It’s All A Game
San Francisco became the central hub for gaming last month as the Moscone Convention Center hosted the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC). At one point several years ago, GDC seemed to be having a tough time of things, as the San Jose show floor got smaller and the sessions became fewer. But, with the move to San Francisco a few years back, GDC exhibited a comeback, a renewal of sorts. The panels were extensive, and the topics interesting and relevant. The show floor hosted far more vendors. This year was no different.
At one point, GDC was focused solely on computer games, but more recently the gaming industry has extended its reach into other segments of the market. Consoles, like their PC counterparts, have been a major focus for developers at the show, especially following the introduction of the sixth-generation consoles (Dreamcast, GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2). When the current generation of machines was introduced, game development became a more complex process, requiring similar cutting-edge tools and techniques as films. Tool vendors were happy to be such an integral part of game development, and soon they were filling the conference floor to hawk their wares, while top-level game studios were eager to share their trials and triumphs.
Today, gaming stretches far beyond the PC and console to handheld devices, the Web, and cell phones. In fact, this year’s conference was heavily focused on mobile graphics and causal games. And that’s hardly surprising. For years, mobile gaming has promised 3D applications, though they have been a long time coming. But now, their time has come, thanks to devices such as smart phones. Think about it. The smart phones that are available today are more technologically advanced than most computers were not that long ago. The most popular, of course, is Apple’s iPhone, which seems to offer everything a person wants: a built-in camera, an Internet client for e-mail, Web browsing, Wi-Fi connectivity, and, of course, mobile phone capabilities. Its biggest attraction is its multimedia functionality. While the iPhone is not the only smart phone available, it does have something that most other devices do not have: apps. Indeed, there appears to be an app for just about anything and everything. And this has not escaped the notice of mobile game developers. At this year’s GDC Mobile/Handheld mini-conference, games for these devices—from the iPhone to the Blackberry, Android, and more—were at the top of the topic list. As experts there noted, 2010 will continue to see the rise of mobile offerings as phone carriers overcome the obstacles (format issues, distribution problems, and so forth) that have hindered this genre.
A similar revolution has occurred on the Web with the casual gaming phenomenon. While many believe the big-name console titles to be the most popular choices for gamers, think again. Casual gaming is redefining the typical “gamer” with a wide range of arcade, puzzle, board, and card games that have made the leap to the virtual world. Not convinced? Just search for these titles—Scrabble, Sally’s Salon, Bejeweled 2, Jewel Quest, and Monopoly—and you will find a host of players (and a ton of fun, too).
These casual games have opened a new genre: social gaming. Even though gaming on the social site Facebook has been around for a few years, last year saw a big boom. Case in point: Do you play Mafia Wars or Farmville? If not, chances are good that you will. Current predictions are that social gaming will reach $5 billion in a few short years. Some, though, are treading more cautiously in their predictions for this new emerging market. David Cole, an analyst with DFC Intelligence, is predicting a resurgence in casual gaming for this year, citing revenue sources from virtual goods as opposed to advertising. Social gaming, he points out, has a precarious ad model whereby users must sign up for promotional offers. As he states, that begins to feel like spam—and we all know how people feel about that.
One of the biggest changes at GDC during the past decade or so was the formation of the Serious Games Summit. This year, that mini-conference drew a host of attendees seeking insight and direction for applying popular gaming strategies to real-world training initiatives. What started with America’s Army has now expanded into virtual every segment, from health and education to national defense and science.
This year’s GDC can be called “a success.” It exhibited a record number of attendees (more than 18,000), when nearly every other industry conference experienced record lows. Perhaps this is due to gaming’s ability to bob and weave, and to continue finding new ways to entice customers.