Grand Theft Auto IV

30 04 2008

Grand Theft Auto hit retail on Tuesday, and is expected to eclipse the launch of Halo 3 last year. GamesIndustry.biz reports that play.com was receiving 80 orders per minute on launch day (though it doesn’t specify how long for), and Jason Kingsley of Rebellion has spoken up for Britsoft:

“This is world’s biggest launch in the games market and the intellectual property is actually British made, he explained. “I think that’s fantastic. It should be celebrated.”

Mainstream press coverage has been surprisingly positive, if quite formulaic, with much of it devoting a lot of time to “Other forms of entertainment have sex and violence too”. This is old hat for game developers, but nonetheless a vital part of pushing this conceptual framework out into culture. Plenty of editors and writers, along with their audiences, could still do with having this point hammered home.

NPR have said many of the same things, but it’s by far the most thoughtful piece I’ve seen in this vein.

Edit: Richard Bartle has written a fairly crowing but pragmatically brutal piece for the Guardian:

They’re no more concerned about “moral decay” or “aggressive tendencies” or any of the other euphemisms for “ohmygod I don’t understand this” than you are about soap operas.

We’ve definitely hit a turning point in the cultural dialogue, with so many more things emerging that we can point to as “games”. Fears over videogame violence are soon going to seem as irrelevant and niche as the same fears over comics.





Games:EDU North

30 04 2008

08

Games:EDU North was yesterday, and I’ve posted a few talk summaries on the main website.

There are also photos on Flickr.

The overall dialogue of the day continued the process of settling conflicts between theoretical and vocational content in courses. We’ll be continuing this in Brighton on July the 29th.





Sega Racing Saved

25 04 2008

Sega Rally

A bit of good news for the UK industry today: Codemasters have stepped in to buy Sega’s racing studio, based in Birmingham. Codemasters were already big by standards anywhere outside of Montreal, but they’re on the way to being a behemoth now:

“taking over the Sega Racing Studio could take our development headcount over the 350 mark”





Lost Ring Sponsored by McDonalds

25 04 2008

The Lost Ring

This is quite a surprise: Beijing 2008 ARG The Lost Ring is sponsored by McDonalds. The NYT has a registration wall, so I suggest bugmenot, but here’s a highlight that conveys the gist:

“I think finding out that it was McDonald’s was kind of a big shock for everyone,” said Geoff May, a player in Ontario who founded a Web site (olympics.wikibruce.com) on the game. “Obviously it’s McDonald’s, and not everyone likes them,” he said. “Personally, I don’t mind as long as we don’t get products forced down our throat. If we’re getting McDonald’s meals sold by characters, it’s going to be hard to suspend our disbelief.”

That’s part of the reason McDonald’s has remained behind the curtain thus far. A successful alternate-reality game relies on the players’ continuing interest.

“If an A.R.G. is too clearly corporate or commercial, the gamers will not want to engage,” said Tracy Tuten, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who studies new-media marketing tools. “It’s very important that the game be written in a way where the branding is not obvious.”

McDonald’s has been careful to reflect that, Ms. Dillon said. “Above all, we want to be credible, authentic and respectful to this new audience,” she said.

As a recent academic report pointed out, marketing is now about relationships rather than transactions. There are still many large brands that don’t understand this, and McDonalds getting it took me unawares. I’ve a feeling that by the time ARGs are established, the reputations of more than a few brands will have been turned on their heads.





SCi Offer Rejected

25 04 2008

Much rumour around this, but SCi recently received a buyout offer. The scuttlebutt has cited Time Warner, Ubisoft and NBC as the potential buyers, but SCi have remained tight lipped, and news broke yesterday that they’d rejected the offer.

UK independent publisher ZOO Digital did just get bought up, by US based GreenScreen, a company just set up by the founders of Take 2.





Industry and Academia

24 04 2008

08

I linked the first part of an interview with new TIGA CEO David Wilson before, and the second part is now up at Develop. The whole thing is worth reading, but in this segment, he basically talks about some work Pixel-Lab has been doing for quite a while:

In terms of the skills and education issue, it’s another priority – partly because it’s key to encourage developers to have ties with universities. I know that there a large number of universities which offer some elements of video games – and I know a lot of them are criticised by the games industry. It’s worth saying that most sectors complain about the quality of graduates – that’s just a general complaint, but also there is some truth in that. The key is not to grumble, but work out how we can improve qualifications, and pass on best practices to the universities themselves.

Everyone says that the industry moves so fast – and it does – but that makes it vital that we have a dialogue with universities so they know what skills are needed.

And I suppose every game developer should be aware that people at universities aren’t preparing for one industry or another – we shouldn’t be expecting students to graduate and be ‘industry ready’. I think they should be capable of being employed in the industry – but we’ve got to bear in mind that anyone who comes out of a course requires additional training to get them up to par. That’s something we just have to accept.

So I suppose another great part of our working with Government means we can help tackle that perceived downfall in those studying maths and sciences in addition to making sure the quality of computer science degrees are up to scratch.

This is exactly what we’re doing, for the third year running, with GAMES:EDU:08, and we’ve noticed a marked improvement in the dialogue there. The first year, academics and developers griped at each other a lot about CS, Maths, and development skills, but in the second year we ran it, things had really changed. Many of those in attendance had a good understanding of those in the other camp and were beginning to work together. The climate is changing with more studios holding open days for academics and lecturers, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how things develop in Manchester and Brighton this year.





More Byron Review Fallout

24 04 2008

Conflicts

Industry lobbying of the UK government seems to be going up in frequency, with TIGA teaming up with their Austrlian equivalent, ELSPA speaking out again and Iain Livingstone voicing concerns.

Meanwhile, the European Commission have said the exact opposite of the Byron review about ratings: that PEGI needs to be strengthened and more deeply integrated with national rating systems. This continues to be an interesting part of the conflict, because the BBFC has greater brand recognition in the UK, but PEGI has greater applicability (and economy of scale) in the EU.

I’ve been used to the idea of “videogames” entering a state of flux for a long time, but to see so many different aspects of them doing so simultaneously seems remarkable.

(CC image by factoryjoe)





No Games BAFTAs in 2008

23 04 2008

Bafta

It’s been announced that this years game BAFTAs have been canceled. It makes sense, given that the October timeslot excluded a good many Christmas releases, and unreleased games were shortlisted last year.

Hopefully, they can make the awards more relevant. Outside of mainstream press, I’ve heard little but cynicism about them, one person going so far as to call them “A patronising pat on the head from old media”. Developers seem to care a lot more about the Game Developers Choice and Develop awards.

(CC image by Joffley)





PC Transitioning From CD-ROM to Broadband

17 04 2008

Discarded CD-ROM and floppy drives

Here’s the crux of publishing games for PC right now:

“Whether it really is all about piracy, or it just becomes the domination of consoles, or […] the ubiquity of gaming: there’s a way to get gaming so many ways now that thinking about the PC as a disc-based platform may in fact be old.”

I imagine those are pretty tough words for some publishers to get through, but it’s true: CD-ROM was a buzzword in the mid-nineties, and so was “multimedia” along with so many other now defunct terms. HD is (slowly) catching on, UK regulator OFCOM are talking about deploying optical fibre at reduced cost using existing utility conduits, private companies are planning to do the same with sewers, and broadband has already just about killed off commercial piracy in some quarters.

Some people I know at publishers claim that there will always be a market for physical product, and they’re probably right: Bandwidth can be at a premium in rural areas compared to cities, and some people really do like having each piece of media as a physical object (For instance, I have friends whose ongoing music collections are MP3s, but who also collect vinyl). What we don’t know is how big or small a niche each type of physical product will become: but “smaller” is the safe bet for most.

As consoles tilt toward HD formats and net connections a generation at a time, as a platform the PC is taking the same steps in a much more organic way. With boxed product sales shrinking and digital distribution (including web-based games) growing, the PC is in a transitional state. Unless something seriously upsets broadband development, or causes Blu-Ray to catch on for PC in a big way, it seems doubtful it will eventually settle back on disc based formats.

(CC image of discarded internal CD-ROM and floppy drives by Jeff Kubina)





Game Design: Scottish Curriculum

16 04 2008

\"wear science\"

An interesting move in Scotland: Game design skills are to be taught as part of the national curriculum there.

A drop in enrolment for university computing courses has resulted in a lack of qualified computer experts when the government wants Scotland to be at the forefront of a knowledge economy. Academics believe the fall is a result of the rise and fall of the dot.com industries.

Maureen Watt, Minister for Schools and Skills, said: “There is huge confidence that Scotland will continue to play an important part in the future of video games and interactive entertainment and we are focusing on establishing firm foundations for lifelong learning and, for some, specialised study and careers.

This seems ideal. Too many courses in the UK are crap, rebranded media courses with games tacked on to sex them up and boost enrollment. Somewhere near the end of their degree, it dawns on the third year students that they have no decent CS training and will probably not be able to get a job working in the industry.

It’s not in the interests of rubbish media courses to expose the nature of game development to prospective students, but “Oooh! Games!” really shouldn’t be such a big part of the decision making process for something as important as a university. Bad games courses are irresponsible with regard to student’s futures and the reputations of institutions.

A bad games degree can be rescued by a disciplined master’s degree, but few students follow that path. Given the age at which most of the UK’s bedroom programmers started to learn to code, it seems a very good idea to expose game development to people much earlier, thus letting kids either get it out of their system at an early age, or learn that they love games and will put in what they need to to become developers.

(Image from Wear Science!)