Nolan Bushnell Looks To Social Gaming, "Holodeck Come True"

Atari founder and industry forbear Nolan Bushnell discussed his "five-year ADD" during Wedbush Morgan's 6th annual management access conference, where he described his latest passions and shared thoughts on the industry's future. "Every five years, I've got to do something a little different," he said.

In addition to founding Atari, Bushnell also founded Chuck-e-Cheese's, and now he's into social gaming. His current project is UWink, a social gaming-focused restaurant chain with touch screen consoles at every table where users can not only order food and drink, but also play games together. UWink is set to open its second restaurant in Hollywood soon.

"Social games aren't sitting in boxer shorts in your basement," Bushnell said. "It's being out, having fun, being able to hi-five people around the table, and it's a bridge between traditional board games, which are highly social experiences in the home, and a video game. The idea is to create games in which the conversations among the people are as important as the gameplay itself."

One more thing on Bushnell's list of current projects? "Think of the holodeck come true," he said:

"It's an immersive game - totally revolutionary, totally new."

Lastly, Bushnell had plenty to add in a panel discussion that focused on the broadening casual and non-traditional game market. He sits on the board of NeoEdge, a tech company that enables advertisers to deliver 30-second spots in that casual gaming arena. And he thinks the industry has only begun scratching the surface as far as the amount of revenue available from advertising:

"People in the U.S. watch about 28, 27 hours of television per week, and they play about 7-8 hours of games per week. On a parity basis, that says there should be somewhere between 25 and 30 billion dollars of ads available for the game business... [but there's] less than a billion now," he said.

"We think there's a massive opportunity to get rid of that inefficiency with a lot more ad-supported gameplay... and not only should we be getting more revenue on a per game basis, but the gameplay should be significantly more valuable to an advertiser."

Also on the panel were Kathy Vrabeck, president of Casual Entertainment for Electronic Arts; John Koller, senior marketing manager for Sony Computer Entertainment America; Doug Clemmer, president of Valusoft & THQ Wireless, and WildTangent founder and chairman Alex St. John - and among other things, the panelists all agreed that greater ad support in games could accelerate the growth of digital distribution, free-to-play games, and ultimately, the death of that $60 retail box.