Flow of gamesFirst up, Robin Hunicke of Electronic Arts on new trends in gaming practices:

Started doing AI research, then moved into gaming, then commercial gaming, then.... who knows?

Early theories: people are fun, so if people make computers, computers are fun. But they're not always. Games *are* fun. AI is also fun (for AI researchers).

The Sims: fundamentally about people, simulation and AI. If you take something that's fun on the PC that's about people, it'll be fun on the Wii.

She then worked on BoomBox: all about smashing down blocks. Also involves sharing levels and sending them between friends. Sharing makes games better.

Helpful vocabulary for thinking about games in commercial or academic contexts:

  1. Mechanics. Game designers love these.
  2. Dynamics: when a player interacts with rules
  3. Aesthetics: the resulting experience. Game creators "design" these.

Robin HunickeA problem: the dynamics are unpredictable, and as a designer it's very difficult to control these. So you have to give a little up.

"Why kill games to make digital games" by taking away the things that make games fun when we turn them digital. Games like dolls, charades, tag, spin the bottle, soccer... some are exploratory, some rule-based - all involve groups and socialising. Games involve competition, mock violence, lies, love, family. Werewolf is a game with simple rules and lots of lies.

Game: start somewhere, do an activity for a while, get a reward and move on. Repeat.

Some forms of gaming aren't progressive, they're nonlinear.

Gameplay sits between "where I'm going" and "who I'm being".

Aesthetics from recently popular games:

  • I am a surgeon in a soap opera emergency room
  • I am a girl discovering her past, which is strangely haunted
  • I am an attorney solving odd crimes and protecting the innocent
  • I am a warrior in a war-torn land: particularly common!

Game mechanics are hard. Nintendo DS says "these games are small, but you'll have a different experience playing them". Simplifying complex situations into a smaller more accessible form makes them fun and magical.

Facebook is an extremely compelling game: chatty, slocial, automatic, selective, quick, repetitive, rewarding. Addition of friends leads to a reward.

The aesthetic of Facebook: "I am a person living a fun life, and I am loved".

Game design is an art form. Games feel good because they make you feel like your actions matter, and all apps can do this.

And now, Guy Vardi from Oberon Media talking about casual gaming:

Focusing on PC and online casual games with this talk. "If a hardcore video game is a full meal, a casual game is a snack". "Snacks are not dinner".

67% play casual games 4_ times per week, 47% play every day, 66% play for 1 hour or more.

(All biased by the fact it's PC, I'd wager - I'd be surprised if mobile users were giving games this much attention)

Given the cost of a working hour in the US, this makes casual gaming the second largest drain on the US economy after the sub prime crisis :)

People spend more time on online video games than watching video clips or social networking - though is this explicitly about *casual* video games? Lots of media are moving to casual content: movies to youtube clips, music from albums to tracks, games from video to casual.

References Kart Rider and Desktop Tower Defense.

Evolution of models: retail -> shareware -> online -> social networks

Quickly shows slide of game segmentation, which looked massively similar to some of the Nokia customer segmentation I've seen...

Next, Paul Barnett, creative director for EA Mythic:

Acts as a go-between between studio vision and production staff.

They deal with "lots of people online doing stuff". What can you do with this? Social networking. User-generated content.

Paul deals with "entertainment games that make real money", as opposed to some internet businesses. It makes so much money that they don't really understand it.

His job combines "History of cinema" and "vegas casinos". Computer games are not like the film industry, it's a lie perpetuated by the games industry wanting to be cool (I've seen a similar thing with internet and TV). Like films, games often go over-budget and mess up.

Cinema went through major changes - e.g. the addition of sound, or colour. At one point they thought colour might be a fad! TV was supposed to kill film. Movies flourish, despite all the threats technology has brought. Why: they had generational thinking (rich people who'd seen it all before); guaranteed model (customers pay to watch films).

Equate this to the games industry: they get 50 changes every 5 years, not 5 every 50. They have no generational thinking (most staff are newbies - the ones who are successful BUILD ROCKETS TO THE MOON AND NEVER COME BACK). For all the money they have and data they've collected, they don't know: what platform will be dominant; what game will be dominant; how to monitise games.

Online games are fantastic because they are fun. Single player games are pretty mapped out - we know then pretty well and the boundaries are set. There's much more opportunity in online.

Two game designer types: "experiencers" who can value and explain anything they've seen, but are lousy at making intuitive leaps; and "designers who design for designers", who are very clever and speak gibberish and make ununderstandable stuff. You just have to believe these people, occasionally they make astounding things but they're bonkers.

Casinos are heavily themed - they draw you in, welcome you, teach you how to behave, manage the casino and keep unwanted people out, and lead you through the experience. Casinos copy each other and change slightly, relentlessly.

Casino thinking doesn't work online because many of the ideas. How do you expand online gaming? Make the games industry less insular and inward-looking. If you want to be brilliant, stop acting like casinos and start doing new stuff - not copying and changing slightly.

Next, Bruno Bonnell of Infogrames about robotics and the leisure industry:

Spent 25 years in videogames. What is the next tech wave to expect? "The robolution": smart objects, a room in the house which can interact and deliver experiences. We're going beyond console+screen interface, but it's a long way away.

You want to interact with an object simply. The largest personal robot today is a smart vacuum cleaner - but people play with it. They give it a name, talk to it, ask it politely to clean.

"The computing industry is just the brain of the robotics industry"

Gaming designers had to reinvent themselves for new interfaces like the Wii.