Sunday, August 3, 2008

The death of an expo

Are video games a form of art? Is the development of video games returning to its creative side rather than the financial contest that the retail market has turned it into?

These ideas open up a banquet of questions in which developers, journalists, and gamers alike, especially after the closure of this year’s E3.

‘Christmas in July’, was once used to describe the anticipation to the E3 expo held most years in Los Angeles. This year was no different with hype. Many journalistic figures yet hoped for the big scoop which is E3. However, this year was different. Countless members of the gaming community retold their tale as they approached the expo. Some could not even find the entrance to E3, and had to ask for directions, even when they had been there year after year, and the venue had no changed. There was minimal advertising out the front of the expo and even in the hallway the promotional posters for upcoming titles where numbered. The visitors to the show resembled a pack of springbok after a lion has run through.

E3 2006

What is driving E3 into the ground? What once used to be an auditorium so full of noise from the presentation stands of each game that no one could talk, let alone actually view the games presented due to the amount of booth babes, visitors and employees. Now there is a lack of hyped material, dissolving number of presentations and a substantial collapse in the amount of visitors for the 2008 E3. There have been many figures in the gaming industry comment on this new movement, and the downfall of one of the greatest entertainment expos established. One of these commentators is Lorne Lanning, a long time developer and a key figure in the gaming industry. He has a firm belief that there is a current fall in the retail side of the industry which is unlikely to rebuild itself.

With the current surge in oil prices, the long list of process it effects to produce a game which will be sold on the retail market has all been effected. The production of the disk and packaging in which the game is made on, to the cost of shipping it is all affected by this uprise in the oil price. Lanning has brought up the fact in a recent interview that the future of gaming lies in digital distribution. For starters, when a development team can produce and sell without the burden of retail, a world of possibility is opened.

There are quiet a few forms of video game distribution that have recently become a commonplace for gamers to purchase their products. There are many reasons for why programs like Steam, Xbox Game Store, and now even the Nintendo Wii has created a new platform to purchase form. Digital distribution is becoming a gateway for new titles and likewise the downfall for expos such as E3. While E3 falls others have been rising in the shadows, for developers the Games Development Conference (GDC) held is San Francisco is a centre point for forging new ideas on how to produce quality games, while still attracting media attention.

From the perspective of the game developers, an idea for a new project may be conceived with a high intention of producing something unique, exciting and innovative. At this stage one may call it art. It is a creation, that has no been influenced by any other factors but that of the architects of this concept. Though were this medium begins to loose its credibility as an art is when the publishers of a development company, have to control this idea, as to make it a product that is risk-free when placing it on the market. This idea then is scaled down, to fit what would be claimed to be a stock standard title. Taking too much of a risk in the retail market can lead to the game becoming a financial struggle, and that is what the publisher is trying to avoid.

Once the development is finished, the game is then directed to the publisher, using forms of communication such as websites, magazines, airtime and gaming expos, the publisher attempts to make the community focus its attention to their upcoming title. Once the community has is gaze fixed in awe, then follows the reason for majority of this advertising, to grab the attention of the retail market. The buyers for the major retail outlets then will try and whip up a contract with publisher, to ensure that the game will be guaranteed in store advertising and publicity.

Those minor developers who do not spend time creating a pre-conceived hype for their title, even while they may have an engaging and innovative game will struggle. The retail outlet, will obviously order less copies, and most likely not have posters and advertising announcing that they are selling this title. That leads to less people have knowledge regarding the game, leading to less copies to be sold.

Valve's distribution software; Stream

The idea of digital distribution is to cut out the middleman. No longer are these media expos a necessity to make sure your game comes clean and makes a return. Without retail, games that have been crafted by smaller development teams that may have a completely new inventive idea or foundation behind it, doesn’t have to dish out the millions it doesn’t have to create and advertising campaign. With platforms such as Steam, one can then create and publish their title without hassle or worry of being dominated in the retail market and allow their game to remain an art form.

Dan Byron

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do now that this year's E3 was invite-only (and that was restricted to press) which was why it was so small this year. The people running it were trying to avoid the sort of thing that happened in past years