Sixteen Ton - Whaddya Get?Why We Haven't LapsedSixteen Ton - Whaddya Get? - RSS 2.0
A few major recent events have laid the groundwork: expanded game audiences, fertile environments for indie development and alternative vectors for game delivery.
Over the past three years, games have made amazing forays into new audiences. (Dude, you mean women can like games?) And the primary audience base is only expanding; games are predicted to reach 61 percent of American households by 2007. And they can only keep growing as the "gamer" generation advances into adulthood. Asia has already advanced ahead into the stratosphere of game demographic penetration, and cross-pollination of international development continues to increase.
As our audience expands and stabilizes, so too does our innovation. We are approaching the threshold where a game can have meaning, exhibit social context and be compelling. The fact is that innovation is not as simple as just doing something that's never been done before. That's where innovation starts. It blooms when the result is art, immersion and a firing of synapses rarely used. Our version of "compelling" is something no other media specializes in: We make things fun. Without relying on the sawing of heartstrings, games can convey ideas critical to the human condition. This is a unique and powerful thing! And it is a perfect breeding ground for innovation - real innovation.
Of the shockingly large American audience, over 40 percent play games online. This surge in online play is scaring Wall Street and invigorating developers. The growth of the mainstream lamented by Greg Costikyan in 2005 has opened the door for independents. Steam is shaking up the distribution world, and we live in a time where a Flash game can make a really big splash and a game development university senior thesis can become a cult phenomenon and Game of the Year. Life is good.
The "Lapse" Effect
Yet, the industry loses talent at a completely disgraceful rate. Most of these "lapsed" developers leave within their first year. While that's a testament to our need to provide greater preparation and more competitive working conditions, a quick reality check is also helpful.
Games are creative. The creative process isn't for everyone. If developers are leaving within their first year, how many of those are doing so just because the work isn't right for them? Everybody's different, but I'd be willing to bet that many of those heading for the hills after only a single project cycle aren't doing so because of burnout; statistically, burnout tends to take somewhere around two to three years to kick in.
The game industry also isn't alone in workforce fluidity (or burnout, actually). The U.S. government boasts an average service length of 17 years, but acknowledges that even this number is decreasing in recent times. The private sector averages three years spent with a single company. Part of the point of trying out a new career is seeing if it fits. Sometimes it doesn't. The U.S. economy, at least, has adapted to a new standard where employees don't stick around for the long haul. This certainly has its ups and downs, and, again, games do need to do a much better job of retaining talent, but some of this is just normal.
Speaking to Danc's article, his 50,000-strong army of development ex-pats is indeed a scary number. But how many "lapsed" Hollywood actors are there in the U.S.? Could we even count them? "Lapsed" rock stars? The problem with taking a full headcount on the number of people that have left the industry is that many wind up in the game industry with stars in their eyes and have to go through a difficult period when their illusions are shattered. No one dreams of being an insurance salesman, so the disillusionment (though, by the numbers, not the workforce loss) is less.