Digital Genres Six

Greg Costikyan is talking to us about games and business. Development budgets are increasing rapidly; he thinks this is driven by Moore’s Law (pumping polygons). A Doom level took about a man-day to build; a Doom III level takes more than 2 man-weeks. Tools aren’t advancing as quickly as the hardware.

Manufacturers feel they have no choice. They feear that consumers demand the highest-level, coolest graphics. Games are sold on the basis of demos and looks. Marketing departments run on the basis of feature lists. The sales channel is narrow. “The Industry” believes that technology sells.

Sales have increased, but not as fast as costs. Sales growth is a linear curve; the average game loses more and more money. And all this will only get worse.

The field is more and more hit-driven. Publishers will consolidate and publish more and more titles. Publishers will try to standardize (“like sports games”) with statistical, minor tech updates.

They’re trying to cut costs; they’re trying to alleviate risks; all games must be eligible to be a hit (“AAA titles”).

Developers won’t sell a game unless a marketers already knows how to sell it. Innovation thus can grow only a the margins.

Margins are squeezed, advances don’t recoup, you live from contract to contract, and developers have a hard time. . . . Greg fears the comic-ization of game design. The plasticity of game design oughtn’t be stifled.

Next up is Edward Castronova, who’s already notorious as the man who figured out the GNP of Everquest. He refers to online worlds as “synthetic”; he doesn’t like calling them “virtual” worlds (the term “virtual” is passé, and problematic).

What conclusions does Edward draw from this situation? This raises all sorts of political questions. The amount of financial assets at stake implies significant political energy. He’s presently analyzing whether two completely similar avatars — but who differ only in gender —differ also in eBay price. He tracks commodity prices in Norrath on his website. He makes the provocative comparison between physical-world governments and the administrators of online games.

Jesper Juul is getting his laptop connected for his dpresentation, “On the affinity between computer and games.” He takes as his point of departure four big questions: Why play computer games? What is a game? Games as rules vs. games as worlds? What is relation between computer games and other contemporary media/other things?

Why play computer games? Well, we play games all the time; why not do it with computers? Different games, different reasons. Why do games fit computers so well?

Jesper goes over a classic game model. It involves rules, variable outcomes, values assigned to outcomes, player effort, outcome associated with player, and optional consequences. He’s now parsing modes of play into “games,” “not games,” and “borderline cases.”

He thinks that the classic game model was broken by 1970’s (perhaps by pen and paper role-playing); quanitfiable outcome doesn’t apply to Doom; value assigned to outcome changed with SimCity, and its siblings; player effort may not have changed; but MMRPG changes the effects of consequences.

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