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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Golden Age Of Games

After spending a weekend recovering from a sore shoulder playing tennis on my Wii, blowing away some novice in a MMOG, enjoying a competitive round of Scrabble, playing a few hands of poker along with a million other players on Zyanga's Facebook poker app, throwing sheep at and buying drinks for my friends in Facebook, setting up my virtual space in Sims and then spending the rest of the day working with a group of developers building the next generation casual multiplayer platform called AllwinGo I started to wonder what is going on in the world of games. They are everywhere and new ones are appearing on a regular basis.

The numbers associated with gaming are staggering:
So what is going on! There was a time when everyone played a standard stock of games; bingo, monopoly, mahjong, hearts, poker, twister, etc. We now find ourselves in an environment that has us playing games we never would have though off. My first reaction was to ask the question have we redefined what a game is? Did something happen that has broadened our notion of a game?

To refresh my memory I went back to a presentation given at a conference by Amy Jo Kim. Amy runs a game development company called Shuffle Brain. Her games are innovative and she struck me as a real student on the theory and practice of games.

What is a game?
  • Has a static set of rules.
  • Has the potential to have a winning outcome.
  • Has a prize or reward structure.
  • A player can constantly improve their game play(skill).
  • Players have a relative position to other players(status).
  • Has a community of players to engage in play.
  • Relative positions changes based on play and new player participation.
  • It is fun to play!
When you take these elements into consideration it becomes clear that all of the newly minted games are in fact "games". The question is why are we seeing such a massive creation of new games?

Clearly the electronic age has provided us with new platforms and new environments to experience game play. However, television and radio have been with us for some time and they have not generated the level of creativity and volume that we are currently seeing in games.

There is something about the world of PC's, Consoles and the Internet that is creating a New Age Of Gaming. What is new and different?
  • New Building Blocks - These new environments/platforms come along with a new set of tools that let you create games in new, fast and easy ways.
  • Availability - Games of all kinds are made available to people regardless of geography.
  • Anonymity - Face to face play is unnecessary. So even if you are a bad player no one will know who you are. This makes the barrier of entry lower for games allowing people to gradually improve their play. People become more likely to try things they would not normally try.
  • Alter Ego - The ability to adopt a specific personality associated with a certain game is in itself a game. For some reason our ability to adopt a new identities appears to be human nature.
  • New Connections - Multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft, Poker, etc. are seeing very large numbers of players engage in play. The Internet facilitates player connections allowing people to reach out into a larger pool of gamers. This becomes self perpetuating.
  • Ease of Access - It is almost effortless to participate in a online game. The barrier of entry is low and the commitment very low.
  • Socializing - Many of the new games have a social spin to them. The game itself becomes a social experience where you can engage existing friends and associates and establish new personal relationships.
  • Virtual Adventure - To a certain degree experiencing a new game is like taking a trip or vacation. Games become a fun and inexpensive way to meet new people and experience new environments.
  • Significant Prizes - You can win significant prizes in terms of money and or virtual points in the new age.
  • Virtual World - The virtual world is unique providing a new and different experience. This invigorates traditional games and creates new and exciting environments to explore.
So when will this all end? When will these elements cease to drive the growth in numbers and time spend playing these games? When will the creativity slow down? When will we get to a point where we are satisfied with the games that we have?

Well I do not have an answer and in my heart I hope we continue on this creative path. It is just really exciting to experience all of these new games. However, there are certain historical trends that give us a hint to how the "Golden Age Of Games" might come to an end.

  • Monopoly - No not the classic game but the tendency for all social/financial systems to coalesce if change is not introduced into the ecosystem. Eventually, we could see a set number of games in certain domains emerge as the big games attracting the majority of players.
  • Growth In New Players - Currently we are still seeing large segments of the world population adopting electronic media as an everyday means to communicate and interact. When most of us are connected and have chosen our preferential games the creativity engine could slow down.
  • Fades and Fatigue - Are these new games and ways to play games a novelty that have real staying power? Eventually, we could become bored with certain classifications of games.
  • Information Overload - At some point the shear volume and our ability to keep up with new introductions may reach a threshold.
In conclusion, I am optimistic that technology will continue to drive new ways to experience and create games. The current crop of popular games might decrease in popularity but there will be new game experiences to replace them.

The worlds population continues to grow so more potential players will be available to play.

Social responsibility games are long overdue and will be the next big growth market in games. Currently, most of the games we play are narcissistic and self serving. Adding the element of helping others through game play will give us all a new reason to play the existing crop of games and create a new genre of games.

Play On!!

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