News Stories Jobs Contact

The turn of the delivery platforms

Feb. 15, 2008

In the last few years the video game market has become more and more segmented in terms of delivery platforms: rental and sale of boxed products is now offered alongside digital distribution on PC and on consoles, delivery on mobile devices and web platforms. As many new formats and distribution channels are becoming available, one of the challenges facing developers and publishers is to promptly understand audience composition for the different channels, to direct products to the right platforms, and to shape content according to the channel's audience and capabilities. In some cases different channels are co-existing on the same system, such as digital distribution platforms on video game consoles, and things can get quite complicated in terms of demographics and product design.
A good example is the Xbox 360, which supports both boxed products and digital downloads. In terms of boxed products, according to VG Chartz the most successful titles to date are Halo 3, Gears of War, Call of Duty 4, Forza Motorsport 2, and Assassins Creed. On the other hand, the five games that have produced the highest revenues on the Xbox Live Arcade service so far are: Texas Hold'em, Bankshot Billiards 2, Uno, Undertow, and Carcassonne. The discrepancies between the two lists are quite apparent. For instance, all of the top 5 boxed products are intellectual properties originated in the video game industry, while this is not the case for the Xbox Live Arcade titles. Moreover, the downloadable products seem to belong to a wider variety of genres compared to the boxed games. Finally, four out of five Xbox Live Arcade titles - and none of the boxed games - are somehow turn-based. This is quite remarkable: the two lists seem to diverge rather drastically, and yet they refer to two different delivery channels offered on the same console, and most probably to a very similar audience.
Clearly, subtle differences in consumer expectations, price point, demographics, delivery methods, and marketing strategies can determine the success or failure of a game, and as such they should be taken into account when conceiving a video game product. However, traditional product design processes in the video game industry do not strictly interface such concerns with game design and technology considerations. In the increasingly complex video game market, developers and publishers able to wire together all the facets of video game production will have the benefit of a clear competitive edge.

Link this

Video game subjects

Oct. 29, 2007

Henry Jenkins has recently interviewed (interview part 1 and interview part 2) David Hutchison, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, Ontario, Canada. The interview's topic is the relation between school, games, and teaching, and Hutchison discusses discussing some of the ideas presented in his latest book, Video Games in the Classroom.
The literature on video games and school is now quite broad, but usually the debate is primarily concerned with teaching methods. The central issues in this debate are questions such as 'Can interactive media offer an educational model different from that of book-based education?', or 'What is the role of the teacher in a media-dominated pupil's life?' - and the outcome of this debate is often focused on endorsing hybrid genres and interactive formats such as interactive edutainment.
Hutchison, however, puts forward a different point of view, in which video games are not teaching methods, but rather subjects: "My book is more focused on traditional teaching and learning techniques in which the video game is studied as a cultural artifact, rather than 'lived through' as an embodied pedagogical experience. Activities which ask students to write a video game review or analyze the leaderboard statistics for a driving game in math class, for example, are fairly approachable by most teachers. They essentially treat the video game as a manipulative that can be utilized as a pedagogical tool by teachers in a wide variety of subject areas."
Hutchison's approach entails two distinct and equally important points.
First, video games and interactive media are a very relevant contemporary cultural form, and they ought to be studied in school. As trivial a statement as it might seem, a clear affirmation of video games' cultural status is welcome news nonetheless.
The second point relates on how the problem of presenting video game culture in schools should be tackled. Hutchison suggests that games can be explored 'from the outside'. Students take on the role of video game critics, and in some cases video game designers, to actively analyse these cultural artifacts. Instead of merely playing games or being taught the history of 8-bit classics, students are stimulated to reflect on games and to approach them critically and creatively. The interesting outcome of this model is that video game culture is embraced by school in a dynamic way, and school time does not clash with free time; for instance, evening's playing sessions are material for next day exercises and analysis at school. The history of the games is well recorded in a variety of books, but what is now crucial to pass on to students is video game culture, that is, the tools to analyse and understand their game-playing activities. This approach would certainly train a more analytically-minded generation of game designers and, on the larger scale, it would promote a much healthier and responsive video game audience. Game developers will have to rethink some of the current development strategies and design methods, though, because such an audience will not be easily pleased.

Link this

MotoGP: TV and game interfaces

Oct. 4, 2007

While mutual remediations between cinema and games have been studied quite extensively, remediations between games and TV are still somehow off the radar. In any case, examples are many, and for every FIFA that remediates the visual grammar of TV football, you have MotoGP and Formula1 TV imagery that is striving to achieve the iperkinetic visuals of the respective games simulations.
As in it can easily seen on TV sequences posted on YouTube (here is a hot lap in Laguna Seca, and here another one in Assen), TV is trying hard to place cameras on the vehicles frames (sometimes adding custom-made appendices - talk about remediation between TV events and the real thing) to emphasize the sense of speed and of reckless danger. Video games have it easier, of course, because digital cameras do not need any physical support - but conversely the problem of how to convey "danger" in a computer simulation is still not solved.
TV overprints and HUD are also a remediation of video game HUDs: after all, video game interface designers have faced for decades the problems of how to create ad-hoc interfaces and organise information for the user. Time to give something back.

Link this

All your babes are belong to us!

July 16, 2007

A report by Screen Digest, a UK-based analyst group, suggests that "Of DS gamers in Europe 54% are female (compared with 40% for PSP)". Both figures are quite impressive, if compared to general opinion on video gaming as testosterone-induced activity. But they also call into question general issues such as how can gender-specific media consumption be analysed, how can gender-specific game content be created (and more importantly: should all games targeted at females display a pink-centred colour scheme?), or if and how female-oriented content can be created by largely male-dominated game dev studios.
In any case, the raw figure of female players on handheld consoles does not reveal what consumption patterns are in place for these demographics, and in general it's just the sign of a presence that still needs full acknowledgment - let's do it.

Link this

Best Next-Gen Game? "Brain Training", Says Will Wright

March 12, 2007

During the "Future of Games" speech at Bafta (click here for the transcript), game design supremo Will Wright acknowledged Brain Training/Brain Age as the best game in recent times. Wright praised the game's accessibility, its ability to seduce and include non gamers, as well as its narcissist side: the over-exposed subject of the game is the player.
In fact, Brain Training does not rely uniquely on the "let's make a game that measures and trains player's intelligence" idea. On the contrary, it's quite sophisticated in the way it includes all users. First of all, player time and game time are the same, so that the player does not have to enter a different time when accessing the game. Nor the player has to enter a different space, because the screen surface (and the fact that the DS is opened vertically, as a book) resembles that of a printed product, something that everybody is used to. Also, player is rewarded for short playing sessions, while there is no extra reward for longer sessions - contrary to the 'the more you play, the more you get' hardcore motto. In terms on content, the game features proper tests, but also less intense trainings, and even simple exercises with no right/wrong outcome, so that the player can easily customise his or her game experience within the large space between performance-driven and leisure-driven activities.
Brain Training's subtleties show how to design a game experience for a very large and diverse audience is not a simple effort towards removing 'hardcore' complexities. It is rather an endeavour towards building a sophisticated and consistent game experience that often requires re-discussing some fundamental game design concepts.

Link this