One obvious channel of game play in modern culture is sports. But Caccia says there is a "tension between pure play and competitive play," where the latter in effect swallows up the former under the pressure of money. And yet, many remain avid spectators because they long for that magical moment of "seeing a player in a moment of pure play." Caccia cites as an example soccer superstar David Beckham's spectacular 1996 mid-field scoring kick (it starts at the 2:30 point of this YouTube video). Introducing apps that have this quality of pure playfulness can result in big payoffs, he implies.
The gaming industry today is a $67 billion a year business, twice the size of the music industry, he says. Once the realm of younger males embroiled in war and conflict oriented play, games are now "completely mainstream, with women make up a sizeable percentage of some gamer categories, and the dominant theme is entertainment.
And, just as in the enterprise, mobility is transforming the industry, which until recently was focused on PC and console development models and priorities. Caccia says that the performance of mobile games will match that of console and PC-based play in 2014, in large part due to the increasing use of powerful, dedicated graphics processing units in mobile devices. Game developers, following their audience, "are moving into mobile in a big way."
The gaming industry faces a number of challenges, which are mirrored in today's enterprise, he says.
First is the shift from the console/PC development to mobile development. Incumbents in both the gaming and enterprise apps are struggling with this, often losing out to newer entrants, as the mobile shift creates opportunities for new and disruptive mobile services. He contrasted the modest growth of Nintendo's classic Super Mario game with the exploding popularity of Rovio's Angry Birds, driven almost entirely by mobile users.
Second is that these disruptive opportunities are often what Caccia calls "data driven." The traditional approach is for an enterprise to keep control of the data, to be the sole provider and the sole arbiter on how the data is used. The alternative is to see data as a resource, and to provide easy access to it for outsiders "so they can build something with it."
Game developers are looking at how to build "data-centric structures to drive high-yield games," he says. He points to Federal Express as one enterprise that understands this. "They're using an API and opening their data up to outsiders, in part to outsource mobile app development," he says.
The data centric trend goes hand in hand with a third challenge: the game, or app, as a service, allowing new business models that can be created, explored, and exploited. Game companies, for example, are shifting from seeing the game as a stand-alone product to something that forges an ongoing, sometimes real-time, relationship with the users. Instead of focusing on the one-time purchase, game companies are leveraging in-app purchasing, the sale of virtual goods, as well as real-time analysis of gaming behaviors to tweak the game's behavior and performance, optimizing it for players.
Zynga's online "FarmVille" is a good example of the impact this can have. "They realized that the game [by itself] is a very small part of this picture," Caccia says. "They monitor their data on an hourly basis and use it to make a variety of tweaks and changes." Closing in on 300 million users, Zynga's model drove about $445 million (or 12 percent) of Facebook's total revenue in 2011, from payment processing fees related to Zynga's sales of virtual goods and from direct advertising purchased by Zynga.