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One of the biggest changes to the video games industry in the past 10 years has been the way we look at video games themselves. In addition to the classic console shooters and PC MMORPGs, casual games such as Animal Farm and mobile games like Fruit Ninja now qualify their players as proper gamers. During the 2011 DICE awards, Angry Birds was nominated amongst Black Ops, Red Dead Redemption, and God of War 3 for the prestigious Game of the Year award.
The streamlining of game development tools and platforms such as Steam and the Apple App Store lower the barriers of entry into the video games mass market. Indie games now compete against AAA titles on the front page of shops.
This means the nature of development teams is also evolving. Teams are growing smaller and becoming more independent. Consequentially, game publishers are changing the way they organise and manage teams of developers. For example, Electronic Arts cut it’s workforce by 10% in April. An EA spokesperson said ‘“In recent weeks, EA has aligned all elements of its organizational structure behind priorities in new technologies and mobile”.
The main reason for these changes in the industry is down to consumer demand. Gradually, players want to streamline their digital lives on their smartphones, consoles, tablets and computers into one never-ending experience. Why should their TV screens and desktop monitors be the confines of their gaming lives? Most of the multiplayer experiences we go through as a player are no longer functions we have with the in-game environment and mechanics, but is instead are the functions players have with each other. Consumers want new experiences and they want them now. In turn, huge leaps and bounds are being made in the innovation of new technologies. Some huge powerhouses from yesteryear don’t have the infrastructure in place to stay ahead of time and finish by just playing catch up. One of the biggest examples of a publisher not keeping up with the times is THQ, who closed their doors earlier this year. The lesson learned there was that the conventional business model of churning our boxed kids and licensed titles like Finding Nemo and WWE is simply dead.
An example of innovation is the free-to-play model. The idea is to offer consumers a ‘base’ game for free and players can play as much of it as they like. The way it makes money is by monetizing in-game content. The Blizzard MMORPG World of Warcraft is the biggest victim of this evolution who have lost millions of subscribers in the past years because of their pay-to-play model. Remember when the way to get map packs in Call of Duty was to pay for ELITE? Even Activison admitted this was a big mistake in their 2012 Annual Report. Some big developers just don’t have the systems in place to turn to such a model. The pirating and illegal sharing of games is simply a response from consumer demand and an extension of the free-to-play model to classic AAA titles. A publisher’s challenges don’t lie in how to stop piracy, but actually how to monetize in-game so that even pirated users won’t play a full experience without paying.
With the advent of the internet and mass networking, companies no longer call the shots. Everything a company says will never be forgotten and any lie they make will eventually be uncovered since consumers act and react as a single mass rather than as individuals. Instead of trying to manage a community, game creators eventually have to become a member themselves.
“Stop thinking you’re in charge, and start thinking it’s a dance” Gabe Newell, co-founder and director of Valve.
One way of doing this is by handing over the tools of creation to the players. According to Valve, 90% of Team Fortress 2’s content is made by users. Being extremely adaptable is the way forwards.
Look into that future, from a hardware point of view, the basis of this fully immersed gaming experience is still being developed in labs and science journals. The science fiction of Artificial Reality is closer than you’d think. The ability to drive and read a person’s nervous system is in development and has had good progress. Dr Golnaz Moazami from Cornell University is in the process of decoding the messaging layer between the eye and the brain. In theory, it requires less computational power to trick the brain into thinking it’s seeing something it isn’t rather then building billions of pixels in front of the eye.
The world of video games is evolving rapidly and affects more people than ever before. But are we going too far? A video game is supposed to be an entertainment vehicle to fill our pass times. Doesn’t that concept start to break down break down once we start to live in these creations? Is it a drug one day society will regret over consuming? Deep, deep thoughts, and we haven’t even started talking about eSports…