The rapidly changing environment in the gaming industry was on the agenda at 10th annual Montreal International Game Summit.
The conference, which took place on November 11 and 12, drew around 2,000 people, a mixture of students, independent developers and representatives from both triple-A and smaller studios.
“It’s a great time of transition in the industry,” says Richard Rouse III a game designer and author who current works as a design lead for Microsoft Game Studios. He points to the new generation of consoles coming out and the rise of indie developers who will know be able to publish their work on those consoles.
But while there was some worry in the air about the new consoles, not everyone is concerned.
“We’ve already had to deal with several generations of consoles before and we’ve gotten through,” says Chris Avellone, chief creative officer at Obsidian Entertainment. The company has made high profile games including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and has now turned to Kickstater to fund some new products.
But he says that “innovation is not always technological.” He uses the example of the original Fallout, which changed a players dialogue options based on their character’s intelligence. He says this simple scripting change didn’t require any new technology, just a new approach.
And Avellone had some advice for people looking to break into the industry—just make games. He says that one company he worked for hired a designer who had made a mod for one of their games.
“He’d already done the job before he got the job.”
The conference focused highly on the specifics and the theory of game design, with speakers talking about how to create better, more engaging and more profitable games. Many of the talks focused on making free-to-play games for both the online and mobile markets.
Among the speakers was Benjamin Devienne, monetization manager for Gameloft Montreal. Devienne who is also an economist, spoke about how developers can use behavioural economics in their games.
According to Devienne, game designers can incorporate lessons from economic theory into game design. He says that one economic theory game designers can incorporate is the nudge effect, the idea that small “priming” suggestions can influence behaviour.
“Small incentives that are not a forced choice can deeply change behaviours,” he says.
Devienne says that designers can also use framing, the way an idea is presented, can be used to help drive sales in a free to play game, a high priced “anchor” item can be used to make other items seem less expensive.
It wasn’t just high concept theories though, speakers got specific with data, image processing, sound and even things as simple as user interface.
“A good user interface is invisible, if the UI is being mentioned, it’s probably because there’s something wrong,” says Joe Kowalski, who designed the user interface for Guitar Hero.
“We often think of user interfaces as neutral but people bring a lot of emotion to them,” he says. He points to the classic windows “blue screen of death” as a design element that caused a lot of emotional reactions—in its case anger.
And while the conference tradeshow focused on the latest motion capture and rendering technology, some speakers were asking whether the next changes in the industry will be more than just technological.
Brian Moriarty, a professor of Interactive Media and Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who designed games in the 80s and 90s, says he sees a small trend in gaming away from pure interactivity and towards “movies you walk through.” Along with this, he says there’s a larger trend in the movie industry, which is going all-digital.
He says that he used to think “games would be the defining art form of the 21st century,” but that now he thinks “games were the defining art form of the late 20th century.”
“I believe that the defining art for of the 21st century is yet to be invented,” he said. “There’s something that will come after games and there’s something that will come after movies.”