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March 20, 2009

Games...the last generation

A fascinating evening tonight - seeing various industry bods aggregate around Nolan 'I set up Atari' Bushnell's Bafta tribute talk. It was also nice to see who *wasn't* at SXSWi.

He made some very shrewd observations though. Particularly as it became obvious that behind his benign father-figure stylings there was more than a touch of P T Barnum.

One theory that particulary resonated was about the change of video games during the mid to late 80s. In the early 80s, his spiel went, games were things that a lot of people played just a little bit. Then two things happened:

1) the 'continue' feature was added, where you could put in another coin and carry on playing when you died...which meant games got harder
2) shooting, fighting, crashing games pushed more of (1)'s buttons, so they got more violent.

Put them together and instead of getting a small amount of money from everyone, with approachable games (around 55% he says), the industry moved towards getting the same amount of money from hardcore gamers (about 8%).

But, and this is where the industry hits a bit of a problem, many of the people who now set the benchmarks of what is a good game where part of that move towards the 8%. Those were their classic days. And even now, this is what they see 'proper' gaming as being.

Similar things happen in music TV. There's a lot of TV execs whose glory days were when punk was just breaking onto the scene - so to them, that's 'proper' music. Hence it being far easier to get a documentary away on Malcolm McLaren than on Duran Duran or Moloko. The latter just don't hit these people's sweet spot. Similarly, on the radio, there's a lot more time given over to post-punk guitar bands than I think the public really want - because that's what the elder people who make the programmes most like.

So the question, as I see it, is how can games step outside the hardcore gaming territory? How can it forget those difficult teenage years so that making playful cooperative experiences for the Wii isn't seen as 'dumbing down' or 'selling out'?

80% of boardgames are bought by women to recreate the hearth, Bushnell says.

How can I motivate my most creative brains to want to do the same?

Posted by Tom Dolan at March 20, 2009 12:26 AM


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