Gaming Uber Alles, Year Three

Gaming Uber Alles, Year Three
Ten Things That Don't Suck About the Game Industry

Jason Della Rocca | 8 Jul 2008 12:32
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One of the International Game Developers Association's many roles is to deal with all the crap that's going on in the game development community, from defending developers' right to creative expression to pushing studios for better work-life balance. As the guy heading up the organization, I often get roped into panel discussions to debate these topics or write articles (some for this very publication) dealing with the various challenges the industry faces. That's fine; it's part of the job description, and I enjoy serving my role. But another aspect of my job, one that I often neglect, is to be an industry evangelist - to promote all that's cool and wonderful about games and game development.

So, in contrast to my usual "the sky is falling" articles, here are 10 things that I think are pretty darn cool, impressive and interesting about the game industry.

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1. Charitable Efforts
With tens of millions of people playing games, it's safe to assume that not all of us are antisocial otaku dwelling in our parents' basements. In fact, wildly successful charitable initiatives like Penny Arcade's Child's Play charity continue to demonstrate that we're good citizens in meatspace. Since 2003, through Child's Play, gamers and the industry have donated millions of dollars' worth of games and toys for children's hospitals worldwide.

Beyond the donations, however, game developers are also contributing their time and skill. In 2004, Leukemia sufferer Ben Duskin wished to make a videogame to help other kids battle their illness. Eric Johnston from LucasArts stepped forward to help. Together they created Ben's Game and were honored as "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" by the Dalai Lama. Likewise, Insomniac created a digital model of James Westbrook, a paralyzed 9-year-old boy, as a non-player character in Ratchet and Clank Future.

On a more organized level, OneBigGame is creating an online games portal to sell uniquely developed games (created and donated by famous developers), with all proceeds going to children's charities around the world.

2. Physical Interface Diversification
No one can deny the success of Nintendo's Wii and DS. One major element of that success is their accessibility. A stylus is inherently more intuitive than a gamepad for most people, particularly newcomers to gaming - ditto for a TV remote-like controller.

In addition to opening new markets (all those bowling grandmas, for example), it also opens the window to new types of gameplay. Guitar Hero and Rock Band are two great examples of this. Imagine what kind of games we'll have when brain-wave sensing technology matures. And ultimately, innovations and improvements in gaming interfaces will also help make games more accessible to those persons with disabilities, opening the value and joy of play to everyone.

3. Understanding the Player
One of the greatest challenges facing the current generation of game developers is that most of them are no longer creating games for themselves. Making a game "that I'd like to play" is not a valid design directive, so developers are working hard to better understand the players.

Much of this understanding is geared towards play metrics. The stats in the Half-Life 2 episodes are great examples of this, allowing Valve to know where players are getting stuck, abandoning the game, avoiding certain weapons, etc. Additionally, Microsoft Labs (as featured in Wired magazine) provided Bungie with metrics from extensive usability testing during the development of Halo 3. This data can then drive design decisions to fine-tune future development efforts.

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