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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A Generational and Gender Crossroad. Games are beginning to appeal to a broader audience than ever, which frightens the older, non-gaming generation and places new demands on developers in terms of content. And we're appealing to more women all the time (finally!). Both of which lead to...

An Online Crossroad. What impact will online distribution and social play have on our players, our games and our business? Is there a future for traditional single player games, or will we take the branch in the road that leads to a predominantly or exclusively online and/or multiplayer gaming future?

And just as we're having to deal with these Really Big Issues - as if they weren't enough to challenge us and threaten our future - we face other, more specific crossroad-like choice points, all worth thinking about before we reach them:

There's a Regional transition - the increasing importance of foreign markets and foreign developers (defined as "whichever country you're not from"). This has profound ramifications for developers and marketers. Will we pick the easy path of making games for ourselves, or will we adopt a more international attitude? And how will we take advantage of, or compete with, an international resource pool that's often cheaper and no less gifted than homegrown talent?

There's the upcoming Platform transition, of course, but that's not all we face. In addition to the Xbox 360, PS3 and Revolution, there's the increasing importance of cell phones and PDAs (and PCs, of course) as gaming platforms. We're entering a world where players will have more and more ways to access games. Will we stick our head in the stand and assume PC games are separate from console games which are separate from mobile games, and so on?

And when it comes to Business issues, there's no shortage of questions and potential transitions:

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  • Will games continue to be a "blockbuster" business, with every title the equivalent of a big budget summer action movie?
  • Will we be dominated by the Big Media players, enviously eying our revenue numbers?
  • Will we continue to churn out licenses and sequels, or will we find ways to broaden the range of development funding schemes, development budgets and development processes, thus opening ourselves up to more (and more original) game styles?
  • [li]Will we stick to the traditional path to market of Publisher Funding/Big Studio Development/Big Box Retailing, or will we find new ways to reach consumers? Will we create a development culture and a business model that supports the two-guys (or gals)-in-a-garage model? Or, should we all plan on lucrative and fulfilling careers as workers bees in a game development hive? Just as the gap between rich and poor is widening in most Western nations (and certainly the United States), the game of game development increasingly favors the well-off, publisher-funded developer.[/blockquote]

    And finally, perhaps most importantly, we face a Content Crossroad. Gaming, as a medium, has traditionally limited its subject matter to adolescent male fantasies - sports and power fantasies - but now, we have to appeal to a more diverse audience.

    In the next installment of this article, we'll look at each of these issues in a bit more detail.

    Warren Spector is the founder of Junction Point Studios. He worked previously with Origin Systems, Looking Glass Studios, TSR and Steve Jackson Games.

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