The second day at MiGS was pretty good. I attended a session called “Every Click Counts” by David Sirling. Following the idea that the less clicks a player has to make to enter (or play) a game, the better – more engaging/interactive – the player experience will be. The bulk of the presentation was pre-recorded demonstrations of games that had too many clicks (Resident Evil 5, Burnout) in comparison to examples of games that had the right amount of clicks to play (Tony Hawk, Braid). In terms of a usability talk – it was very interesting. I only wish that there was a bit more depth to it, perhaps offering suggestions on how the ‘good’ games accomplished the right amount of clicks, and where the bad games could improve. Nonetheless, it was an engaging session that really made me think about how many clicks it takes me to do just about anything.
The early afternoon keynote talk was given by Valve’s Jason Holtman (Games Entertainment in the Age of Connectivity). It was another engaging talk about the business end of video games and the connected universe. What does this mean to old business models of distribution, moving the customer (and service) front and center as players/users become more savvy (and bombarded with choices) and the changing nature of game design as something that ended when the game shipped to an ongoing process with patches and new downloadable content. Holtman discussed how this new connected business model has changed the nature of profits as well. Where once a game shipped, there was a sales peak that inevitably dwindled – whereas with connected games (via Steam in his examples), games could have revivals through additional content and innovative, in-game events. This talk nicely intertwined with Jason’s talk on day 1 about risk in game design. This new connected (w/dlc) model allows designers to take more risks as it is a process that is more fluid, mistakes can be corrected through player communication (message boards, etc) and designer response.
Finally I attended the concluding keynote – Meaningful Mass Market – given by Chris Hecker. I really loved this talk! Starting out talking about what mass market really means in response to the claims that “video games make more money than movies”. These claims talk about revenue and not units (which according to Hecker, two different things) and once these numbers are held against films over the century, the video game numbers pale in comparison – etching out the idea that what the media (and industry) consider mass market is limiting. One of the things that differentiate these two mediums is the range of choice – where film wins hands down. This range opens the scope of spectatorship in a way that videogames do not currently offer.
The talk expanded into outlining some of the trappings of the current video game market (and design), and what will happen if the industry is not careful in the approaching years of development. Comparing video games to the early beginnings of film and the comic book – both of which came out during the same time period, and had equal opportunity to flourish (actually, comics were ahead – in terms of mass market appeal, in the beginning). Hecker described why (and how) films managed to surpass comics to become one of the most engaging, and mass marketed forms of entertainment and what lessons the industry need to learn from this cautionary tale.
Hecker believes that the industry has not learned to push the boundaries of the medium yet – that it must be careful not to simply create intricate interactive films and consider the ways that representation, action and narrative can act differently in video games (over other medium) and how these things influence the player experience. He iterated that in order for video games to build a success akin to film, it must really begin to consider issues surrounding the human condition and ways to draw us in to deeper experiences.
I have a lot less notes from this talk, since Hecker was engaging, hilarious at times, and most importantly, convincing. I have to say, it felt like a manifesto that made me want to jump up and start making games that engage the human condition – and for me, this is a long ways away from what I do!
Overall, the sessions I attended and the meet and greets (and catching up with colleagues) I got to attend, I have to say, it was a great two days and look forward to next year.