Every new car release means a new competitor for brands – and the industry seems to be pumping out new vehicles every day. Companies are chasing every avenue to attract customers in this competitive market. And the newest? Well, that would be gaming.
In addition to, of course, the visual appeal of a vehicle and the pleasure of sitting behind the driver’s seat, designers focus on our overall in-car experience. This is especially the case with EVs and their time-consuming charging. Sitting in the car gets boring and car manufacturers want to entertain us.
A company entering this space is N-Dream, the Swiss startup behind the AirConsole gaming platform. N-Dream was inspired to create an in-car gaming experience after CEO Anthony Cliquot “saw people playing games on their phones despite a big screen in front of them” while charging their EVs.
Recently, the company announced a partnership with BMW to bring AirConsole and thousands of games to the dashboard screens of the company’s car. The games are downloaded instantly over-the-air – and you can use your smartphone as a controller.
BMW is not the only company investing in in-car entertainment. Tesla led the pack with his first launch of game options and sing-along karaoke in 2019. You can play with the wheel, touch the screen or use your own controller. Tesla has even started selling microphones earlier this year in China to help you get those power ballads out.
Tesla owners were initially able to play games in the front passenger seat while the car was in motion. But the OEM DELETED capacity in December 2021 after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation raised concerns about driver distraction, as well as a possible violation of vehicle safety law.
This legislation prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects that pose unreasonable risks to safety, including technologies that distract drivers from safe driving. It is a learning moment for other suppliers. And let’s face it, even gamers in the back seat can be distracting.
Despite these legal issues, the emergence of this kind of in-car entertainment is just beginning – and gaming will come to the fore.
Autonomous vehicles are coming
In the near future (although no one knows how close), none of us will be driving our own vehicles – it will be robots and algorithms that do that for us. Automakers are already preparing for this, knowing that we will spend hours in autonomous vehicles, hungry for things to do.
Mercedes-Benz is already preparing and testing this thesis in Germany. Company has received system approval for level 3 conditional autonomous driving under UN-R157 on 13,191 kilometers of highway that was approved in December for conditional automated driving by the German Federal Motor Transport Agency (KBA). This will allow the company to roll out its self-driving technology and also fine-tune its in-car entertainment.
It claims“This ultimate luxury experience allows customers to reclaim precious time in the car through relaxation or productivity. For example, they can communicate with colleagues via office tools in the car, write messages and emails via the head unit, surf the web or just sit back, relax and watch a movie.”
Or, more importantly, play a game. While there are some people who want to use their time to travel to the office for work, many more will see this as leisure. Their commute will be returned to them – and this is a common place for gaming.
All companies like Mercedes-Benz have to do is add some software to existing hardware, and the autonomous car becomes a place for both work and play.
This elevates the car from being a mere way of getting us from A to B and blurs the distinction between the real and digital worlds.
The car takes third place
Sociologist Ray Oldenberg pioneered the concept of ‘third place’ in 1989. It is a meeting place or ‘home from home’. It provides an essential zone outside of home and work. And we can already see automakers investing in making cars your third place through in-vehicle entertainment. This third place is about to hit the mainstream.
As mentioned before, few want cars to become just a remote workplace. People may already use a cellphone or iPad to type emails or join zoom meetings, but gaming is something that can take advantage of both the processing power and the large screens in vehicles in a whole new way.
This is, of course, a valuable opportunity for both game platforms and car manufacturers. Change is already in the air. Tesla has been working on incorporating Steam into its vehicles, with Elon Musk keeping Twitter users updated on the company’s progress.
We are working on the general case of getting Steam games to work on a Tesla versus specific titles. Former is clear where we need to be in the long term.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2022
Steam integration would bring a potential 30,000 games to Tesla owners who can stream games directly to their vehicles rather than the inconvenience of transferring individual games from Tesla. It would also open up an incredible library of titles. It would also allow for things like crossplay and pick up a title where you left it on PC. Just imagine: playing a game on your computer before going to work, getting into your car and picking up where you left off. That’s the kind of feature that would attract hundreds of thousands of people to your vehicle.
And the potential for in-car gaming doesn’t end there.
The most fun you’ll ever have in the backseat
Berlin company Holoride GmbH uses VR to “turn vehicles into moving theme parks and give purpose to the daily commute by making transit time count.”
The company is a spin-off of Audi Electronics Venture GmbH (owned, shockingly, by Audi). Currently, VR headsets are exclusively intended for rear-seat passengers and are combined with real-time physical feedback from the moving car. The headsets are wired in the car.
The tech receives input from the real world and transfers it in-game. This means you can see and feel it when the vehicle is accelerating, braking or turning. Audi will integrate the gaming experience into their cars later this year, but this is just the beginning.
This kind of technology is still in its infancy. We can be sure that creatives and designers will find more ways to integrate experiences and games into cars. There’s a chance that in-car entertainment will have a similar effect to the gaming industry as mobile, creating a new genre of titles — and making a ton of money along the way.
A new home for gaming
Auto-in-screen dashboards and audio systems provide game developers with a palette to experiment with. As with Holoride’s VR haptic gaming, game companies also have the ability to create games designed explicitly for in-car entertainment.
Imagine titles designed for nighttime gaming or while traveling on a winding road. Perhaps there will be a focus on microgames that are timed in addition to an average load time. Or multiplayer works specifically designed to thrive in a car environment. There is also scope to develop vehicle-to-vehicle gaming where car owners compete against each other or compete in leaderboard-style competitions (I imagine this is popular with Tesla owners).
Essentially, automakers are betting heavily on iterative in-vehicle experience alongside more passive forms of entertainment such as television and movie watching. This will transform electric car charging and general travel from a chore to something they can embed into entertainment subscriptions and other product offerings. It’s a new revenue stream for both game makers and automakers – both of whom will be desperate to spend even more time in our vehicles.
Game developers, platform providers and advertisers who can take advantage of this emerging boom will find an entirely new revenue stream to fill their wallets. And we, the people, will finally see the car turn into a real ‘third place’, a home away from home, and somewhere that we really desperately want to spend time in.