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Sifteo Cubes: The Future of Gaming?

by Jack McGrath | April 25, 2011April 25, 2011 5:00 am PDT

What once was a simple college project started by two students at MIT has evolved into a company attempting to create an alternative gaming system with unprecedented gameplay mechanics. Fully unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, Sifteo Cubes are 1.5-inch blocks with full-color screens that respond to motion, interacting with players when they are picked up and rearranged. Will Sifteo Cubes play a significant role in the evolution of gaming?

Shown off at a TED conference in 2009, Siftables, the prototype-version of Sifteo Cubes, were revealed by graduate students Javeen Kalanithi and David Merrill. After a video demonstrating the innovative gaming system was posted on the Internet, hype surrounding the technology spread around the blogosphere like wildfire. In the presentation, the co-founders summarized their motivation for creating the interactive cubes in saying:

The awesome thing about these games is that you have this dynamic of sitting around with other people — you’re face to face around the table, and you’ve got game pieces that form the game. Video games are awesome because they bring activity into the picture, but they usually lose this classic style of play. We saw a way to bring these two great play traditions together. Sifteo cubes are a new type of video game system that are about hands-on play.

Forming a company around the idea earlier this year – receiving funding from Foundry Group, True Ventures, and the National Science Foundation – Sifteo Cubes are now set to be released to the public in the fall. Packed with three cubes and a digital library, both children and adults are going to be able to try out the technology for themselves.

To use Sifteo Cubes, players must install the company’s software on an Internet-connected computer and then buy games from its aforementioned library. A wireless link is used to project the titles onto the blocks, allowing for players to game within the immediate vicinity of their computers. Sifteo’s game studio has built a collection of games that test players with learning puzzles and cooperative challenges.

The company’s website describes the mission of the gaming innovator:

New sensing technologies have changed the face of gaming in just a few years. We believe that Sifteo cubes are the next leap forward in gameplay. Traditional game consoles have lost the tangible and interactive nature of classic tabletop games like Mahjong and dominoes, that bring people together. Players tell us that Sifteo cubes reduce screen stare, banish tired thumbs and give families and individuals a more natural way to have fun.

Sifteo was selected as an honoree of the CES Innovations 2011 Design and Engineering Award in the Electronic Gaming Hardware category. The award recognizes innovate consumer electronics in important industry product categories.

Unfortunately, the technology does have some drawbacks. The wireless transmitter only works within twenty feet of its transmitter and none of the games are actually stored on the cubes. Even worse, the recommended distance from your computer is five feet, which makes the blocks impractical for portable use. The price of the device, at about $150 for three cubes, is relatively steep for what will mainly be used as an educational tool. While there are a few games that only require three cubes, many require six cubes, which would cost another $150. Additionally, many will expect that they can interact with the blocks with touch gestures, a feature that is not supported at this time.

But again, one must emphasize that Sifteo Cubes are not targeted at the traditional gaming market, but rather schools and younger children. However, having played games for years, I cannot help but think of the potential uses of the blocks. There are a plethora of games that would fit perfectly within Sifteo’s architecture. Imagine playing chess with interactive cubes. It would be an intuitive and fun way to sit down next to somebody and game.

While Sifteo Cubes may be a great idea, history has shown that devices lacking an incredible library of software always fail. Sifteo Cubes need to become synonymous with educational fun before they succeed. Will Sifteo be able to accomplish this? Only time will tell.

What do you, gaming enthusiasts, believe? Would this be an effective way to educate children of the future? Would it be an better way to game with friends and family? Sound off in the comments below.


Jack McGrath

Rooted in his childhood obsession with dismantling and reassembling gizmos and gadgets around the house, Jack McGrath's knowledge of programming,...

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