Serious Cro

Allen Varney | 25 Oct 2005 08:00
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Well then, having seen Croteam's success, will other Croats follow, transforming their country into a juggernaut of electronic entertainment? Stranger things have happened in history; for a hundred years, all the best clocks and watches came from Switzerland. So far, though, there are hardly a dozen game companies in the entire Balkan region, all quite small, plus a few freeware and shareware indies.

The obstacles to success are, pardon the pun, serious. Money is critically tight, and the government is corrupt. In Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index, Croatia ranked 70th out of 159 countries with a low score of 3.4 on a scale of 10 (10 being the least corruption), tying with Burkina Faso, Egypt, Lesotho, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. (America was #17 with a score of 7.6. Number 1 was Iceland, 9.7.) More ominously for business, it's always possible some Army thug will try another ethnic cleansing.

But the Croteam story does herald a larger and more interesting future hotbed of gaming: Earth.

Serious Implications
Serious Sam, for all its frivolity, really does portend a lesson about globalization. Not as in, "We're gonna lose all our jobs to Croatia," but as in, "Soon lots more people everywhere will create games." Only a small fraction of any given population cares to make games, but to date, hardly more than a billion people, a sixth of the world's population, could have tried even if they wanted to. In the next few years to a decade, the required tech will become available to another sixth or third of Earth's people: urban China, some of the former Soviet republics, south and southeast Asia, Brazil, Argentina...

Commodity computers go for U.S. $200, a week's income in Croatia. Linux is open-source, and Windows sells across much of the world for a buck per pirated CD. All the application software for creating games - office suites, compilers, textures, animation, audio - is either free, open-source, or pirated on BitTorrent. On the Web you can find programming texts, math texts, and tutorials, and you can market your game from a cheap domain. For most people, the last remaining tech bottleneck is broadband. It's anyone's guess how long that will take, but broadband penetration, though uneven, is accelerating.

Of course, that's just technology. There are two stronger limitations. First, culture: Will a Laotian cobbler or burkah-clad Tajik grandmother conceive a burning desire to create first-person shooters? Stranger things have happ - actually, no, they haven't. The new game creators will probably come from the same demographic as the current bunch: young male scions of relatively upscale families, or obsessive proto-geeks willing to cross broken glass to code. Such people indisputably exist. The interesting question is, how many are there?

Which brings us to the second limitation: talent. History shows genius can appear in any population. Our current game gods - Miyamoto, Carmack, Meier, and that lot - are they each one-in-a-million? In-ten-million? Probably they're far more common, given that Zagreb alone fielded six guys who can kick serious butt. But even if you set the standard high - one in a hundred million? - in the next few years we should see ten or 20 new game gods, all from places you couldn't find on a map.

Brace yourself...

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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