks for which portability is a major asset.

    They tend to weigh about 2 pounds, have 4 or more hours of battery life, and feature built in options for internet access - usually some or all of the following: wireless Ethernet, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

    For an in depth comparison of netbooks and laptops, I recommend this article: Netbooks vs. Laptops.


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    Why do Netbooks Matter

    Netbooks matter because they represent one of the fastest sectors of the computer hardware market. Over 14 million Netbooks were sold in 2008, and that is just the beginning. As recently reported by Reuters:

    Global shipments of personal computer processors fell more than 11 percent in the fourth quarter but netbook sales are expected to more than double this year to about 35 million units, according to analysts.

    Intel, the world's biggest chipmaker, expects to sell at least 50 percent more of its Atom chips for netbooks and other mobile Internet devices this year than it did in 2008

    For more information on Intel's take on the netbook: Netbook vs. Notebook - from Intel's Perspective.

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    How Can you Game on a Netbook?

    Early on, many if not most netbooks shipped with a version of Linux called Ubuntu. This choice was made for two major reasons: (1) Lower system requirements needed to run the OS, (2) Ubuntu is free. Linux was well suited to the netbook since it helped keep costs down and could run on the generally weaker hardware common in netbooks.

    When netbooks started to pick up in popularity, Intel and Microsoft made moves that changed things dramatically. Intel ramped up its development of the Atom processor (mentioned above), and Microsoft began licensing copies of Windows XP for a lower than usual price on netbooks. Microsoft wisely saw the potential threat of 14-35 million new Linux users. By the end of 2008, it is estimated that 80% of netbooks were running Windows XP.

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    Netbook Gaming - Who is Interested, and What are the Limitations?Why should gaming companies be interested in netbooks? The huge sales is the main reason. With over 50 million expected netbook owners by the end of 2009, that is an enormous installed base of potential customers. But what type of limitations exist for netbook gaming? The display, interface, and graphics capability are all different from laptops and desktops.netbook, gaming, games, casual, muds, text, companies
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    Why Would Gaming Companies Be Interested in This Platform?

    Article Image The short answer is because gaming companies are interested in every platform. Desktop, laptop, phone, PDA, console - game developers are always looking for new ways to get their games in the hands of potential customers.

    The longer answer requires a little more understanding about the gaming industry in general. The gaming industry is much bigger and mature than many people understand. Some estimates rank it larger than the movie and music industries combined. Gaming companies are always on the lookout for an opportunity to be the first to stake their claim on an unspoiled landscape. Netbooks offer such an opportunity.

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    Netbooks Gaming Limitations

    There are a number of elements inherent to netbook design that limit its ability to perform as a gaming platform:

    DISPLAY: The displays tend to be nonstandard in size. The most common resolution is currently 1024 x 600. The comparable standard resolution is 1024 x 768. So the netbook display is 168 pixels shorter from top to bottom. If a game needs a full screen to display its user interface or game area, this would be a problem.

    INTERFACE: The primary method of user input on a netbook is the keyboard. They have trackpads or some mouse-like interface as well, but these are not as good as a real mouse. Unless you carry an external mouse (easily connectable, since netbooks have USB ports), a game that requires fast mouse input would be tough to play. Also, the keyboard is smaller than a standard sized keyboard. Games that require extremely fast and accurate keyboard use might be problematic as well.

    GRAPHICS CARD: Netbooks do not use standard graphics cards. Graphically intensive games that require a modern graphics card will not run on a netbook.

    For advice on how to ameliorate some of these limitations, and generally get more out of your netbook, I recommend reading this: 10 Tips to improve your Netbook experience.

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    How Do I Get Started Gaming on a Netbook?

    First, and most obvious, you need a netbook. Start your research here: The 3 Best Netbooks. Two of those three run Windows XP, and the other runs Ubuntu.

    Second, look into smaller gaming companies that make internet or web based games. See some of the examples in the next section. You might be surprised how many companies are making extremely good games that run on virtually any hardware.

    Third, consider a few tweaks or the purchase of an external mouse. As noted in the section above, the addition of an external mouse can eliminate one of the main interface weaknesses of the netbook.

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    Gaming with Netbooks - Interest Companies and Market FutureWhat type of gaming companies will be interested in the netbook gaming platform? In short, all of them. As netbooks continue to sell, more and more companies will seek to publish games for the platform. Further, where will the netbook gaming market go? netbook, gaming, games, casual, muds, text, companies
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    What Type of Companies Will Move into This Space?

    Independent game developers are extremely well positioned to make games for this platform. Large gaming companies tend to specialize in big budget, cutting edge technology games. This also means to play them you need the latest hardware. Smaller companies put more focus on gameplay than technology, and their games tend to have significantly lower hardware requirements. As a result, these types of games are already functional on most netbooks.

    Companies that make MUDs (text based online games - the precursors to MMORPGs), web based games, java or flash games, or smaller downloadable games are very well positioned to jump into this market. A few example companies and games:

    Frogdice, Inc. - This company makes text based MMORPGs (MUDs). Full disclosure: I work for this company.

    Big Fish Games - This company distributes the creations of smaller developers. The game are not very big and can run on almost any PC out there - including most netbooks.

    Puzzle Pirates - This extremely popular online game uses java and flash - both of which work just fine on Netbooks.

    TopMudSites - Not a company, but a site that hosts information about MUDs and text based games.

    MudConnector - A site that lists MUD type games. They will all run well on a netbook.

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    Where Can the Netbook Gaming Market Go?

    The opportunities here are enormous. The massive number of netbooks being sold alone is reason enough to be bullish on the future of gaming on netbooks. Additionally, most netbook purchasers are buying their netbook as a second or third computer. This means netbook owners tend to be interested in technology and have sufficient disposable income to buy games.

    There are hundreds if not thousands of independent game developers making games that are rarely sought out by owners of powerful desktop PCs. Suddenly, a hardware development comes along that puts all these companies in the spotlight and gives them an opportunity to shine. Expect these companies to seize the opportunity and quickly develop games specifically suited to the strengths and weaknesses of the netbook platform.

    The netbook platform will eventually attract the attention of large game developers, and that will be the indicator that the platform is really maturing. At that point, the wealth of games available for the netbook will be a boon to owners of these devices.