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Polarity

posted on August 2nd, 2006 by matt

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

If you ever asked yourself why video games were invented, you probably answered that the original creators just wanted to have fun. And, in fact, you’d be correct. The very first video game was created in 1958 by a scientist named William Higinbotham to let people have a little bit of fun at a science fair in Long Island, NY. The fair was mostly centered on nuclear theories and revelations, but Higinbotham thought it made the exhibit a bit scary for the general public, so he made what is now known to be the very first video game: Tennis for Two.

Suffice to say, it was a hit at the show. People were amazed that they could control something on a screen (which was actually a 3-inch radar screen). After the exhibit ended, however, Higinbotham broke the machine down and never really thought he was onto something special. However, the video game industry that we have today was born out of something completely different: greed.

Nolan Bushnell was the one who truly created the home video game market with his “creation,” Pong. He took someone else’s idea/game and just made it viably profitable (it wasn’t stealing, though, so don’t misquote me). Bushnell might be a very smart businessman, but giving people a good time wasn’t his intent. He just wanted to make money. Pong was originally an arcade game developed by Bushnell and his only programmer, but it grew so popular that Bushnell saw that it would sell like hot-cakes if people could buy it for themselves to play at their homes. And he was right. Pong became extremely popular and set everything off. That was the beginning of what we now call the video game industry.

President Bush commends Ralph Baer for his efforts in destroying American morality.

There are two different stories on how video games were created. So, what is the point of the video game industry? Is it for the love or the money? You can easily argue for either side without coming to a real conclusion. Most of you would probably say that the companies developing them are employed with interactive artists, and that they want to give you an experience ripe with the sheer feeling of joy and exhilaration that you can’t find anywhere else.

But in reality, video game companies are just that, companies. They have pay-rolls, they have rent to pay, and they have deadlines. A business creates a profit from some sort of product or service to pay for their expenses, with a little extra on the top to keep growing. We would love to hear that the people making the games are making them to give players a great time, but it’s probably not true. That’s why you see companies gobble up movie, TV, and book licenses like there‘s no tomorrow. They know they are going to turn a profit, no matter how crappy the game is. This issue has existed for as long as video games have been around. Just look at E.T. for the Atari 2600.

What’s really troubling is that no one can agree with each other on where to guide the industry or answer that original question. Do you solely create games that can become stable franchises for years to come, making the company continual income and drowning the market with sequel after sequel? Most financial analysts would love that. Or do you do it for the gamers and that passion that so many of us have?

Mark Rein

Examples that don’t give us a clear indication of the answer are seen in news stories almost daily. Mark Rein of Epic says episodic content is completely useless from a business standpoint. Tell that to Valve who have had nothing but complete success with the recently released Half-Life 2: Episode One, hitting number one in PC charts all over the world. And tell that to everyone else that had a lot of fun playing Episode One, and for only $20. Why wait another six years to see Gordon Freeman back in action again? It seems like a win-win situation for gamers to me, but Rein believes that gamers will get shafted with episodic content because of rehashed game content. Apparently Rein hasn’t seen the preview for Episode 2.

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9 Comments

  1. Matt said on August 4, 2006:

    Hello everyone, this is Matt, the author of this lovely editorial on the pitfalls of game development. I just wanted to say hello to the staff, and see if they enjoyed my article. This is basically my first piece of journalism/writing for the internet, so I’m open to suggestions on content and style. That’s it from me right now, but I hope to bring in some worthwhile content to videolamer.com and its readers.  "laugh and grow fat" 

  2. Christian said on August 4, 2006:

    Matt, this is a great first article.  I really enjoy the topic, the pacing, and the overall tone.  I’ll respond with a better post, discussing the article itself, but for now I just want to say to keep it up, and I look forward to more

  3. Christian said on August 4, 2006:

    As promised… I doubt any of the major companies have consiered what they would do should a competitor completely fold.  However, they would most likely attempt to hire the best and brightest over to their side, in order to meet their newfound demand and keep their marketshare.  This gets a little trickier with international business.  I doubt Hyundai or Nissan is too worried that Ford is cursing at them right about now.  Then again, a lot of these companies have deals and partnerships to help each other out in foreign markets, and probably wouldn’t hesitate to buy each other out.     The game industry is still an industry, thus the goal is still to crush the competition.  Even though competing brings about better products, it also means a smaller piece of the pie, so no one is going to say they’re happy to be fighting tooth and nail for market share.  If, say, Sony killed Nintendo, they’d most likely try to hire guys like Miyamoto, or just buy them out completely.  Or if its MS, they’d probably make Nintendo, or Sega, or whoever in charge of their Japanese division. They’re probably not worried about snuffing out creative minds, because in the end they’ll probably be able to recruit them (unless they’re incredibly stubborn).    I’m afraid that as long as gaming is more about business than it is the art form, this mentality will remain.  It isn’t a bunch of musicians who will tour together, or writer’s who may collaborate on something.  Its all about making a whole lot of money, even if that means having people love your console so much that they’re willing to buy a replacement rather than try something new. 

  4. Matt said on August 4, 2006:

    Yeah, all good points. It’s just a crazy situation. We, as gamers, merely see games as a means to an end: new and entertaining experiences. But, on the flip side, you have the bean counters, flipping through stacks of cash and still wishing it could be a more from whatever drivelthey spilled on the market. The industry has many similarities to the movie industry and Hollywood, but when you get games like Shadow of the Colossus and Eternal Darkness that are solely there to give the player a chance to interact with a wondeful universe, you can’t help but think that the industry is, and can, be a place where dreams are made.

  5. Matt said on August 5, 2006:

    And thanks a lot for the kind words, I really do appreciate it. I was worried that my rusty writing abilities would wash away what I was trying to prove in my article.  

  6. jay said on August 5, 2006:

    The article is definitely thought provoking and on a topic I have thought a lot about. I hope you’ll keep us supplied with more, Matt.

     

    Christian, I think you’re right that MS would snatch up Miyamoto, but what about the Treasures, Camelots and Compiles of the world? Would anyone have the budget or taste needed to buy up small talented developers? Some of the problem is the international factor, like you mentioned. Nintendo would buy Camelot, Sega would buy Treasure…no one bought Compile, but stupid Sega bought the Puyo Puyo license then threw out all of the series characters. But if MS dominates, will they care about these small japanese companies, and likewise, if Nintendo dominates will they care about small Western developers they push out of business?

     

  7. Christian said on August 5, 2006:

    With the smaller guys, chances are the emloyees would all go their separate ways and find work elsewhere.  We wouldn’t get the same games, but their influence may still be felt. Somewhere along the line they may even get back together and work on something.  You’d probably see scenarios like Obsidian and Troika coming from Black Isle.  Not a great situation, as one of them is dead and the other unproven.  And who knows?  Even if, say, MS doesn’t pick them up, if there’s some other strong Japanese company around, then they probably would.  

  8. jay said on August 5, 2006:

    I find it unlikely. The industry is pushing towards more sequels, the same games based on proven designs, and top sellers taking almost the entire market. In other words, it is an environment that isn’t particularly welcoming to small independants and many talented people are going to be left out. I understand why these things happen, but I still long for the days of Richard Garriott and  Jon Van Caneghem competing with Ultima and Might and Magic but still saying that they thought each others competition was good because it got more people into role playing games.

  9. Christian said on August 6, 2006:

    Well we’re splitting hairs here.  Its silly to say that someone who’s worked at Treasure for ten years and has vast amounts of experience is going to have a tough time getting hired somewhere.  The problem lies in the fact that said person probably wouldn’t have the freedom to make the same kind of games.  That’s another issue entirely however, and really I think its one that any industry faces.  Hell, it has happened close to home; what the hell is Romero or Steve Wozniak up to these days?  Nothing near as big as Carmack or Jobs.  Its just the way it is, even if it stinks. 

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