Where do games fit in the future of entertainment?

The game industry already rakes in billions every year. Is it a sign of the future, or will something else rise to take games’ place?

Nokia invited Anne to Finland for their inaugural Open Labs workshop. She will be running a workshop on the future of entertainment. Fellow presenters James Whatley, CT Moore, and Glenn Letham will run workshops covering “Neighborhood,” “Business/Work,” and “Connected Life.” If she can get her Nokia phone working in Finland (ha ha), she will be sharing what she learns via Twitter. If you happen to be in Helsinki, make sure to comment here if you’d like to meet up.

In the meantime, where do you think the future of entertainment lies? Which media do you think will win the big prize for dominance in the future? Will it be games? Or will user-generated content on sites like YouTube rule?

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Published in: on September 10, 2008 at 11:26 am  Comments (6)  

Comic-con 2008 and the quest for new IP

Think the intellectual property (IP) you choose doesn’t have a big impact on how your game does?  According to a recent Gamasutra article, lack of first-party IPs explains slow sales of the PS3.  Namco is ramping up its development of original IP.  So which IPs are the one to go for?  Well, you’re in luck.  At comic-con last week, I joined a feature creative exec in search of new intellectual property. 

I spent most of Thursday going from booth to booth, checking out the trends in comics.  The exec’s mandate was simple: no aliens, superheroes, or supernatural.  Not surprisingly, that was just about everything out there.  The descriptions all started out the same: “Joe is a mild-mannered X,” then the second sentence would be something about aliens.  If you’re developing original IP, you’ll be up against a heap of competition if you play in these types of worlds. 

No matter what IP you buy or develop, make sure to get out of the way of your fans.  As Will Wright said at comic-con, eventually your players are going to entertain you more than you entertain them.  You want to give them the tools to do so, then get out of their way. 

With the alien/sci fi, supernatural, and superhero genres covered in comics and games and the war genre pretty much covered in games, what storytelling genres do you think are underserved in games?

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Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 11:12 am  Comments (1)  

More story in the design: what you missed at ION 08

A few weeks ago we spoke at the ION Game Conference on Ready to go for the juggularStory vs. Story: Redefining Narrative and Player Engagement in MMOs. As shocking as it may seem, we actually weren’t the only ones talking about story and MMOs. Think story in MMOs is only for writers? Here’s what you may have missed.

BlackStar Designer Reinhart On Design Doc Alternatives
Reinhart uses a few tricks of the writing trade to make your game concepts more palatable to those who don’t like to read massive design docs. Check out the comments on this article.

Microsoft’s Hanna On The Fight For Shadowrun Audience
What I didn’t see in this article is how the entire game story was thrown out right around E3, so they had to rebuild it from scratch and in a hurry. Turns out you really do need to get buy-in from your fanbase on game story early and often. Who knew? Oh, we did 🙂

Hear ye, hear ye!Joe Ludwig on Pirates of the Burning Sea
Highlighted some of the interesting bits about Pirates of the Burning Sea — including an emphasis on storytelling for single players. How cunning! We almost forgive them for sharing our time slot at the conference.

A five year forecast for MMOs
Five years in the future you will find Scott Jennings and Damion Schubert. Who knew? Presentation covered business models and trends, but one take-home can be applied to storytelling: embrace your genre and learn to love the niche. Powerpoint!

I predict there will be increasing efforts to incorporate quality story into MMOs, because we’ve already seen that trend on published and up-coming MMOs. What do you predict for the future of MMOs and storytelling?

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Published in: on June 3, 2008 at 11:53 am  Comments (3)  

Digital Hollywood: can content help online games?

I’m attending Digital Hollywood today, a conference allegedly focusing on the intersection between Hollywood content and digital technology.  One panel particularly caught my attention, since we’ll be speaking next week at the ION Game Conference on a similar topic: “Innovation in Games, Game Networks and Social Gaming – Massive User Communities and Commerce.”  This panel brought to light how online communities and content can have an impact on each other, as well as pointing out a few more trends in the online space.

The online or social component of games is what makes them viral or “sticky.”  Gene Mauro of Bunchball discussed how the internet creates a new form of social status online.  People can invest in online communities and build equity online, the same way others might buy a BMW to gain status in the real world.  Chris Donahue, from a company that legitimately sells gold and other virtual goods online, noted that users ascribe value to his product, rather than it having any inherent value.  Of course, something like WoW gold has value in-game, but only if the user values the experience or status you get there. 

How does this tie in with story or content?  The developer behind NBC’s THE OFFICE virtual world/experience incorporates fans’ love of the show into an interactive, game-like experience.  Fans create video, mashups, and answer trivia to earn virtual bucks that buy merchandise.  Connection to the content reinforces the social status loop, which in turn reinforces the connection to the content.  While this example may seem like a fabulous reason to license existing properties, games have shown they can develop fans of original content as well. 

The biggest changes in MMOs especially will have an impact on community, story, and design.  While the subscription model of MMOs encourages and caters to the hard-core player, the free-to-play models work better for other types of players.  Would that mean fewer WoW-esque MMOs, both in terms of story and design?  Another trend online is the growth of asynchronous play, like with Scrabulous.  What impact will this have, if any, on MMOs, which historically encourage synchronous play?  What do you think?

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Published in: on May 8, 2008 at 12:18 pm  Comments (2)  

More from the 2008 Game Developers Conference

End of Day 2 at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, CA:

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Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

2008 – The Year to Redefine Game Writing

A writer’s job is to convey story, character and emotion — and 2007 has proven gamers are ready to take their story just about any way you can ship it. While more and more games are being complimented on strong story, few have pointed out how game writing itself is evolving. The term narrative design has been somewhat maligned, but clearly story, character and emotion can no longer solely rely on dialog. In 2008 we predict we’ll see not only a greater respect for game story, but more interesting and innovative ways to convey it.

Here are some 2007 games that pushed the envelope on narrative design:

Portal – Known for creating an endearing character out of an inanimate object

The Witcher – Players agonized over moral decisions with no clear answers.  Many clamored for more dialog rather than less.  Others tried repeatedly to safeguard a dog that followed the main character around for hours.

Sam & Max: Season One – Combined humor with a strong theme to keep players coming back for the next episode

Bioshock – Used art and the environment to tell the story

And of course, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) will premiere its first game writing award in 2008.  That, and the WGA strike is driving story-loving viewers right into the game industry’s arms.

These trends will put story in games front and center in 2008, so be ready!  Do you have good story and writing embedded in your game design? If not, what’s holding you back?

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Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The future of games: Original IP

Another day, another article about games based on movies. The licensed property seems to loom large in game development, while original IP (intellectual property) games often struggle to get made and sold. I’m going to go out on a limb to say that in the future, it’s not games based on licenses that will dominate, but original IP.

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Consider, for a moment, the curious case of Cartoon Network (CN). Once home to the TEEN TITANS series, Cartoon Network has since cancelled licensed series in favor of original series. According to one source, when DC’s comic DIAL H FOR HERO was pitched to CN, they rejected it. CN didn’t want to have to deal with another DC license. When the same concept was pitched as BEN 10, however, they went for it.* The lesson here is that Cartoon Network didn’t need the license to get the audience. They got it by following these three steps:

1. Bet on established creative talent. For the most part, CN isn’t making their executives come up with series concepts. BEN 10 was created by Man of Action, a group of comic book creators with a proven track record. Likewise in games, we already anticipate Will Wright’s SPORE, though incessant marketing hasn’t hurt either. In the future, working from the beginning with savvy, visionary writers who “get” games or designers will be smarter than licensing yet another movie, as long as you…

2. Create a distinct brand. You could never confuse Cartoon Network for Toon Disney. Likewise, even though they’re under the same umbrella, you would never confuse Pandemic for Bioware. Even though Bioware hasn’t done an MMO or science fiction, I believe, I know exactly what I’ll be getting from Bioware’s MASS EFFECT MMO because their writing, story-driven brand is so strong. A strong brand will help to:

3. Establish a built-in audience. CN, being a television channel, builds audience through programming strong lead-ins. TEEN TITANS helped build an audience and raise awareness for CN’s brand. Now that the job is done, CN can use past success to build new, original properties. The Internet has already provided the greatest opportunity for games to establish an audience through such casual game sites as PopCap.com and SOE leveraging its multiple MMOs.

If the game industry continues to leverage its audience, makes strides to establish company brands, and partners with established game-savvy creatives, the industry will be able to leave licenses behind. Or at least, stop relying on them like a crutch. What say you?

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Minsc in Bioware’s BALDUR’S GATE. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

* This may be an apocryphal story, so DC, please don’t sue Cartoon Network.

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Published in: on September 11, 2007 at 12:17 pm  Comments (2)  

Towards a Game Vernacular

In film, the screenplay is often thought of as the blueprint for the production. Very often, the screenwriter has nothing to do with the actual production. The director will comb through the script, thinking about different angles and shots. The producers may say sadly: We can’t afford that helicopter shot or those special effects. All the while, the script gets changed according to budget, time, and circumstances.

Sometimes, it’s more collaborative. The director is also writing and producing or they’re a team that has worked together before. They already know the limitations of the budget and time. The screenplay is written with forethought of these issues.

While the first scenario may bring to mind the way a game design document functions in game development, it certainly isn’t the standard for game writing. Much as it might delight me to see the story document reign supreme in game development, I would have to say the second scenario, while not an exact match, is closest to how writing is used in games.

Naturally, we hope that the writing will support the gameplay and that the gameplay will support the story. A game writer should understand interactivity just like we’d expect a screenwriter to understand the visual language of film. And since cinematics are in games, a game writer should have those screenwriting skills as well. If I were to pick the ideal situation, I’d want a writer who knew not to write beyond the limitations of the engine, i.e. I’d want a writer who understood game design issues. I’d want a writer with foresight to think about production in its entirety, about issues like localization and staying true to IP.

Only then will we make strides towards a game vernacular.

What do you think?

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Published in: on July 27, 2007 at 1:40 pm  Comments (1)