Monday, December 28, 2009

Hottest trends in games 2010

A year ago I suggested that the following five trends will have an impact to the games industry in 2009:

1. Tinkering
2. Networked experience
3. Alternative revenue models
4. Massively competitive co-ops FPSs

5. Networking mini games adding value

The list was relatively accurate. Tinkering definitely was and is an aspect in games. For example XBLA games, Scribblenauts and indie scene all brought up different approaches to tinkering and collaborative experience design. Networked experience most definitely was one key trend, though a bit differently that I anticipated. Nexon's Combat Arms reached 1M players in Europe and plenty of FPS titles were released. Also 2009 was successful year for Facebook games, especially Zynga remained in the news thanks to Mafia Wars, Farmville and others.

For the 2010, I went though my Twitter posts and put together a new list of trends and issues we most likely are about to see in 2010. I continue with the same idea as last year. By looking back you can see the future.

1. Indie
One can say that indie was a hot trend already in 2009. There definitely is an increasing amount of attention and interest towards indie games. Besides the games themselves, I think one especially interesting thing is storage and sharing. Those providing easier access, easier distribution solutions and easier business opportunities for SMEs and other independent developers will make an impact to the industry. I also believe that indie games will have a greater impact to mainstream games by adding richer variations than before. Thanks to new options for self-publishing and business opportunities for indie developers the attitude towards taking risks and opportunities to put out indie games will become easier. The key here is storage and sharing / distribution.

2. 3D gaming
Yes, just when we have get used to HD it is time to step forward. Avatar movie has given new hopes for Hollywood studios regarding 3D technology and when the movie industry is pro-3D, so will be games. Hilarious 3D movies and Virtual boy 3D were niches at their times in the 1990s. Now with bigger muscles (=bigger players) things will start to happen. Amongst others Nvidia is promoting 3D gaming. I think 3D will not add valuable experience for all games but it should be easily foreseen how 3D could add value for example to FPSs or adventure games. Still there are few hardware issues to be enhanced but we are getting there.

3. Persistence in games
Facebook games, casual browser games and virtual world/casual MMO developers seek for the next think to jump into with relative low risk level but clear competitive edge. I believe persistent game play will be one such differentiation factor. Persistence has been a thing under discussion for quite some time already especially in MMOs. When people communicate and entertain themselves with multiple gadgets and gaming devices and their media use is fragmented, persistence can add nice twist to gaming. You don't have to be a hard core gamer or a geek to play games over longer period of time. Persistence will add randomness and variety to the game experiences. The game will continue when you are offline but in a way it does not matter if you are offline for a day or a week.

4. Learning + games
Learning in games or serious games is another things that is far from novelty. Edutainment products appeared already at the end of 1980s as the next semi-big thing. Things holding back edugames has been their vague role in the market (commercial games or education software?), weak or non-existing distribution network and common ways to either do educational material formally or make business out of it. At the moment edugames are not really commercial games but not exactly teaching material either. Obviously there will be both but someone should start inventing and formalizing the picture to make a difference. In 2010 more funding will be directed to learning technologies. I sincerely hope that the development would be more startup than university driven.

5. Touch, Point, Gesture
Nintendo Wii brought point and gesture interface to the common crowd and iPhone successfully introduces touch screen (and gyroscope) for gaming. Project Natal and PS3 Motion Controller add more twist to gesture interfaces. Despite Microsoft's and Sony's efforts I expect to see more innovations in mobile regarding to point, touch and gesture. I also believe that this will be one area where games break out of the "games sector" and introduce playful interaction to other application areas as well. There are several examples already how simple game interactions have been utilized for example in advertising and information sharing. Entertaining and natural interaction is what is needed to navigate through vast amount of data and information.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Random thoughts of game business and funding

From me November was the month of funding. I was a member of the jury in Nordic Game Program (game development) and Live2011 project focusing on digital art projects. Both sessions made me to think of the gap between business knowledge (/business focus) and games development practices.

Nordic Game funds are given out in two rounds per a year. There were 84 applications on the second round of 2009 and eight applications eventually got funded. The level of applications was high and competition fierce as always. Even if the criteria has been the same for years already, the center of funded projects tends to change from a round to a round. Naturally this has a lot to do with the scale of projects submitted. Certain trends stand out on every round -- something it is location based gaming, other times casual iPhone or Facebook games or children's games. This round several innovative or experimental projects got funding including Kung-Fu Live (tracking players' movement with a camera), Rapture (collectable card game goes iPhone and Facebook), Uplause Crowd Game (massively multiplayer crowd playing game), Dream Machine (classic adventure with claymation style) and Pinball DJ (music interaction concept for handhelds and mobile). Besides those also few social games and MMOG were funded.

A couple of days after Nordic Game award gala I spend one day with Live2011 student projects. There the focus was more on digital art so necessarily no business values were expected but still games, web sites or animation projects submitted to the competition didn't seem to have any answer on how to monetize or fund the project -- except applying for grants, stipends or other cultural funds. That made me to think of ways to improve the business side of game industry. People have kept repeating for years already that game industry should be taken seriously. That it already is multi billion dollar business and employing thousands of people. Bigger than music or box office sales bla bla bla.

It is definitely more passion than business intelligence driven. There are lots of entrepreneurs doing their own share to enrich the range of games available. The founders of game companies often include designers and techies who started the companies because of passion. Many game developers work with games because they love games, games programming or game art. Not because they just need a job. The state of mind is very different compared with many other industries. This is also one weakness of game developers. Too often technical skills outreach business knowledge. Even companies developing brilliant games around the world fail just because of that. While possessing a great deal of enthusiasm and talent, they rarely share the same desire for negotiation, operations, finance, management or operations.

I would love to see the business side to flourish with the same creativity and passion seen in games. One way to do that is to aim higher. Even if the companies were founded amongst friends (with certain skills) to do something fun and hopefully beneficial, without business thinking or goal settings the dream can easily fall into pieces. This is often the result of a fact that the game industry has a higher than normal set of the right people in the wrong places.

So what there is to be done? There are lots of business opinions and ideas to be found from various books. Harvey Mackay in his book "Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt" outlined a formula for success. Success = focus + determination + goal setting and courage. I would add that success also has a lot to do with social connections, networking and practicing. And changing direction when needed. I feel this is something game developers should seriously consider if they want to keep up with the competition.