Four Key Trends in Game Development
Games have transcended their fundamental role of entertainment and graduated into influential branding tools. The game industry too is advancing at a rapid pace, both in terms of technical innovation and sales. A snapshot of the scene today will reveal the evolution of the industry, where game development teams comprise of over a hundred full-timers working as programmers, artists and level designers. Equally large teams exist for quality assurance, support, and marketing. With production budgets of over $5-10 million, the rising cost of developing games is putting publishers under immense pressure to ensure multi-platform releases for maximum Return on Investment. Read on about the trends shaping 2010 to be one of the most interesting and action-packed years in gaming.
Social Gaming: Moving Beyind Facebook
2009 saw more than 70 million active monthly users for games like Farmville on the social networking site Facebook. The 'social game' explosion drove Electronic Arts, a multi-billion dollar game publisher, to buy out social game developer PlayFish for USD $275 million (whose one million fans on Facebook was a strong indication for their popularity). Now let’s put this social gaming business into perspective.
If you consider the total sales of all gaming consoles worldwide it still pales in comparison with Facebook’s 350 million user base. But social gaming is expanding outside the likes of Facebook in 2010. Zynga, SGN and other companies who have bene developing games that run on Facebook are moving to the iPhone.
Developers are strongly considering the option to have standalone web versions of their games in order to retain more control over them and promote them outside of Facebook (like Pet Society or Farmville did). If you believe this is a bad move by the publishers and that their games are popular because of social networking sites, note that the growth of Facebook in Asian countries is partly due to social games because the majority of users register primarily to play. So expect a cross-platform social games explosion.
iPhone: The Torchbearer of Mobile Gaming Devices
Social game developers and major publishers are increasingly looking towards Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch. Both these products answered the mobile gaming industry’s grievances by providing competent hardware specifications, a unified SDK and a fool-proof online monetizable application store.
Electronic Arts veteran Neil Young, co-founder of iPhone-exclusive publisher NGMOCO, called the iPhone an 'all-encompassing, complete device' that will 'enable incredible things for gaming' -- including creating brand new game developers attracted to the ease of development on the platform. "The iPhone has revolutionized everything," he says.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG)
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG games) are a specific group of games played by a very large number of people over the Internet. The advantage of MMORPGs from a publisher’s point of view is they are browser-based games and are compatible even with low-specification PCs. This creates a massive pool for a target base. A company's advantages in developing MMORPGs is that the devlopment time is comparatively short, the server operation and publishing costs are lower. All these factors played in favor of browser-based games in 2009 and they are well poised to continue in the years to come.
You may ask why multiplayer games need an extensive mention as a 2010 trend. Well here’s the reason. The gaming industry is nothing short of being uniquely responsive. If it smells a hit, chances are you will see a dozen copies before the trend bites the dust. Modern Warfare 2 and Left for Dead 2 were two of the biggest titles of the 2009 (both multi-platform) and accounted for a significant percentage of all the online volume across the industry. Millions of users are plugging in everyday for a small dose of mayhem. The games are certified hits and the studios which developed them -- Infinity Ward and Valve, respectively -- are raking in the moolah. So expect more MMORPG launches this year.
Both Sony and Microsoft have announced peripherals this year. Microsoft looked into the controller-less future with Project Natal and Sony improved upon existing technology. Microsoft has not announced a release window for its project but Sony hopes to get a head start by aiming for a Spring 2010 release date. Sony says the controller unit will be supported by first and third party developers. It will also work with the PlayStation Eye camera by allowing the use of up to four wand controllers at one time. And yes, the wand controller will vibrate.
The traditional hand gesture to say ‘videogame’ has been the bent-thumb-fist. Very soon that will be a thing of the past. This was apparent with the advent of Nintendo’s ‘wiimotes’ in 2006 but now more so with Project Natal, which eliminates all hand controllers and uses a camera to track a user's movements via full skeletal mapping. It also recognizes voices and vocal commands.
“You are the controller," Shane Kim, Microsoft's vice president of strategy and business development for videogames, said in an interview in Los Angeles. "That's a very powerful piece of technology -- full body gesture tracking, not just two hands.”
Project Natal works by recognizing 31 separate body parts to within four centimeter cube and it recognizes just about any movement or body position in less than 10 milliseconds. These figures are far less impressive when compared to advanced Hollywood motion detection system but they should be accurate enough for gamers and save them the embarrassment of a spandex suit.
So it is looking more and more like both Project Natal -- so far dated for a holiday 2010 release -- and the Sony controller could get their final names, release dates and prices announced this summer and take gaming to a whole new dimension.
Game development is taking on a new form altogether, breaking all conventions by placing a heavy foot on the innovation pedal. This is definitely an exciting phase for both developers and end users.
Learn Up: Keeping up with Change
In order to seek competence to grab a share in the $43 billion global gaming development pie, game professionals need to keep themselves constantly updated. The Director of Content Management at NVIDIA, Keita Iida, is speaking about the technology and market trends in game development at India GDS, in Bangalore on 27 February. A video game historian Keita has been honored by Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard for his contributions in raising awareness of the cultural significance and historical importance of electronic entertainment.
With the mission to build a robust community, advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers, IGDS 2010 (Lite Ed) is being organized to pump the blood of Indian game developers and re-invigorate the ecosystem at large. India GDS is the quintessential Indian game industry event focused on inspiring, connecting and educating the Indian game developer ecosystem. Featuring top-notch keynotes from luminaries, visionaries and gaming gurus on various subjects from mobile and indie games to MMOs and AAA games, IGDS will also provide a hub for business and networking opportunities in the Indian industry. India Game Developer Summit will be held Saturday, 27th February in Bangalore. For more information, visit the summit on the Web: http://www.gamedevelopersummit.com.