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More Affordable Tabletop PCs, Please

Apparently, there's an awesome board game called Settlers of Catan. It's been around since 1995, merges simple mechanics with deep gameplay, and keeps everyone playing until the very end. While we're not familiar with the German-born game, its Microsoft Surface version illustrates the potential of tabletop PCs as the perfect family entertainment appliance.

The problem is that Microsoft Surface is quite a pricey investment. Last we checked, one unit costs around $12,500; developer units require an investment of $15,000. It seems three years on the market hasn't pushed the price down, and that's a lost opportunity for Microsoft.

Sure, Surface has numerous features that provide some justification for the price. Aside from the large 30" multi-touch display, and the ability to recognize "tagged" objects, the system uses a complicated web of infrared-based cameras that provide more input sensing versatility compared to typical capacitive and resistive touch-displays.

Yet the total cost of the PC-based hardware components driving a "typical" unit won't even reach $1,000. In fact, these components are a few iterations behind current hardware. The point is that it's possible to price Surface lower, within average consumer's budget.

The potential gains aren't only through digitized versions of board games (though there are numerous ways they can benefit from having stuff like dice rolls automated). Surface is truly a hardware platform limited only by the imagination of software developers (how 'bout say, virtual air hockey, or a home management platform?). What incentive do companies have to innovate on—and earn from—Surface if the market is limited to establishments with big budgets?

Maybe a more affordable version of Microsoft Surface can only support less-powerful hardware. Perhaps Microsoft thinks all-in-one touchscreen PCs running Windows 7 are already a consumer-level Surface of sorts. But there's clearly a large market opportunity here—if Microsoft won't exploit it, someone else will.

Vectorform Game Studio and The Settlers of Catan