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The Future of Console Gaming

part 1/page 4


   With that said, outside of the smaller exceptions, most game developers are either self taught from writing simple games on their home computers when they were a kid (something that is seen less and less these days since most computers come with no built in programming language or compiler), or they learned on the job when they were hired into the industry. A very common story among game programmers even today is one where their first job was as a "beta tester" (someone who plays games to find bugs as a full-time job), and then they slowly moved up through the company until they became a programmer, learning the necessary skills to program games over the course of their job advancement.

   Then we have the commerce side of the picture. This segment has always been driven by a minority of loud spoken 16-24 year old males. Individuals who are the primary workforce in the retail outlets and for the industry media publications who frequently push sales and opinions of a product not based on what the consumers want or need, but based strictly upon their own personal likes and biases. This makes it difficult for anyone outside of that demographic who isn't well informed about what they want to make appropriate purchases. This in turn creates a feedback loop where good or not, a specific type of game gets sold, there-by establishing that that is the only kind of game that people want to buy, which in turn causes more games of a specific type to be created. This one problem alone is as serious as any other problem in the industry, and is an issue that prevents the industry from fully maturing outside of its current niche sets of game styles.

   A good example of this would be Christmas of 1998. I encountered a number of parents who purchased PlayStations for their 5-10 year olds based on the recommendations of the staff of many retail gaming software stores. These parents were now looking for quality childrens games to buy, but didn't know where to turn for advice. The reality that set in with these people soon became that, contrary to what the popular gaming press says, kids gaming on the PlayStation is a dismal affair.

   What few games there are, frequently are either not much more than platform games derived from a common game engine (ie, multiple games that are identical except for the graphics). Or, games based on the license of a movie/TV show aimed at children. These licensed titles almost always fall into one of two categories. The first are games with a far higher skill requirement than most children posses, or second, games that are so mindless that they almost insult the children who are trying to play them due to a reliance on nothing but rote repetition.

   Remember, almost all game testing is done by this same 16-24 year old demographic that is both reviewing the games in the press and selling the games at the stores. If these people come back to the publisher and say the game is too easy, then it will likely be made harder. Sure I know that all of you PlayStation fans are going to scream bloody murder at this, but first party Nintendo corporate titles for the various Nintendo systems over the years have always been a better target for child gamers due to the fact that there is rarely questionable content for a parent to worry about in the games, and that the games have "graduated" skill levels. Meaning that all of the games usually start out easy and progress in difficulty as you advance through the game, building on skills learned at an earlier point. As well as requiring players to use reasoning skills to logic out the solutions to puzzles that increment in difficulty over the course of a game. This gives even the most novice player the chance to accomplish at least something in the game during a play session. It also allows any player to work through a game and feel an honest sense of accomplishment when they have solved it. This isn't an attack against the PlayStation, but it is a fact that most PlayStation games just do not appeal to nor are they appropriate for children.

   Yes, this description begins to paint an image of a very dysfunctional industry. But it is this very dysfunctionality that you need to understand. Because once you understand that, you can better grasp why the games we see in the market get to stores the way they are.

To be continued...



1 - "Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames (2nd edition)" by, Leonard Herman
published by Rolenta Press, 1997, ISBN 0-9643848-2-5
2 - "Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars,
     and Enslaved Your Children" by David Sheff
published by Random House, 1993, ISBN 0-679-40469-4
     (For an alternate view on the Atari/Tengen vs. Nintendo story, take
     a read through this interview with Ed Logg at "|tsr's NES archive".)
3 - "Developers Corner: Hollywood Logic: Sequels and Licenses" by Joe Sislow
GameWeek, August 1st, 1998, (cached)
4 - "Soapbox: It's Ready When it Ships" by Derek Smart
Game Developer, January 1999, pg. 72
5 - For more information on indie GameBoy development check:
GameBoy Development News
GameBoy Advanced Development
GameBoy Development Mailing List Resource (how to subscribe/unsubscribe)
Jeff Frohwein's GameBoy Tech Page

(These links may be updated as time permits.)

For more historical stories, check out "Classic Video Games Literature List"
for a list of additional places to explorer. You can find it in two places:
our local mirror, or its permenant home.

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