The business with computer games

This saturday I met a couple of swedes who work at a computer game company in Birmingham. It was pretty cool to talk to some actual people involved in the business, though I guess they might have thought it a bit tiresome to talk about it, as they do that every day at work, and I don’t.

I haven’t played any computer games since I installed linux on my computer, and I don’t really regret that. After doing my BA project on the aesthetics of computer games, I realized that the computer games industry hasn’t really been moving forward that much by only developing games in the safe genres such as First-Person Shooters (known as FPS among people “in the know”, Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG for short, no really) and various Sports games. Indeed, some people argue that Electronic Arts, the biggest computer game company, is cornering the market and killing creativity by forcing their employees to work overtime with no compensation.

Much like the Hollywood film industry, the (mostly American) computer game industry is putting their money and effort in surefire successes such as sequels to the popular genres. The bestselling games of the past few years all have an extra digit behind it – like Doom 3, Half-Life 2, WarCraft 3, Residential Evil 4, Final Fantasy X (that’s 10, no really!), The Sims 2, Grand Theft Auto 5 and various others.

Because of the incomparable development in computer speeds and graphics, these games look much better than their earlier incarnations (though they require equally more processing power), but generally, the game, the player involvement, the playful ideas are basically the same as they were 6 or 7 years ago. Not a lot of new game design has broken through since 1998 and most of it is japanese and thus not very popular in this part of the world. It is sad, when you realize just how much potential there is in the computer game medium.

Now, even the dedicated fans are getting restless. And luckily, there are alternatives out there. Coming up is the 6th Annual Independent Games festival, where independent game developers (ie. companies without marketing and publishing deals with with the big game publishers such as EA or Nintendo) can have their share of the limelight.

Most interesting films are the result of lots of hard work raising funds from various public sources, and I hope that soon, computer game developers will be able to do the same thing by dedicating themselves to making games that are not just the usual profitable run-of-the-mill, but something a bit more challenging. Already, various game design schools are cropping up, though my swedish friends didn’t think much of them. They argued, reasonably enough, that as long as the technology and behind the games – and thus the tools for making them – continues to develop at such an incredible rate, there’s no easy way to make a standardized education, as requirements will change faster than the curriculums can.

Computer aesthetics is still a vast and (mostly) unexplored field, and until more people realize this, I can manage just fine without computer games.

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