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Game Changers

November 9, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Web development pipelines

Though much of this is still in its infancy, integration of browser tech into game development pipelines is looking to be a big deal in the near future. Some companies, like Insomniac, are building their own solutions, integrating browsers with their engine for things like level editing.

Other companies have begun using cascading style sheets' 3D transforms to build UI and HUDs even in non-browser games, and let's not forget client-side storage solutions.

In some cases, groups like Fabric Engine are so convinced of the future of web pipelines that they've build their entire business around it. Though a lot of the current tech is primarily for building web applications, even companies like Blizzard have found uses for the web in their more traditional pipelines. Expect to see more of this as the years wear on.

Riot Games (Santa Monica, CA)

Though the microtransactions model has been proved in Korea for years, it had some difficulty making inroads with the core gamer in the U.S. and Europe. More and more games from Western developers have been adopting the model, but Riot Games' League of Legends is truly knocking it out of the park.

The game uses intelligent microtransaction-based game design that doesn't make players feel like they're playing a "partial" game if they don't pay, and gives those that do pay something significant to crow about.

As an online player-versus-player game, League of Legends has also been intelligently built for competitive play, which has given the game extra legs in other countries. The game is one of a handful to be brought to China, and distributer Tencent Holdings went so far as to purchase Riot outright because of its success.

The game's smart design, its democratic moderation system, and overarching metagame exemplify the future of Western free-to-play game development -- and some might say, the PC game industry as a whole.

Indie Fund

The indie fund was put together by a host of indie game development notables, including Jon Blow (Braid), Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler (World of Goo), Kellee Santiago (Flower), and others. Its aim is to "fix a system that never worked" -- that is to say the relationship between indies and publishers.

The fund currently supports four announced projects, Steph Thirion's Faraway, Dan Pinchbeck's Dear Esther, Andy Schatz's Monaco, and Toxic Games' Q.U.B.E.

The fund's overarching goal is to help products come to release that are markedly different from the norm. As the fund says on its official site, "We make smaller investments and ask for less in return. The hope is that developers see enough revenue from their game to self-fund their next project. And voilà, one more developer that is free to make whatever crazy game they want."

The fund promises a flexible budget with no milestones, proportional repayment based on the amount borrowed, and no long-term obligations if the game fails to make its money back. And it's debatable whether the funded games would even be possible without this financial backing. It's an interesting experiment, and the fund seems like a model to watch as the games start to roll out and developers give feedback about their experiences.

Patent litigation

Patent lawsuits appear to be here to stay, and they're definitely changing the face of games. It feels like every week, someone is crawling out of the woodwork to sue Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and any other company they can think of for violation of their patent for "moving objects on a digital screen."

The U.S. has a particularly litigious culture, and it was perhaps a matter of time before greedy eyes turned toward the game industry, but we can't help but decry most of these patents as mere cash-grabs. Many of these suits came from outside the industry -- engineers here or there who saw fit to patent an algorithm, technique, or process.

Some of these lawsuits are legitimate misuses of intellectual property, but many more are simply posturing matches between companies looking to stake out their marketing arenas. Unfortunately, the only people that win in these weaker cases are the lawyers, and quite often the shady engineers with their vague patents. That means less money for game development, and less money for developers, and certainly changes the industry for the worse.

Mobile social platforms

OpenFeint was the dominant mobile social platform on iOS upon launch, serving achievements and persistent leaderboards across multiple games. But then Apple came out with its own solution, Game Center. Now OpenFeint exists for Android as well -- and has bought by Japanese platform holder GREE. That country's top dog is DeNA, with its Mobage service, which dominates the country's still-popular feature phone space. Mobage was also recently launched in the West by its San Francisco subsidiary Ngmoco.

While all these companies and platforms duke it out for first place, it's clear that this is an important space. Players want achievements, and they want social elements in their games, and that's the real game changer here. Mobile games, even a few years ago, were largely solitary experiences, but that has changed completely with the advent of these sorts of platforms.

Will one solution rule them all, or will the market fragment? As long as consumers' interests are served, and there some interoperability for developers, the revolution matters more than who's fighting.

The U.S. Supreme Court (Washington, D.C.)

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that video games are protected under the auspices of the First Amendment, striking down a California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors. As the official ruling said, "Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium."

The court also said, "Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media."

While the ruling may seem obvious to those of us in the industry, one can only imagine what might have happened had the court ruled in the other direction. This is a critical point in the future creative freedom of the game industry, and can be used to good ends when the inevitable future cases of video game censorship crop up. Until a new evil comes along to steal the hearts and minds of America's youth, as movies, heavy metal, and comic books did before them. video games will continue to need solid defense in the courts. And the First Amendment is pretty much the best thing we could ask for.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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