I’m back with the third part of my series. For the previous 2 parts, please click below –
The games industry has seen many changes over the years. It has never been the easiest to work in, but for those passionate about games, it has always been rewarding.
THE TRADITIONAL GAMING CONSOLES
Among the earliest games were the big arcade machines where gamers would spend hours competing against each other. Probably the most famous was Donkey Kong … (watch a video of the actual arcade machine below).
There had of course been the games for the early PCs – the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum home computers. Games for those machines were really challenging involving a lot of hard work managing the memory and oodles of creativity to use the bits of data to display graphics to make the games that modern gamers would probably laugh at…but these were real gems of innovation. the most endearing aspect was the amazing music that was composed for these games… truly classic scores that are legend!
As technology progressed, games started evolving with the advent of the handhelds, among which the GBA (Gameboy Advance) was the best selling portable gaming device for quite a while. This was quite a leap from existing hardware and allowed programmers to create pseudo 3D worlds and some absorbing platformers.
While the handheld market was gaining steam, the early Nintendo gaming consoles such as the SNES had competition form the hugely popular Sony Playstation. These gaming consoles were a shot in the arm for gamers as they were specialised for gaming with their graphic chips used purely for gaming due to which the games could be much more detailed and better looking.
Next was the golden era of gaming with the HUGE launch of the Playstation 2 and the Nintendo DS, a massively advanced version of the GBA. While the Playstation 2 ruled the roost with high quality graphics and intense gameplay, the Nintendo DS brought up unconventional ideas to the fore. It had dual screens with the lower one being a touch screen as well as a microphone and programmers used ingenious means to interact with them both.
Seeing the success of the handhelds, SONY decided to come out with their own version, which true to usual SONY form, had the most amazing visual capabilities with the strongest graphics chipset yet and a gorgeous big screen – the PlayStation Portable (PSP)
Microsoft also decided to jump onto the bandwagon with its XBox, which received a mixed response to begin with, but slowly started gaining momentum.
Nintendo were again the first console maker to raise the bar with their innovative Wii – a console that had a wireless remote and “nunchuk” that would, for the first time, allow gamers to interact with games in new ways. Swing your remote like a bat in a baseball game and the ball would soar for a home run (if you timed it right!) The console did massive sales until SONY came out with their updated console – the Playsttation 3 which brought to the table stunning graphics and brilliant games. Add to it, their version of a wireless controller called “the Move” and used in conjunction with “the Eye” , would effectively do the same thing as a Wii Remote.
Microsoft went one step better with the launch of the XBox 360 and went on a spree signing up studios to make great game franchises for their console. The killer blow that helped the X360 reach the top of the market (where it is now) was the revolutionary controller – the Kinect, which finally made hand free gaming possible. Just the way you moved your body was interpreted by the sensor and allowed you to interact with the game in ways that had never been seen!
Currently, Nintendo are very very close to the launch of their latest consolethat should again up the bar – the Wii U. It is expected to release in the US on Thanksgiving…how successful it will be, is a matter of discussion among industry pundits.
Since its glory days, the gaming industry has plumbed to new lows over the last few years since the recession struck home. Many studios have had to close down as they tried to make bigger and better games with huge teams. When the games failed to succeed, in a recession hit market, these studios could not absorb their losses and had to shut shop. Everyone is hoping the Wii U will rejuvenate the stagnant console market where only the big studios with massive financial backing have managed to stay afloat.
THE INVASION OF THE SMARTPHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
On the other side of the equation is the handheld market. With the advent of the iphone and smartphone sin general getting more and more powerful graphic chips, the traditional handhelds are dying a rapid death. The rise of the mobile phone as a viable and profit making gaming platform, has also seen the “casual” gamers far outnumber the traditional hardcore gamers. Instead of the hours spent playing games by a handful of kids, it is now the bored housewives and the busy officegoers who now form the new breed of gamers. A huge database of people who like to play for short periods of time while commuting or while having free time, and who also like interacting with their friends across social media networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The new gaming mantra now works on providing free games with virtual currency to entice people to play. the sheer volume of players sharing their exploits among their friend son social media then leads to the games going viral and bringing in the cash.
SO WHAT’S THE STORY FOR A GAME DEVELOPER?
While in the beginning, a game programmer was most likely a serous geek, who was pretty much a genius, as the years went on and game consoles became more mainstream, gaming companies were setup. these companies/studios, involved teams of artists and coders to work on games simultaneously, and games would last between 6 months to a year (or more) to complete. Independent programmers would have little chance of their games being published, since big publishers ruled the roost, and dictated what was put out.
With facebook and smartphones, not only have consoles lost ground, programmers have found increasing opportunities to be able to create games on their own. Now it is possible for one programmer with a great idea to create a casual game on his own and hope to earn quite well without having to share with anyone. this has been a blessing during the recession era, allowing studios to cut down staff and costs by making short, quick, casual games and get better turnover on investment made.
At the end of this crash course in gaming history (it is in no way comprehensive, nor was it meant to be) my main aim was to try and make you understand the avenues ahead before you take the plunge as a game developer.
a. Would you like to work in a traditional studio, working with others on big budget games?
b. Would you like to work from home trying your luck with your own mobile or facebook games. (of cours eyou could also join a small setup that works on casual games!)
With the Wii U coming out, and SONY and Microsoft also likely to respond with updated consoles, it looks possible that perhaps big studios will get a shot in the arm and traditional game development will once again boom. However it is also true that smartphone and social media casual gaming is here to stay … although the competition amongst the many independent developers and casual gaming studios is also quite intense, and having made a game does not guarantee success!
Its tricky as always being a game developer and you should do your research before you decide what you really would like to do. remember, being a gamer is never easy at the best of times, and its more difficult than ever in the current global market…so be certain you have the fortitude to stick to your guns! 🙂