I attended the Galway Games Gathering and expo this past weekend with the idea of learning more about the games industry in the West of Ireland. I wanted to write a series of short articles on this subject for MyCreativeEdge.eu, but have one considerable limitation: my knowledge of the industry is pretty poor. I don’t play PC games, and I have never accessed or downloaded a game on my phone. What could be my angle? How could I possibly chat to industry people and games enthusiasts at the conference?
Even after researching the subject of ‘gaming’, I did not find a convincing way of dealing with my limitation. So I felt a little intimidated when I arrived at the GMIT campus on Saturday morning: so many unfamiliar game brands, so much technology, and so many very high-profile speakers!
John Romero was indeed the first speaker. Romero’s name is known worldwide, as he pioneered globally successful multiplayer games such as Doom and Quake. Romero discussed his life in games, providing a very useful historical background to the development of the games industry in the US. “Great technology combined with great design is a huge winner”, said Romero to the audience. And good design implies anything from narrative to visuals and audio, to overall user experience. Design is different from programming, which relates to the software development of video games. To many, this is obvious; to me it wasn’t. Things started to become clearer anyway.
Although the games industry is characterised by specific ‘production logics’ – to borrow a term used by Dr. Aphra Kerr to refer to ‘business models’ – I heard multiple references to other creative fields such as publishing or film. “A video game is like a book”, I was told by a game and narrative designer at the expo, “if you tell people all about your book, people probably won’t buy it to read it”. It makes sense. Things were getting clearer.
Games are about a story – a hyper-reality that can be completely alien or alternative. But some other times, it is pretty realistic and can even simulate the way people – ordinary people – shape meanings in their daily lives. Don’t Make Love is a fascinating example of how human relationships, conversations, and meaning-making can be applied to game design. To create characters, Dario D’Ambra and his team used specific writing techniques that resemble ‘real’ conversation including avoiding questions or requests and providing conversational hooks (saying something that implies a reaction from the player).
Games offer experiences that can be shared and talked about. They can be inspirational and aspirational. They can be praised, criticised and even begrudged. In short, they are about emotions; like books or films. Speaking of free-to-play games, Elizabeth Sampat of Sybo Games pointed out the importance of 4 emotions, namely curiosity, frustration, amusement and desire. These emotions should be important to people who work in the F2P marketplace: “I asked myself how we can retain customers and monetise”, said Elizabeth, “the key is emotion”.
Neil Holmes, who is development account manager at ID@Xbox, argued that people look for novelty, great gameplay and a great story. Nevertheless, the games industry moves very fast and what worked for a game one year, may not necessarily work for a similar game the following year. So, “agility is key”, argues Holmes, not only in terms of design but also from a marketing and finance perspective.
Good games are often created by one person, or perhaps a small group of individuals who share a vision. This vision has to compete in the marketplace for revenue. Competition is steep and is made even steeper by platforms such as Xbox, which enable self-publishing and have lowered entry barriers such as geographical location. As Holmes put it, ‘better’ does not always mean ‘easy’.
Again, Holmes insisted on the parallel with the publishing industry, arguing that a good book cannot be published by simply anyone: “You need the right publisher”. The launch and circulation of games were 2 hot topics at the Gathering… and the focus of my next article. Watch this space!