Some thoughts on games & culture – part 1

I’ve been asked to give a presentation on the cultural influence (although that’s not a perfect descriptor) of games in a few weeks and I thought I’d share my thinking on this (large) topic in a series of posts here, including the state of things, education, IP, how other mediums deal with their creative culture, the bleeding of games into other forms, and whatever else crosses my mind.

First up is to establish a bit of where we are, which was triggered by this post We’re not the clever country if we’re not a creative country on The Punch. It’s a look at the impact creative industries have on the economy, with a specific focus on games and the Interactive Skills Integration Scheme, and it got me thinking about a couple of things. In this post I want to look at some of the influences on our local industry in 2010 and the role of education.

As described in the article:

the severe impact of the global financial crisis on the Australian games industry demonstrated both its dependence on international opportunities and its consequent volatility.

The GFC has affected more than just games, and is part of a wider trend across all entertainment media – as described in the economist article A World of Hits

It’s not the whole story though, as illustrated by this article on how the strength of the dollar is affecting the film industry. The VFX houses presented here mirror the same model of work as the majority of the local games industry – work for hire on overseas production. Notice as well that the film industry here is calling for government assistance – something I’ll touch on in a later post.

In addition to this aspect though, there is also the perceived quality of Australian titles and the amount of original IP created. I’ve already written about this issue here, here, and here. These numbers are slightly out of date and don’t contain the recent local high profile success stories, but they do demonstrate the trend of how many original titles the local industry has produced in the past decade, as well as the overall trends in ratings.

Now, this article is correct in that some studios are making the move towards less work for hire and more digital distribution, according to the numbers, the amount of original IP titles has been fairly constant, even as there has been constant commentary that this is the direction we should be taking and at the same time as the overall number of titles has increased dramatically. This raises the quesions: what do existing studios need to do in order to best shift into original IP development? And what do we mean by original IP anyway? This last question at least, I’ll be looking at in another post, but for now, lets consider the solution the article puts forward – the role of education and the education / industry connection.

In the world established by the article, a world of studios shifting away from work-for-hire and emphasizing digital distribution of original titles, what should the role of education be? Are studios, in a time of flux, best placed to set the parameters of education? Are students entering the courses now going to graduate into the same industry as we have today? Are the skills they learn over their 3-4 years going to help them in that changed industry? If we’re looking at building a creative culture, with a greater focus on new and more innovative game projects, do we have a solid foundation to properly understand the skills to foster that?

I’m not sure.

We’ve had some high profile successes from, amongst others, Infinite Interactive, Firemint, and Halfbrick, but those games are far and away the minority if you look at the numbers, and as such are far outweighted in their employment abilities by studios traditionally focused on work-for-hire.

So, in this shifting world, what is the best outcome for everyone? And how do we build the sort of culture that fosters creative thought & original projects?

Existing cultures are notoriously difficult, but not impossible, to change, requiring huge effort and force of will, so maybe we do start with the students, but instead of looking at the unclear needs of an ever-changing industry, we should look at imbuing students with the skills to develop their own ideas and reach out to potential markets, encouraging greater experimentation along with a sense of creative entrepreneurship, an awareness of the creative opportunities, and better use of middleware and the growing ability to reach your audience through social media and digital distribution.

Coming up: the role of IP, performing arts, and some thoughts on Flower and Heavy Rain.

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on games & culture – part 1”

  1. You’ve probably already seen this NY Times article, but I’m posting a link here just in case!

    The article describes the ‘Quest to Learn’ project. I’ve put in some quotes below to describe it as I am too lazy to write a proper description!

    “…now beginning its second year, with about 145 sixth and seventh graders, all of whom were admitted by a districtwide lottery. (The intention is to add a grade level each year until it is a 6th-through-12th-grade school)”

    “What makes Quest to Learn unique is not so much that it has been loaded with laptops or even that it bills itself expressly as a home for “digital kids,” but rather that it is the brainchild of a professional game designer named Katie Salen. Salen, like many people interested in education, has spent a lot of time thinking about whether there is a way to make learning feel simultaneously more relevant to students and more connected to the world beyond school. And the answer, as she sees it, lies in games.”

    “Quest to Learn is organized specifically around the idea that digital games are central to the lives of today’s children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration.”

    Not sure exactly where it might fit into your upcoming presentation, but I thought that, even aside from that, you’d be generally interested anyway!

    Wendy :)

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