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The status quo is doomed: Next-gen opportunities and challenges

The status quo is doomed: Next-gen opportunities and challenges

August 20, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

Don Daglow started out at Intellivision -- a company known, in the early 1980s, for its "realistic" sports games. But by the end of the current console generation, "now that we've gotten to the point that we rival the TV we watch, what can we do?"

The next generation of console games cannot survive on graphics alone, he argues. That is not enough. "If we are going to be revolutionary on this next transition, this next generation, we're going to have to find new ways to do it."

This, he says, may sound like a terrible challenge -- but in reality, it's a huge opportunity. "This inspires new games, it inspires more kinds of games," Daglow says. "We can already see more emotionally deep and rich games being created as people see this."

"Reaching out for new things, we have to take new risks."

The False Peace

While many people currently in the game industry came into it during the period from 1995 to 2005, that period was a false peace surrounded on both sides by tumult. Today's chaotic mix of platforms and business models is, in fact, the state of existence we should expect.

During the Roman Empire, says Daglow, "we have the Pax Romana or the Pax Augusta where there was relative peace." In the game industry, he says, "I think we went through the Pax PSia between '95 and 2005."

Prior to the PlayStation 1's release, he says, "We don't have dependability, we don't have a lot of repeat leadership from the different makers."

On the other hand, the Pax PSia "was a period when we had this really more stable, predictable industry. You could put your lead SKU on the PlayStation and you would then do additional players, but you knew the PlayStation alone had such an installed base that you could make a lot of money just off the PlayStation."

But if you look to the past, "we have no predictability, we have tumult, we have change -- just like now," Daglow says.

The Wonderful Chaos

The difficulty is that "a lot of people came into the industry in the peaceful period, so when everything started to get chaotic again that started to look like, 'Well, this is a weird time. We're going to get back to normal now.' That's a trap. We're not going back to that world."

However, Daglow is confident that this is a good thing for creativity in games. "This chaotic state, it is a wonderful state. It is a chaos from which great games have come and will come. And most of our history in this industry has been from this repeated chaos."

"The treasure is saying, 'Out of chaos... that's where you can do new things, because the industry is looking for the revolutionary.'"

According to Daglow, true revolution comes out of "that intersection between tech and culture, and the way we use that technology," not just technical improvements on their own. And that's what he wants to see out of the next generation of games: cultural shifts, not just technological shifts.

"The challenge is without being crazy and nutty, and doing dumb stuff that doesn't sell, how to we slip back into revolution instead of watching somebody else do the breakthroughs?"

But there is good news for game developers, he says. "Whatever happens with the technology... in the end of the day, great game design is always revolutionary regardless of era, regardless of tech, regardless of anything."

When Good isn't Good Enough Anymore

Daglow recently read a game review where the reviewer acknowledged a game was good -- but that he now has "endless choices" thanks to the proliferation of platforms, so "good" isn't good enough anymore.

For decades, players would choose between games on the shelves at the store -- and that was essentially it. But now, says Daglow, "when it comes to games, he has endless choices. And when it comes to games, he isn't ready to play a good game. He'll only play great games. And that's a change... Now, games are unlimited."

"If we keep thinking the same old way, as if we're still on a shelf with a limited number of games fighting for attention, that's a trap. How do you innovate and reach players in new ways when now there is no limit on the number of games in the player's mind?"

The important thing to remember, says Daglow, is the impact you can make on players. Why do you strive to make great games? "It is not just to make the stock prices go up, it is not just to make a hit, it is not just to have people say you're a great designer and get magazine interviews. It is because at our best we can change people's lives in very positive ways."

You have to remember, he says, to "use this potential you have been given to touch people's lives and make their lives better."

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