Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Here's is the 4th to last section of the essay draft...

How the games business constrains creative consciousness

The conservatising trends within the industry over the last several years towards concentration, centralisation and creative stagnation have been a popular discussion topic among game developers for the last several years. These trends have been acknowledge widely, from radical critical industry elements (Scratchware Manifesto, 2000) to influential industry executives (Nintendo guy, 2006). The nature of the games industry business model and the challenges posed by rapidly evolving technology are the culprits typically pointed to, but the aspect that is most relevant to this discussion is the effects these changes are having on the "arts practice", as it were, of the "average" professional game developer.

To generalise, the average game developer is working on increasingly more conservative content, in more specialised roles within larger teams.

While “in film and publishing, plenty of people make decent, middle class livings by catering to niche audiences” (Costikyan, 2006) this is not the case in the games industry. This dream may have seemed plasible in the 80s, for some the golden age of game development, when games could be developed on a home computer and sold to the local independent game store. Nowadays a game has to have very real potential to become a mass market hit in order to become one of the only 200 or so titles allowed on the shelves at game stores. In turn, producing original content (ie content that is not based on an existing intellectual property, such as a film, or an existing game franchise) has come to be considered risky by an industry described as even more risk averse than Hollywood (Pfeifer, 2005) Even high profile game designers with impressive track records are struggling to get their projects funded (Spector et al, 2005).

The fact that profits now depend on international hits has led to the emergence of a climate of cultural homogenisation; the inclusion of non-American cultural content, for example, in games is now considered risky (Clapham, 2006). It has also resulted in less local game production: national game industries (with the exception of East Asia) that do not make games that succeed internationally are are struggling to survive in the new game business environment (Viennot, 2006).

So much for the creative realities faced by the working game developer in terms of game content. An evolution of the way games are made has also had an impact on the practical creativity of developers. With the implemention of production-line methodologies, Taylorist management practices and role specialisation within large teams (comprising handful of often multi-skilled developers a decade ago, 50-100 specialists today) the average developer enjoys a much smaller piece of the creative pie.

Ironically, game designers coming into the industry today are more likely to have received a formal cultural education, many coming out of game studies courses that look seriously at the aesthetic and cultural aspects of games. Hence, expectations and aspirations are being raised within the industry at the same time that dreams are being proverbially dashed.

How much do the practical realities of this environment constrain and limit the creative consciousness of game developers? Is this a framework within which the average game developer would feel, or could even ever conceive feeling, that they are a present or future "artist"? Is the idea of producing "art" simply unimaginable, where lesser creative battles are so easily lost?

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At 6:01 pm, Blogger Patrick said...

I'd like to point you to the bleeding edge of casual games development, where the small scale freedoms of indie development meet mass market UI design and translate into a a creative consciousness unconstrained not only by market pressures (having decided to face those pressures head on) but also by traditional constraints of genre and style which indie devs seem to still follow.

At 5:26 am, Blogger Kipper said...

I agree that sadly many indie devs seem to follow the mainstream in terms of genre (hoping to make that publishing deal one day, i presume)
"it'll be a RTS but...better!"

But (not knowing much at all about the casual game space) I'm interested to know how what you mean when you say casual game makers are unconstrained by market pressures. Aren't there market expectations in terms of content/style/genre there too? Or is it far more open?


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