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Formative Role of Video Games

Info: 5497 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Tagged: MediaVideo Games


As a long time fan of computer games, I’ve always wondered how video games have reached this point in time, I wanted to know how Nintendo became Nintendo, how games went from the arcades to home consoles and how games changed from two dimensions to three dimensions. The following was originally planned to be purely a discussion on the development of the games industry however once this project began I soon realised that video games owe most of its early years and breakthrough development to other entertainment industries, particularly film. After much research on the topic I altered my discussions focus away from purely the games industry to the broader entertainment industry, mainly because it is very difficult to separate the two, both now owe each other so much, in video games early years it took much from the entertainment industry but in the last few years things have changed, revolutionary techniques are being developed by the game industry and now are being adapted by the film industry, in this dissertation I wanted to see video games long term effect on the entertainment industry and whether it has been one of a negative or positive effect and my predictions for the future of both mediums.

The Birth of the Computer Game

The modern video game has evolved much from its very humble and almost accidental beginning in 1958 when William Higinotham a nuclear physicist while working on a small analogue computer in the purpose of describing various curves on a cathode-ray tube noticed the curved and bouncing effect reminded him of tennis(Brookhaven, 2009). He altered the amplifiers of the balls motion so bounding space on the screen could be controlled by the turning knobs on the machine. Higinotham designed the game from first conception in two hours and it took him only a brief few hours over a few days to alter the existing technology. The budget for first game known only as “Tennis For Two” was almost zero as it was made for existing parts. Too think of a modern game been designed in two hours or completed in a few days is just incomprehensible, not only would it be almost guaranteed to be a terrible game but making it functional to the player would be a impossible task, and the budget would be another impassable road block. The current generation of video games if they are to be a success spend months in the design and concept phase and take anywhere from 16 months to over four years to finish and have a budget that matches Hollywood blockbusters.

The 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV(Rockstar, 2008) spent 6 years in development and the final expenses rose to over £100 million. However the developers perceived the risk of financial failure if the product did not sell as a necessary risk in order to live up to the fans expectations, this game was a sequel in a long line of a series known for breaking sales records and having a fan base like none other. This game however is not the exception either, many recent games have had budgets of over £100 million and spent years in production, these high expenses are expected to rise when every generation of consoles are releases not only because of the technology behind them but the players demand for more, including highly designed graphics, unique art design and realistic effects rendered to a quality of CGI films.


My research is discovering video’s games effect on the entertainment industry but more specifically the film industry and the aspect of them competing against one another but also with the rare and generally unsuccessful case of the merger of film and games. When video games first began to sell successfully in the early 1970’s film had already been established as the main attraction for visual entertainment with strings of great releases and new releases that broke viewer and financial records one after another, the 1970’s seemed an unlikely time for another visual medium to develop however video game managed to do that, by the late 1970’s video games seen the releases of many classic games such as Pong (Atari Inc, 1972), Asteroids (Atari Inc, 1979) and Space Invaders (Taito Corporation, 1978). At the time however these releases we’re still nothing to be recognised by the critics of the entertainment industry, they seen them as nothing but toys, not to be taking seriously. These classic games didn’t even make a mark on the film industry in regards to financial success, however this was primarily because the home console didn’t exist yet and games could only be played in arcades where the owner of the arcades took all profits with only the initial cost of the machine ever to be the income of the early game designer. In the early 1980’s arcades changes, they weren’t now purely for the gaming youth, the non-gamer began to discover this alternate entertainment medium and it became a regular event for them to occasionally visit an arcade, this is when the time began known as the “Golden Years” particularly in the United States and Japan when teenagers and adults alike would enter the arcade and discover a game that would just entrap them, video games started to become a area to look into for potential designers as games beforehand where only created for the love of it but now as a designer you could now make a living out of designing games, this is mainly because the fans of the early games where mostly diehard fans where they would enter quarter after quarter to finish the game.

Brian Garside (2009) of RadicalHive Remembers “putting quarter after quarter, hour after hours” into arcade game, and it was for the same reasons as everyone else was there, a very simple attraction, The games we’re very loud and very bright, and brought one thing most gamers wanted, instant gratification the more quarters you had the longer you had to play, the difficulty level was extreme, there was no lives* or saves* you just tried to get to the finish before you ran out of quarters, and if you did then you became an elite member of the gaming public because you got to put your name on the screen, where it could be seen every day by every gamer, that was the main goal of the early gamer, to say you finished an arcade game, this was something rare because of the difficulty*.

Arcades borrowed much from the film world in its early years including the cinema building layout itself, the general arcade includes, the games, popcorn machines, snack and hotdog bars and generally in the centre area would be pool tables, it represented a meeting place, the arcade became a place to hang out, friends would meet up at the arcade and not even play a game, it was almost a staging place, you would go there before heading to the movies or after a movie you would return there for a few minutes to let yourself lose, aside from the games the arcade became a place to just hang around and let loose.

The Home Console

It wasn’t till the home console when games took a firm place in the entertainment industry, the development of the designed home console brought around games that were developed past the loud noises and ghastly lights, the home console brought around the era of the complex stories in games with gripping narratives, moving performances and of course the Pixelated hero*. Fairchild Channel F(Fairchild Semiconductor, 1976), a unknown games company who today if you mentioned them to a gamer most likely you would get a puzzled response and even in the early years of game development they where an unknown company however their games machine left a mark on the industry because they coined a phrase which is used by every single person in the games industry, “Console”*. Video games now had a place in the 1970’s home but they still hadn’t changed much form the arcade, bright lights and ghastly sounds where everywhere, game after game we’re effectively the same but with a different name. This slur of games eventually lead to the great video games crash*of 1983-84 triggered by a non-ending market of low quality games and by far too many overpriced consoles, another involving factor was that the market was considered to be at full saturation, the critically slammed game of the successful film E.T.(Atari, Inc, 1982) was the breaking point, the rising popularity of the home computer(PC) and the personnel computer also was deemed to be part responsible for the crash particular with their aggressive advertising campaigns such as this scrupulous ad by Microsoft “Why buy your child a video game and distract them from school when you can buy them a home computer that will prepare them for college?”(Global Oneness, 2009).

This crash brought an abrupt end to the current generation of video games and almost crippled the new games industry particularly in north America, many games companies collapsed and with the few that survived none maintained any high level of success after the crash. It wasn’t till the end of 1985 that the games industry started to recover and that was with the immediate success of the now legendary Nintendo Entertainment System(1985). The 8-bit* generation had begun with a bang with launch games consisting of ExciteBike (1985) and Super Mario Bros.( 1985), gamers could not resist but buy the NES even with doubts after the many years of terrible releases just preceding this new line up and generation. Aside from the games Nintendo also standardised many console features such as controller ports, gun controllers and the Quality seal of approval*. In the early 90’s things started to heat up again in the games industry, Nintendo now had a fierce competitor in the industry, SEGA. SEGA (1990) released its Mega Drive, which they hailed as the first 16-bit gaming console and it proved that by displaying graphics which were unheard of at this time. But Nintendo hit back by releasing their Record breaking Super Nintendo Entertainment System(1990). This fierce competition between the two drove developers to become better designers and it was proved as much with hugely successful and critically acclaimed hits been released for each console, this home console war ended any chance of the arcades recovering, gamers had finalised there move from the arcades back to their homes, the home console had become the core choice by the games and also by the developer.

The 3D Generation

Video games where successful in their early years but they were never hugely successful, they never get anywhere near close to the popularity of the film industry nor did the game releases of films get anywhere closer and in fact generally sold much worse. Designers made a profit but it was only a sustaining profit, enough to keep the company going, pay the staff and develop future games but they just didn’t have the financial backing of the film industry, games were rarely advertised and certainly didn’t have any sort of vast marketing displays and if there even was a marketing team at all it would consist of very few people and have a simple budget as can be seen by the low quality of games advertisement in the 1980’s, the advertisement stood close to what the game was, bright lights and loud noises. It wasn’t till the 5th generation of gaming consoles or the 3d generation as its also known did games reach a level of popularity that could not quite yet match the film industries figures but certainly put a mark against it, their where many success stories but also many failures in this generation, it saw the fall of Atari, the 3DO, SEGA and the rise of Sony with the Playstation(1994).

Nintendo where the only existing company to the enter the 3D generation and continue to be successful. Not much changed with the Nintendo strategy and it didn’t need to, they released once again hit after hit until the end of this generation when in 1995 the disc based Sony Playstation overtook the Nintendo 64(1996) in terms of sales and it began to build a strong fan base including taking a good portion of Nintendo’s key market. The Playstation was the first home console to sell more than 100,000 million units worldwide, this is now the time the games industry started to be compared to the film industry in terms of sales and success. Aside from commercial success, the Playstation also changed the console development plan, the success of the disc was the final nail in the coffin on the old cartridge system previously used by Nintendo. The stability of the disc medium, cheap manufacturing expenses in using disc based games where the main reasons for its success. At the end of this generation SEGA fans had lost faith in their beloved console with few games being released on the console mainly because developers jumped ship to the more successful Nintendo and Sony and while there was still yet to be another SEGA console in the form of the SEGA Dreamcast(1999), this was the turning point in SEGA’s decline and their eventual retreat from console development. Even with the great success of the Playstation, neither Nintendo or Sony ever seemed to publicly announce or display a challenge for financial success against the rest of the entertainment industry, advertisement still stayed low budget and was purely aimed at making existing gamers aware of future products rather than attracting new potential game players.

The Changing Generation

The following Generation displayed much of the same as the previous generation, The Sony Playstation 2(2000) was effectively the same as the first one just much more advanced with a few new features, the same can be said for the Nintendo GameCube(2001) except now Nintendo had adopted disc based technology. There was a new entry in the market place now, Microsoft seeing the potential of the games industry entered the market in 2001 with the Xbox. The Xbox didn’t design its games or console any differently to Nintendo and Sony’s consoles however it did add one thing, it is possible the most important new feature to games design since the 3D era took hold, the Xbox introduced online multiplayer through a service known as Xbox LIVE*. This new feature was the only thing that kept the console from complete failure as the games that accompanied the console where of a lower quality and Microsoft struggled to attract a strong fanbase, however though XBOX LIVE proved so successful that online multiplayer is a standard now for most modern games. While this was going on, in the background Nintendo where busy working with the handheld market, before now everyone considered this market purely for kids and only a gimmick at best, Nintendo wanted to change that and they did with the Game Boy Advance(2001). They did this by developing games of a standard of the home consoles and Marketing the device as a independent handheld console separate to that of the home consoles. Because of the new advanced graphics available to developers, a completely realistic game could be made but this lead to huge criticism of the games with releases of ultra graphic Mortal Kombat(Midway Games, multiple) and the portrayal of criminal behaviour seen in Grand Theft Auto series(Rockstar Games, Multiple). These controversial games aloud non-gaming public to become much more aware of the games industry, although this was potentially dangerous criticism against the games industry, it is seen as exactly what the games industry was looking for. Sony particularly began marketing mature games for mature audiences, with advertising campaigns aimed purely for the an age group of 18 and above.

The content in these games led to the ESRB and PEGI age rating system to inform parents that there are games available in the market that are unsuitable for their children. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time(Nintendo, 1998), Grand Theft Auto 3(, Rockstar Games, 2001), and Halo: Combat Evolved(Bungie, 2001) were the first game in the industry to be marketed in the way of a summer blockbuster, they all sold hugely successful and these games are seen by many as the turning point where games left the old mentality behind of being just for the arcade gamer and now was at a position to enter the next generation as a strong competitor to Hollywood, by the end of this generation in 2006 total film sales reached an estimated $16.6 billion in North America for the film industry compared to the games industries $13.5 Billion (Breckon, 2007). Entering the late 2000’s, the still young games industry is nearly as valuable as over 100 year old film industry.

The Next-Generation.

The 7th Generation seen many advancements, Blu-Ray disc technology, Massively multiplayer games(MMO’s), High Definition technology and motion tracking as seen by the Nintendo Wii(2006). Microsofts Xbox 360 launched first into this generation in 2005 and it proved a success, aside from being first into this new generation it fully launched Xbox LIVE and multiplayer as a standard throughout the industry. The Xbox 360 now stands firmly second place in between Sony’s Playstation 3(2006) and Nintendo’s Wii in the console battle. It has a strong game to console attach rate*, with loyal fans and marketing team any Company would want, these factors will guarantee its success into the next console generation. The Sony Playstation 3 launched a full year after the Xbox 360 and some believe this to be the main reason it had poor launch figures as well as the fact that there were a limited supply of Blu-ray diodes for the consoles main feature. The console to date has still struggled to compete with its competition with many of its games selling poorly, Xbox’s leading exclusive game Halo 3(2008) sold over 10 million copies as for Sony’s PS3 most successful exclusive game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots(2008) sold only a little over 4 million copies, however it has grounded itself, it is now financially a success and has guaranteed a place in the next generation line up. Nintendo on the other hand are on a completely different level compared to its rivals, it sales have been record breaking since its launch two weeks after the PS3. The Wii has sold almost more than both the Xbox 360 and PS3 combined with current sales figures at 52.29 Million units sold for the Nintendo Wii, 31.30 Million units sold for the Xbox 360 and 23.16 Million units sold for the PS3 (VGchartz, 2009).

The key to the success of the Wii is the widening of the demographics, Nintendo completely changed their approach to selling and developing games, in previous generation Nintendo only developed games for the hardcore gamer(strict loyal fan) but now they are developing for a mixture of hardcore games and casual games(general public). Nintendo’s main aim for the Wii was not to beat its rivals but to get new people playing games, Satoru Iwata stated in(2006) at a Press conference in Tokyo that “we’re not thinking about fighting Sony, but about how many people we can get to play games.”. This is reflected in Nintendo’s Advertisement campaigns throughout the world, Nintendo dramatically changed their method of advertising to new much more successful methods such as featuring celebrities and even the advertisement developed by academy award winning directors. Their audience grew hugely with this advertising strategy including a varied assortment of game players including, children, adults and grandparents, their campaign is aimed at people of all ages. The success of these ads can be seen in the wide audience, a 103 year old pensioner was reported to be regularly playing the Wii, the Queen of England is was even reported to have a Nintendo Wii(Rousewell, 2008). With the games industry going from strength to strength it is hard not to see the games industries eventual overtaking of the film industry as the leading section of the entertainment industry. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillermot (2007) expects the games industry to grow an additional 50% in the next four year, casual gaming and the newly introduced in-game advertisement are expected to be the key factors to gaming’s take over. The gaming industry is also growing in other parts of the world, The Asian market alone is expected to reach $28.8 billion in sales by 2011 with a total sales for the games industry at $65(Breckon, 2007). By then the film industry is only predicted to grow to a total sales of $25.8 billion in sales, less than half of the predicted games sales. However High definition is now becoming a standard in the film industry as well as the re-introduction 3D films, both advancements could bring a new lease of life to the film industry, it can also be considered that at €60 a game compared to the film industries €10 cinema admission or €25-€40 for DVD/Blu-ray income might make up impressive figures however as for the individual customer using each medium the actual numbers of people still lean greatly towards the film industry. It could be questioned why are they seen as competition and not simply compared as separate mediums in the entertainment industry, many game adaptations of films and vice versa have been released mostly with only slight success but all have been critically slammed, ever year the two industries become closer and closer and with that will be massive financial gain, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game(Ubisoft, 2009) and film (Cameron, 2009) is seen as the first step towards bringing these two entertainment industries together.

Chapter 2: Literature review

What is a game?

This is a very common question and it is a very important one, I wish to make it clear that the great success of video games in the last few years have mainly due to the changes behind in the design room and in the studios not just in the way games are now being marketed, the general games design theory is seen as a factor in the success. Defining what a game is or a theory behind it is one that you can spend a great deal of time arguing over and even with a set of results it still is a open question. The definition will in general influence how one decides to design a game, so it is critical when designing a game that you completely understand the purpose for it. There are multiple ways we could define a game, with varying ranges of features. Greg Costikyan (1994) states “A game is a form of art in which participants, teamed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal”. This meaning is questionable, it may of defined what a game was back in the early years but because of the constant technology advancements if a designer was to define what a game was it would be more like, a game is a form of art in which participants single or multiple make decisions according to the narrative design in order to resolve game world situations and finish the game as the ultimate goal, this would be my definition of defining the modern computer game.

The essential problem with defining a game is that depending on the era a definition will make sense in one decade but not the next because of the rapid growth of the gaming medium. This rapid growth is changing the industry, MIT Professor Henry Jenkins(2008) stated that “video games have converged different entertainment platforms that allowed producers of these content to exercise new ways of stretching the viability of their intellectual properties”. A single general theory only works when one looks at a genre of game type or who the player of the game will be, at the core reasoning for games, they only exist to be played, it is an interactive medium the only kind which is visual, audibly, interactive and within that a multiplayer component which allows many people to play at once and with the internet the numbers are almost infinite depending on the game. As with the genre and medium some are considered entertaining and some are considered a task, challenge is however a general theme with games design. As with every industry, once games design was established as a valuable medium, competition quickly arose as seen at Quakecon(Nok, 2009) and in a new medium players want quickly to become the best at it or be the first to finish it, to design a game to suit this want is a challenge and that is the general reason a games design theory was sought after in early game development. As the basis of games design is that every game or most games have a beginning, middle and an end, the game starts and ends at your own discretion and with a set of rules for you to manipulate or use to at your means. Playing the game is down to the player, but if there is a desire to understand games and game design, we must first clearly establish the purpose of it. We must determine the characteristics of all games, but discovering that outlines and establish a set of attribute for each game genre rather than what characterised games as a whole. Hoffman (2008) believes that outside of computer games, playing a game in general is an important part of life. I wish to discover does game design need a theory? Other medium generally have some sort of theory behind them but they are much more closely related in their genres as game design is very diverse and has a interactive aspect in design and game playing, what people want, and the level of scale and longevity are maybe too diverse for a game design theory to exist.

Changes in games design: For the Better or worse?

Defining games design is still widely regarded as a difficult task, what a game is though differs constantly and when it enters production depending on the type of game the design methods behind it are much different from a racing game to a action game. That is the first problem, it is complex to place the games design program in any one meaning. The actual study of engine design, physics and application of games design is much more closely connected to mathematics rather than traditional design practices, if this study was literally taken into practice than it would be a great oversight, designing a game using only mathematics and programmers instead of a blend with designers would only lead to failure. Ideally, a games design studio should be as interdisciplined as any other large field, it should consist of, programmers, designers, artists and engineers. Richard Rouse III(2005) states that “the game design is what determines the form of the gameplay”, however that is not always so as seen by top-down or bottom-up design*. The features set in game design determines what choices players will be able to make in the game-world and what consequences those choices will have on the rest of the game.

Bernd Kreimeier(2002) states that “Games design like any other profession requires a means to document, discuss and plan”. In the last few years with the advent of the growing online design community, a designer could refer to the growing online library of previously released games for general ideas and quick inspiration. In the early days of games design, designers generally referred to board games for their inspiration as there was no other means to compare work, without some sort of comparison it would of been very risky to release a game without any sort of knowledge of whether a similar product has been successful in the past. Hoffman (2008) believes that the main problem with game design is deciding where to place it, creating a game through a subset of sociology or a dedicated studio and these decisions are what make defining a game so complex. However while knowledge about games has grown rapidly, it could be said even more so than any other media industry, little progress has been made to document individual experiences to interweave into design practices and theories. Kreimeier (2002) states that “on the base line of design theory, games design needs a related library to name the modelling assets been created, designing and a set of rules to express how these design techniques fit together, a case for design patterns could exist”.

Help from Hollywood?

Games design is uniquely many thing, but at the basis of design it comes down to a few little things, coming up with the initial idea through thought and discussing, the idea to see it is not only a workable product but is it actually a good idea and from that point heavily expanding on the original idea until any team of designers could implement the design and achieve a expected result. Evidently if that was all designers had to go on it was be extremely difficult for anything to be created. Since the beginning of games design, games designers have worked around these initial problems by relying on design techniques and theories adapted from other media such as film and storytelling. Noah Falstein (1997) writes that part of the problem with encounters of people from Hollywood was their lack of respect. This problem though has been rid away with over the years but it was a huge problem back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when young game companies searched for aid in development from Hollywood studios but received little help. Games are not only a interactive medium but they are a visual medium and game designers have been increasingly relying on design techniques developed from film such as motion capture however this is not to be taken as a side of weakness from game designer and should not question that games are the same as film but the film practices are investigated in an effort to identify methods which are suited in favour of games. Nevertheless this was not always enough, games design theories started to develop solely to do with games and without influence from other medium, Kreimeier (2002) also believes that games as an individual medium needs its own practices and if borrowed techniques were enough then there be no need to develop any practices specific to games design theories. These collective theories are individual but there has been much discussion on them and it could be probable that these individual theories could be developed into one universal games design theory although the most likely result would be a flawed design theory.

The open use of gaming terms promotes an over perceived meaning of our own belief of what games are, The academic public overly ignore the uniquely and complexity of game design. Junior designers whose own skill are limited generally embark upon designing games with no further research than their own experience as game players, this methodology is sure to fail, the desire to success, what people in reality like to play can be much different than what the designer actually likes, this is unfortunately a common problem in traditional game design, this is a problem Pederson (2003) states as critical for lead game designers. Those who overrate their own understanding will undercut their own potential from learning and further more it will lead to the same result as failure. Ambiguity and ambiguity of play are a important aspect of design brought up by Smith (1997), applying the principle and concepts to gaming have watered down the original medium and meanings, there is no longer a clear focus to the ideology of game design we desire to understand. This watered effect is creating genres, levels of design, innovativeness, expenses and lastly the technology are effecting this medium more than any other, price ranges in not only the technology but the actual developing of the game can be astronomical, the latest version of Grand Theft Auto(Rockstar Games, 2008) a sandbox* style game cost over $100 million to design and develop included over 1,000 members of staff and took of three years to finish(Linde, 2008). If you we’re to look for game design theory in this game, after much search you would result with a unanswered question, putting aside the budget and expenses to develop this game the sure scale of this project is enough to put a stop to the idea of needing or there ever existing an underlying games design theory. The style of game for the GTA series is not alone, other genre such as first person shooters(FPS), action based and role playing games(RPG) are also put in this bracket, it would be hard pressed to find a game theory where each of these genres could fit in, meet there goals and be overall a success.

A Common Design Theory?

There are a few genres of games where there is potentially a underlying game design theory that could be developed for any new game yet to be developed and this could exist in the racing genre, it is this genre where the same practices of desig

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Video games are an electronic form of entertainment, typically played on a console, computer or other type of machine. Video games can be enjoyed by people of all ages regardless of interests, with games covering a wide range of genres.

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