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[The video game industry is going through a massive sea change, and Divide By Zero's James Portnow sits down to examine just what's going on, from tool simplification to distribution network changes, and what it means for games as a creative medium.]
Something's happening in our industry. We can all feel it. We're on a pivot point. We are at a sea change.
But it's not just "a change in the industry", it's not a shift in how we do business or with whom -- that's part of it of course -- it's something much bigger. A tide is turning...
Now I don't mean to be dramatic about these things and I don't intend to be their champion (though my bias may come through; I'm excited for what the future may bring.) However, I think we're at a very important juncture for our industry, our medium and, perhaps, for humanity in general.
In this article I'm going to try and define what this change is, how we got here, and what it means for us in the future.
When I first wrote this article I originally defined what I felt the coming change might be right here at the beginning of the piece, but without understanding the causes and the logical steps which drew me to my conclusion, even I balked at it: it seemed ludicrous.
So bear with me as we walk through the causes of this yet-undefined change, and see where the inferences lead you:
For the first time in history "game creation" is being taught as a focus of higher education. From the bachelor's degree given out by DigiPen to the masters degrees offered by more traditional universities such as USC or CMU, today people are getting rigorous formal training in game crafting before entering the industry.
But, perhaps more importantly, these institutions are providing the next generation of game developers with a safe space to innovate and create, outside of a corporate environment.
Game schools will do for us what film schools did for film. They are a place for wild experimentation and valuable, if not immediately profitable, research. These schools focus a community of dedicated, energetic young people and give that community the critical mass it needs to allow these young people to learn from each other and formulate new ideas as a group. Our Lucas, Coppola, and Scorsese will come from these schools.
But as much as many people will come out of these schools with fresh ideas and the tools to enact them, others will find in them an opportunity not granted by the industry itself: the opportunity to conduct multi-year research, the opportunity to study games without having to find a guaranteed return on their research.
Of course the schools and the industry don't see eye-to-eye yet, and communication between the industry and the academic facilities which study this field leaves a lot to be desired, but this too is changing. Both academia and the corporate side of gaming are beginning to see the undeniable value in what the other does.
First Generation to Grow Up with Games
Today, the first generation to grow up with video games in their home is coming into its own. They are becoming responsible, even influential, adults. Not only do they have a great deal of capital to expend on the leisure of their youth, they also have a great desire to see it legitimized, to see it become as respectable as playing golf or going to the theater.
But, much as the films you watched as a child are not the films you watch as an adult, this generation is beginning to demand more. They are beginning to demand new types of games, games with maturity and thought, games that can fit into their hectic and ever more demanding lives, games that can be played respectably with a spouse or family.
This demand is pushing the boundaries of what we consider a video game. It is opening up new markets and forcing us to rethink the subjects a game can cover. It is even forcing us to consider new delivery methods and platforms for these experiences, ones which better fit into the lives of adults.
The term "gamer" now means nothing. At best it's a pejorative stereotype for what once may have been the most highly visible form of video game enthusiast. Today the gamer is your mom and your grandmother, the five year old on the swings and the cop directing traffic. Today the gamer is the lawyer and the doctor and the movie star.
This broadening demographic is calling on us to create games which suit their unique needs and, slowly, the invisible hand guiding us, we have begun to do so. Soon we will realize that grail of designer myth, the Universal Game, because the raw economics of our diverse audience demand it.