Video Games: The Ultimate Tech Influencer?

From driving graphics platforms for cell phones to inspiring "SimCity"-style professional simulations, gaming technology can help enterprises learn to "push the envelope of computing needs."

Does the tech that drives video games influence the rest of the tech industry? It seems like another reason to dust off the chicken-and-egg scenario. Which comes first depends on whos buying: the average consumer or big business.

Jupiter Research senior analyst Michael Gartenberg says it all depends on trends. "Consumer technology goes back into the business space, and business into the consumer," Gartenberg said. "Messaging, for instance, really came from bottom up and not the top down." Game technology also has been credited with driving graphics platforms that are used to create 3-D images on cell phones and sophisticated presentation software.

Researchers at the University of Washington have created a professional version of the popular "SimCity" game series to analyze the interactions between land use, transportation and public policy. The UrbanSim program is already used by city planners in Salt Lake City, Honolulu, Houston and Seattle.

The popularity of "tycoon" games have inspired business simulations for economists and students. The School of Economics Studies at the University of Manchester and Purdue University both use game-influenced sim programs.

On the back end of games, the story takes on another dimension, especially for companies that use a network to sustain virtual worlds for MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games), which allow thousands of people to go online and play the same game in a networked universe.

/zimages/4/28571.gifThe latest version of the popular "Halo" series was recently released. Click here to read more. Click here for PC Magazines "Halo 2" slideshow.

Sony Online Entertainment chief technology officer Adam Joffe presides over the back end of several beloved MMOGs (including "EverQuest II," launched this week), that require serious power to keep the virtual worlds afloat.

Joffe said the companys servers push the envelope of clustered software, at times exceeding the processing power of some supercomputers. Though, he says, theyre hardly blazing a trail for server usage.

"Theres lots of sharing of info on what its like to have a distributed computer environment," he said. "Both sides influence each other."

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The U.S. government is one business on the other side in this situation. Joffe pointed out that the military uses similar clustering to train soldiers, using video game-like software to emulate combat situations. Civilians got a taste of this in the Army-funded simulation "Americas Army," released as a free downloadable game in 2002.

"We definitely push the envelope of computing needs," Joffe said, "but were not going to be so conceited to say that we are leading the way in determining where each atom is in a nuclear reactor."

Voodoo PC president and chief technology officer Rahul Sood said, "Games are the most demanding software you can run on a computer. It definitely requires more power than a CAD program, especially when real-time rendering is involved. That takes a lot of power."

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about how an online multiplayer game spawned a new way to collaborate on the Web.

Companies such as Voodoo PC, which work closely with the interactive-entertainment biz, sit at the top of a consumer-driven technological food chain. Since gamers often tend to be career techies, Sood said many of them take their consumer hardware choices into the workplace as a companys decision maker.

Because games often require the consumer to upgrade a graphics card, add a few sticks of memory or buy a new PCU to make it work, once that demand is created, Sood said theres a trickle-down scenario that graphic chip manufacturers such as ATI and Nvidia are eager to utilize.

Consumers will buy a graphics card for themselves, and then, Sood said, "theyre going to spec that as part of their IT infrastructure because its a chip that works, and they know its reliable."

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