Video games are quickly becoming an art form, agreed the speakers at a panel on the future of gaming at our GamesBeat 2009 conference in San Francisco today. But what does that actually mean? Jenova Chen, founder of thatgamecompany, which created created the PlayStation 3 game Flower, argued that one key step will involve moving beyond a slavish devotion to fun.
“Fun is one of a very small portion of experiences that humans can have,” Chen said.
To illustrate his point, Chen compared the current stage in game development to the early days of cinema — when most films were all about gimmicks and (primitive) special effects, rather than longer, deeper, and more engaging narratives. Just as the movie medium matured to encompass a much broader range of experiences, so will games. That will also involve fulfilling players on three fronts — intellectual, emotional, and social. (I got the sense that Chen was about to expand on this idea, but unfortunately the panel ended before he got a chance.)
He wasn’t the only one to make the comparison to film, either. Elan Lee made a much more literal connection, since his company Fourth Wall Studios makes alternate reality games that promote movies. For example, Fourth Wall’s game 6minutestomidnight allowed you to interact with characters from the film Watchmen on your mobile phone. (Too bad the film wasn’t a huge hit — maybe because it wasn’t that good.) He also touched on other channels for games, such as social networking sites like MySpace, and more unusual concepts like gaming through apparel.
The other presenters included Michael Tombroff of Softkinetic — who previewed the company’s gesture-based controls, which would allow you to play a game without using any controllers, and Raph Koster from Metaplace, who spoke broadly about the difficulty of predicting where the games industry is going.
“Especially given that the pace of change is accelerating … it’s safer to predict the present in some ways than it is to predict the future,” Koster said. In other words, it’s impossible to predict what kind of big breakthroughs we’ll be seeing; all we can do is identify some of today’s emerging trends: “Games will be more multiplayer, more social, and will be delivered as a service.”