What's in a Game?

What's in a Game?
Gaming at the Margins

Warren Spector | 21 Mar 2006 07:00
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Frighteningly, despite the increasing emphasis on the safe, the tried and the true, despite all that "pre-sold property" cluttering the shelves, despite big marketing spends, sales are not keeping pace with costs - gamers simply aren't buying in numbers sufficient to justify what we're spending. Check out the SEC filings of any publicly traded game developer or publisher - the numbers aren't pretty.

And that's not all we face in the way of problems. All that big media attention I mentioned earlier? Well, some of those big media types are stirring up a pot of trouble for us, focusing on the "dangers" of gaming and our ability to influence kids - which leads to legal action and government attention we'd be better off avoiding. And when they're not stirring up fear, big media players, seeing the potential of the hardware and salivating over industry growth rates that TV and movies will probably never see again, want a piece of our action... again. Didn't we go through this 10 years ago? This time:

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If we're not careful, we could end up just another part of the vast, old school entertainment machine.

Still think things look great? Wait - there's more trouble in paradise.

Developers are getting older all the time. Many of us are no longer part of our own target demographic! And just as some of us are looking to, oh, you know, have a life, publishers are looking for ways to keep costs down, asking developers to make quality of life cuts - work longer hours, do increasingly assembly-line-like work - for what amounts to lower pay. And more jobs are being sent overseas all the time.

Will the real future please stand up?
Depending on how you look at things, you can paint a picture of gaming's bright future of growing profits and importance, or one of doom and gloom - of irrelevance and stagnation. Either could be true. Which future is our real future? Will we go mainstream or marginal?

The answer to that question will be determined by how we address a series of critical decisions ahead:

How will we deal with the upcoming explosion of platforms? And not just Xbox 360, PS3 and Revolution but PSP, DS, Gizmondo, cell phones, PDAs and who knows what else?

What sort of content will we provide our changing audience? Will we address an excruciatingly audience-limiting lack of diversity in our content?

What will we learn from the business success of online multiplayer gaming? Will we apply those lessons to other game styles and find entirely new ways of funding development and reaching our audience, or will we just keep doing things the way we always have?

Will we even bother to address the myriad social issues facing us? What do we think about gender issues, legal issues and generational issues as they impact developers, publishers and players?

And, finally, shouldn't we spend at least a little time considering our place in world culture - the place we currently occupy and the place we'd like to occupy? Am I the only person for whom the word "legacy" (and I don't mean my personal legacy!) carries more weight with each passing year and with each lurching move toward the mass market?

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