Multiscreen gaming is emerging as a major trend as consumers increasingly access games through their PCs, consoles, tablets and smartphones.
According to new research from Newzoo, 22% of the 153 million gamers in the U.S. utilize all four screens.
Those 34 million gamers will grow rapidly as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all featured multiscreen offerings during their news conferences last week at E3, the video game convention. The explosive growth of cloud gaming -- with new deals such as Gaikai's streaming of "Hawken" and other PC games to Samsung TVs, Facebook and tablets -- is also opening up new gaming avenues.
"We see gamers increasingly gaming across all screens," said Tony Bartel, president of video game retail chain GameStop.
"There is definitely a desire to game anytime, anywhere and on any device. However, we do also see different uses of technology. For example, the HD experience in the living room with the console or via a gaming PC and 7.1 audio is still the gold standard for immersive game play. Tablets and phones are currently used for more 'snack gaming,' with shorter play times and, generally, less immersive games."
That immersion is quickly evolving, thanks to new technology that's powering the constantly improving tablets entering the market.
Tech companies such as Intel, NVIDIA and Qualcomm are pushing the gaming capabilities of mobile devices. NVIDIA's Stark chips, which will launch in 2014, will offer 100 times more power than the current Tegra 2 chips that propel a growing number of Android devices. Qualcomm is developing original mobile games such as "Reign of Amira" to fully utilize its Snapdragon processor.
"On the software side of the equation, more games are taking advantage of being able to play on a wider range of devices and screens," said Matt Ployhar, senior product planner at Intel. "The cloud also helps improve and extend this experience by allowing gamers to either continue playing the game on other devices they may own or even provide access to such things as their game statistics or the ability to communicate with other players.
"Advancements in touch and gesture in recent years have also opened up new possibilities of game play, and we're seeing an influx of new game experiences as a result," Ployhar said.
"Mobile devices will be the center of this convergence revolution," agreed Kyu C. Lee, vice president and head of mobile game publisher GAMEVIL USA. "At the end of the day, every person only has 24 hours, thus I believe the mobile gaming industry will continuously grow as the amount of time users devote to mobile OS (whether it be smartphones, tablets or smart TVs) also increases. Smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are the first devices that the new generation will adopt rather than old PCs or gaming consoles."
Meanwhile, console makers are aggressively expanding their offerings to connect to the mobile world.
Microsoft's Xbox SmartGlass will allow Xbox 360 gamers to connect with any Windows, iOS or Android tablet or smartphone to open up unique in-game experiences. While playing 343 Industries' "Halo 4," for example, gamers can automatically download additional maps and information on other screens that could help Master Chief in the game.
In Electronic Arts' "Madden NFL 13," armchair quarterbacks can design custom plays on their tablet and import them into the game in their quest for the Lombardi Trophy.
Veteran game developer Peter Molyneux, head of game developer 22Cans, wants this new technology to be intuitive for game makers.
"I want SmartGlass to be seamlessly integrated into every game I have," said Molyneux. "I love touch gaming, I love hands-free gaming, but if you try to do everything, it can get confusing."
Sony showcased additional games that will allow for a continuation of game play from the PlayStation 3 console to the handheld PlayStation Vita. They're also adding PlayStation Mobile to the multiscreen mix.
"The goal would be to bring a positive PlayStation experience to gamers on a smartphone or a tablet, and ultimately migrate them into a dedicated experience on a PlayStation Vita and PS3," said Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment America. "Knowing that we don't want to limit ourselves; if there's a gamer out there, we want to interact with them within the PlayStation brand."
Big publishers such as Activision have embraced the multiscreen gamer with key franchises. Treyarch's "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" will utilize an online service to let players connect with the futuristic shooter game through PC and mobile devices. The new "Skylanders Giants" game will also expand to mobile and online PC gaming experiences, allowing gamers to earn and keep virtual upgrades across all experiences.
"It's obviously a time of tremendous disruption for this industry," said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. "There have been a lot of new technologies introduced into everyday life, and I see this as a tremendous opportunity for our core business. More people are gaming than ever before, and this allows us to expand our franchises beyond the core console experience and migrate to different parts of people's lives whether that be on the Web or an iOS or Android game."
Electronic Arts is now developing each of its games -- from "FIFA 13" to "Madden NFL 13" to "The Sims" -- as multiscreen experiences. Nick Earl, senior vice president and general manager for EAi Studios, said that the key to successful games across devices is to understand the unique demographics and behaviors.
Tablet gamers are a little less mobile than smartphone gamers, and they tend to play in the home more and for longer periods of time. They also tend to purchase apps more and are made up of so-called "midcore" gamers, versus the hardcore console players or the more casual smartphone gamers.
Will Wright, the man behind multiscreen franchises such as "SimCity," "The Sims" and "Spore," sees new opportunities for game developers as more gamers log into virtual worlds from multiple access points.
"It used to be games were things that were experienced sitting, or more recently with motion controls moving, in front of a TV screen," said Wright, president of The Stupid Fun Club. "Then we saw bite-sized mobile games enter the picture. Now it's about how can we build interactive experiences that not only use these different devices, but take advantage of new technology like augmented reality to further blend the game world with the real world."
With Nintendo's Wii U launching this fall with a GamePad tablet to expand the game-play experience beyond the central TV screen, the next generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony are expected to further embrace this multiscreen approach.
"I see tablets as very complementary to the next generation of consoles," said Bartel. "While we believe consoles will still dominate the living room, tablets offer gamers the ability to interact with and expand the console experience. The portability factor of tablets is also extremely appealing to gamers, allowing them to extend their TV experience outside their living rooms through the cloud."