Sunday, June 20, 2010

An Industry Of Change

Just like any other industry, the game industry is a fluid and moving target that changes from year to year, even month to month in many cases. Over the years we’ve seen several shifts happening. The demographics of gamers have grown younger, games have been blessed with 3D graphics and 30” LCD monitors, the Internet has allowed us to share our experiences together, and porn has largely been removed from the game industry's advertisement toolbox (seriously).

THE HISTORY OF THE INDUSTRY (CGW Magazine 1984 Issue 14)

Thirty-one percent of gamers who used to play other types of games now play computer games almost exclusively. This net loss (27.5%) confirms what non-computer game companies have suspected: computer games have “stolen” their customers-or at least a good number of them.

What game type do you prefer playing?
(Bit-tech survey 2007)

First/Third Person Shooter: 48.53%
Real Time Strategy: 13.68%
RPG: 13.03%
Platform: 1.30%

It's interesting to note in the demographics above that gamers in the 80's were migrating to the PC from arcade and console systems, and that the shift from RPG and RTS games to FPS began not long after. Anyone in the industry today knows where everything is headed now. That is just one of the many changes the industry has since experienced.

In the early days of Computer Game World magazine (CGW) you could find porn advertisements on the back few pages. That should give you a good idea on how things have changed from then and now. It was a different world in the game industry five years ago, not to mention twenty-five years ago. Not only was porn advertising banished from the industry, but along with it went a primarily adult game player demographic (which makes sense then if porn was part of the industry), genres such as Adventure and Simulation, and fun games that were cheap and quick to make. What also left the industry was a general sense of what a good game was really all about.

The industry has changed, but has it changed for better or for worse? Losses of genres I loved, particularly the Adventure genre, were certainly a turn for the worst. And yes, some may say it hasn’t technically “died”, but it might as well have with the less-than-stellar and few-and-far-in-between releases we’ve seen this past decade. What has changed for the better though is technology, which gives us pretty and fast graphics, but also allows Indie developers to publish unique games that might never have otherwise made it into popular view. STEAM and other services are growing, which will allow even more distribution without the heavy-weight publishers helping hands. All of this will come together in the form of Virtual Worlds, giving everyone a chance to share their opinions on how things should progress.

GOING CASUAL - It’s a casual game market now

We’ve seen hundreds of “clones” in all genres the past several years, particularly in the First Person Shooter genre. Games that essentially play and feel like other games. How unique can FPS games possibly get, right? Well, I suspect they can be more unique than we simple players have seen lately, and more unique than the publishers realize as well. The developers have the ideas, but are they able and willing to release them into their games?

Whatever the reason for the clone market and the serious lack of unique games today (save for the once-in-awhile “Spore” type of game), it is throwing the industry into a spin that looks eerily familiar to how we view the movie industry today. There are more clones there too, and if you look closely, do you see what these clones are gravitating towards within their own genre? Simplicity--action packed mindless simplicity. And of course let’s not forget the pure eye-candy of it all. Those beautiful single colored textures that look like they were pulled straight out of a comic-book, or a cartoon.

That simplicity, while maybe not mindless in games, has a form in the industry, and that is in “Casual Games”. Some are good, such as the many online virtual worlds being developed, some are not so good, but they are increasing in numbers that rival any other genre. Fortunately, this is good for the industry as a whole. While we will likely never see Adventure or Simulation games in the spotlight again, they are still there, and part of that reason is through casual games. They bring in the masses, and when you are able to bring in a large group of players it is inevitable that some of those players will find other genres, even those that hardly exist.

THE FUTURE – And the Asians are going to dominate it (as they always have…)

The Chinese game market of nearly USD 900 million is expected to be worth more than USD 6 billion by 2011. The growing China game industry has more than 27 million gamers and there will be 60 million by 2011 consuming $1.8 billion of online games. Internet cafes are gathering places for teens and casual gaming is prevalent, especially with females. It is projected the Asian market will dominant other markets internationally sometime in the next decade, especially online games.

The modern game industry really started in Asia with Japan, and now it’s coming full circle around the globe right back, but this time stopping short and landing in countries like Korea and China. America and the EU might be popular now internationally, but as the years go by we will begin to see more and more Asian specific games going international. Everything changes at one time or another, as we’ll surely see the game industry change in the next few years in ways we have yet to predict.

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