Solving the Gaming Mystery

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- One of the biggest mysteries in technology today is what happened to all the gamers.

Nintendo's ( NTDOY) Wii U console did so badly the company won't be holding a press conference at the E3 game convention this year. Publisher 2K won't even have a booth.

Sony's ( SNE) own launch of the PlayStation 4 may do poorly , and Microsoft's ( MSFT) Xbox 720 may not be a hit either.

Meanwhile, social gaming pioneer Zynga ( ZNGA) is trying to get a gambling license, the chatter on Facebook's ( FB) earnings sounds anemic, and Apple's ( AAPL) iOS games have been marked down, in some cases, by 90%, notes Cult of Mac.

What's going on?

It might help at this point to look at this fall's college freshman class. Assuming they're 18, they will have been born in 1995. The Web was spun before they were. They take WiFi and broadband for granted. Facebook was created when they were in fourth grade.

My son, who's all of 21, finds this generation mysterious, but I don't. My class had the same relationship with the 1960s.

By the time I hit college in 1973, the 1960s were done. Rock was something you saw in arenas, rebellion was all symbolic and the totems of the previous decade were so mainstream as to look old-fashioned. Even Dick Cheney had long hair and sideburns.

Technology trends turn out to be a lot like musical tastes in that they change quickly and constantly. Each incoming class wants to see the world anew and make its own trends. What their older brothers and sisters think is as obsolete as what their parents think. Mark Zuckerberg is almost old enough to be their dad.

Today's kids have grown up after technology. The iPhone appeared when they were in middle school, the iPad when they were just entering high school. At the same time, as I noted last week, the nature of how we connect with computers is changing. We've gone from sitting at desks to tapping at screens, but even that looks old-fashioned, even quaint. We don't know what comes next.

I don't know how you view the 1970s, but what I remember was a deep sense of ennui. We had a sense of having missed something, and even as culture grew bigger and brighter its cost rising with each new supergroup concert tour or club opening, my classmates and I seemed to grow quieter and more serious.

My guess is the same thing is happening between today's kids and technology. It's not as exciting as it was. It's better but more expensive and thus more distant.

I spent time recently with some Coca-Cola ( KO) Scholars, turning a plateau of construction aggregate into a meadow with wood chips, fertilizer and a light dusting of soil. The kids seemed, to me far more engaged with the outside world than anything inside, and far more into doing than being.

That's good for the kids and good for the future. But it's not good for anyone trying to sell a videogame today or sell a new social network today.

I think the leaders of technology understand this, which may be why there is so much interest in Google ( GOOG) Glass among the digerati. Personally, I don't get it, but Robert Scoble of Rackspace ( RAX), the digital reviewer of the moment, says he can't live without them and younger people are completely jazzed.

But everything depends on the price, he says. Offer them for $300 and they will fly off the shelves. So will applications based on them, and games would have to be among those applications. Social games based on instant communication would likely fly off the virtual shelves as well.

Until something truly different emerges from someone's lab, either Google's or someone else's, I think the gaming industry will remain slow, even the social gaming industry.

But the best news is this: My class held Steve Jobs and Bill Gates among our number. What will today's Coca-Cola Scholars create tomorrow?

At the time of publication, the author was long GOOG, AAPL and KO.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.