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The can opener and the games industry November 16, 2009

Posted by Cesar in gaming me, working me.
Tags: , , , ,


I feel bad for the first canned food users. Although canned food has been around since 1772, the first can opener was invented only 80 years later! So I suppose the real first can opener was the hammer and chisel. It was hard work to eat back then!

But in 1855, in the UK, Robert Yates started changing the world when he patented the first can opener. The mechanism was similar to the one on the left of the picture. And it was already very practical! A similar design was  unbelievably popular in the military since World War I, because it was really easy to carry and to use.

However, for some reason, mankind was not happy yet. So we continued working on our can openers until in the 80s we got to the very popular design we have today, that opens cans from the side using rotating wheels. But I have to be fair: the invention from the 80s was only an update to a design that was created in the US by William Lyman in 1870.

Was that enough? Of course not. As easy as it was to open a can, mankind decided it was still too much effort. Since the 30s, many electric can openers were developed, from handy small ones to big, fast and very impressive ones. So today if you think 30 seconds of continued attention and effort is too much to spend in front of a can, you can buy an electric one and just press a button. And probably watch for a few seconds.

Now here’s the interesting part: the vast majority of the can openers in stores nowadays open the cans from the side, creating dangerous edges. And the cut cans are not convenient to store after opening. Not only that, but you cannot simply open a hole in it, which is good for liquids. For that you have to buy a church key.

The simple can opener on the left of the picture, with the same basic design as the P 38, is practical, small, opens from the top and can cut simple holes if you want to. But it is really hard to find.

Games are also tools. And their purpose at its most basic level is to entertain. And they are also, in a way, can openers. The very first games were very simple, rudimentary, but got the job done. As technology evolved, they got more complex and, there’s no denying, more interesting. But mankind was not happy yet. Games continued becoming more and more intricate so that today, if you want to make a AAA title, you have to spend millions.

Recently, it seems the games industry realized the simple can openers were really good as well. And in all the complexity of the new models, some of the appeal of the old ones was lost. So not only Microsoft, but Nintendo, Sony and many others invest in platforms for the distribution of P-38s and other lever based, simpler, can openers. Cheaper to produce, cheaper to buy, easier to distribute. That heated the industry and many companies were created willing to develop really good and interesting but practical and simpler can openers.

That’s a very good thing. The extremely complex and expensive can openers offer something the simple ones cannot. But when the industry realized there was still space in the market for the basic devices, gamers got an option back. And it is a very good one.

Uff, that was a long post. I’m tired. So, if you excuse me, I will stop writing and go play Geometry Wars.

See you space cowboys…

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