Last week, I attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This is the large annual trade show for the video and computer game industry. I had that after the show I would be able to write an article for this site describing the ways in which the UMPC was represented at the exhibits. Unfortunately, instead I am left only with the opportunity to write a lament about its absence.
Of course, I am very well aware that the UMPC is not being particularly promoted as a gaming device and that there are, in fact, some significant technical impediments to running a large percentage of Windows-based games on them. The first generation devices do not really have suitable specifications for many modern games, particularly in the video/graphics hardware. In many cases, PC games are also very difficult, if not impossible, to play without a keyboard.
Even with these limitations, though, some games really do work well on a UMPC and it is a safe bet that most UMPC owners will at least occasionally use them for games. Microsoft should be working harder to identify games that do work well on a UMPC and get that information out in front of current and potential owners. Some sort of an official certification program for games (and all other software, for that matter) would be a very smart move and E3 really would have been a great place to promote such a concept.
One of the main reasons why it was disappointing that UMPCs were missing was that this year’s exhibits paid quite a bit of attention to portable and casual gaming. Of course, as expected, there were enormous booths dedicated to elaborate, cutting-edge games with realistic graphics running on state-of-the-art desktop PCs and game consoles. What was less expected was the amount of space dedicated to casual games designed to be compatible with lower-horsepower systems and for being easy and fairly quick to play. A UMPC really is a pretty ideal device for playing this sort of game.
Casual games took up a portion of the booth space from many of the major game manufacturers, while other companies that specialize in casual games even had large booths of their own. These games were frequently shown not only on PCs and/or game consoles, but also on cell phones and other hand-held devices. This indicated the desirability of playing these types of games on the go. Had the PC versions of some of these games been shown on UMPCs instead of desktop systems, it could have made quite an impression.
I believe it is primarily Microsoft that really missed the boat here. Not only did they fail to work with casual game developers to get them to use UMPCs to show off their products, they didn’t even bother to use them in their own booth! As would be expected, Microsoft had one of the largest and most prominent booths at the show, with the bulk of the space dedicated to showing off the XBOX 360 as well as high-end Windows-based gaming. In the back, center portion of the booth, though, they did have a section dedicated to showing off “Microsoft Casual Gaming”, with an emphasis on the availability of these games through MSN. With Microsoft as the primary driver of the UMPC concept, I was amazed to find that they were showing these games on desktop PCs and cell phones (presumably running Windows Mobile), but there was not a UMPC in sight.
One of the games being featured on the desktop computers at Microsoft’s booth was a puzzle game called Hexic. As part of the promotion of the casual gaming concept, they were handing out gift cards to show attendees with a free registration code for the game. Since I had the card for a free copy of that game, I downloaded a copy to my eo after I got home and gave it a try. The game works extremely well on the UMPC and I’ve actually enjoyed spending some time playing it. The graphics and sound are well within the capabilities of the eo and the game is completely playable using either the touch-screen or the eo’s pointer-stick. This certainly could have been demonstrated on a UMPC very effectively.
As a final note, I will mention that the only UMPC that I actually saw at the show was the one that I brought along myself. The food court areas and lobby were equipped with free wi-fi in order to allow show attendees to use portable devices to check email or surf the web during breaks from the show. At one point, I found a table in a coffee shop and used my eo to read and respond to a few emails that had come in while I was at the show. During this time, I did attract some attention from people who came up and asked me about the device. Wouldn’t it have been great if those attendees had instead been seeing and playing with UMPCs at the Microsoft booth or other exhibits?