When I first saw Thalmic Labs' Myo armband, I thought "that's a cool device, but why?". It's a problem that a lot of wearables and IoT products are experiencing. Sure, it's cool to track your heartbeat, brain patterns, or watch your dog while you're away, but is that a solution to a real consumer problem?
Take a look at the Myo promotional video. The company features all the various ways you can use Myo including controlling iTunes, playing games, and even directing military rovers that probably eat IEDs for energy. By the end of the video, you're left wondering what the hell the company even does.
Recently, Thalmic announced that they hired Simon Jeffrey, a gaming executive with previous experience at LucasArts and Sega. Jeffery's role at the company will be bringing his 27 years of gaming leadership to sell the Myo armband to game publishers and developers.
It seems, after launching Myo with a million different opportunities, the announcement of the Oculus Rift acquisition by Facebook has convinced Thalmic Labs' leadership that gaming peripherals is where the real money is. While this decision seems like a great way to go, it poses some really huge questions and challenges ahead. Namely, how do you go from "that's pretty cool" to developers actually building games around the platform. The Oculus Rift partnership makes sense, but the Myo will have to provide enough added functionality to VR gaming for developers to use the SDK and also insist on their players buying one.
Even before hiring Simon Jeffrey, the Thalmic Labs team was doing some intense developer outreach. Just before the Jeffrey announcement, Thalmic was at the Ottawa International Game Conference promoting the accessory to game developers. Scott Greenberg, a developer evangelist, showed off some of the cool things it can do with gaming, as well as piloting an RC quadracopter for the cool factor.
As an accessory, the Myo isn't the only tool on the market for gesture gaming. The indie game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, showed us what you can do with gesture controls and the Oculus Rift. Their game initially used the Razer Hydra. It's interesting to note that the developers behind the game have moved away from gesture controls, and are simply going with an Xbox controller. The reason is likely that it's simply too costly to add another peripheral to the Oculus. If you were to get a game with an Oculus Rift and Myo armband, you've now invested upwards of $400-$500 on peripherals alone. Not to mention the money you're spending on the gaming system.
While Myo is in an interesting place to provide gamers with a cool new peripheral to play games, especially when partnered with VR, you can't help but wonder what that special feature or gameplay mechanic will be that will really sell it to both developers and players alike. Perhaps Myo should have been a military company. After all, those IED-eating rovers look pretty rad.