IGI Meetup: Video Games relationship with Media

IGI Meetup on Video Games and the Media (late review)

This IGI meetup was held early in June 2012 

News of video games are very simple in the media: games are violent and teens get addicted to bad games. A typical news item would be about some study that shows negative impact of compter games on teenage boys. Clearly there are many misconceptions about video games in the media. The impression is that video games are violent shooter games played by 18 year old males. Yet, the average age of gamers is 37 and 82% of people who play video games are older than 18. Only a small fraction of games are violent, most game are clean, educational and fun to play. IGI Meetup, organised by Jóhannes Sigurðsson and Þóroddur Guðmundsson focused on discussing how video games are perceived by the media and the public.

Video games are for everyone. Things have changed since the days of simple games when there was no internet (the first game was actually OXO, a tic-tac-toe game developed on an EDSAC computer in 1952, since you asked. It was not wide-spread since there were not that many EDSACs laying around).  The audience shared stories of typing in code of games from magazines, saving them on cassettes and hoping they would run, only to realize that the game was not so good. There were even stories of the Quest series. Today, you can talk to people of all ages (who think they don’t play video games) about the games they play or have played. In 2009 the increase on Facebook of women over 55 was 175%. And what did they do: play games.

The meeting was very interactive with stories and examples of games. It seems to be that more people play games than realize they are playing games. To them it is something else and the people that play video games are playing on PS3 and xBox some shooter war games. But games are for everyone and the media is not taking the opportunity to cover games as an entertainment form. They could be covering new innovation in games, releases of games and featuring big hit games. Just like music and films, the audience for games is huge. Some games are actually have bigger budgets that Hollywood films and get more revenues than big moves at the box office. Gamers want to read about games and the stories of the games. In fact, games are all about stories. Even Angry Bird has a story (did you ever wonder why the birds are angry?).

There was also discussion on if games are good for people. Do games improve any skills? In his book, Grown up digital, Don Tabscott talks about one study. It turns out that people that play a lot of video games can track more objects at one time than people that don’t. Second, they are better at monitoring a cluttered world; they can more quickly identify a target briefly presented in the field of clutter. And third, the experienced game players are better at processing rapid stream of visual information. Then think about the future of jobs when the traditional business organisations are getting disrupted with rapid technological innovations. Who are you going to hire?

So, make sure your kids play more video games.



How to create a gaming industry: The story of the Icelandic Gaming Industry

So, what did you do this summer? Well, I helped create an industry. Over the summer of 2009, the Icelandic gaming industry was born. It started at a meeting in a sports bar in downtown Reykjavik on May 6th. That same year on September 28th, with a room full of people, two Icelandic minsters, people from government and industry, leaders of gaming companies, Erik Roberson from Nordic game and a bunch of gamers, the Icelandic Gaming Industry was founded. This is the story.

To be more precise, you don’t actually create an industry. It’s more like you take what is out there and organize, bring people together. But why did this happen in Iceland in the spring of 2009? After a huge economic boom, Iceland suffered a major recession due to the global economic crises that started in the second part of 2008. Three of the major banks got bankrupt and the currency – the Icelandic Krona or ISK (not to be confused with Interstellar Kredit) fell dramatically in a short period.

The growth of the financial sector after the turn of the century had huge impact on the IT industry. In the years prior to the bankruptcy of the banks they had been sucking almost all talent from the IT and the gaming market into the banks. Offering outrageous salaries, the rest of the market could not compete. Even the passionate game designer was tempted by the lure of money.

At the end of the financial era there came a void. It was out of this environment that individuals and young entrepreneurs started to look at games. However, there was another big reason. At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the field of gaming had shifted. With the rise of online games and mobile games, the playing field in gaming had changed. The cost of productions had dropped. Few passionate game developers could get together, download the tools and APIs and start creating games for iPhone, for Facebook, and for the online web. The only limit was their imagination.

Another important factor was the role of government and industry. In a recession, the government needed some new energy to revitalize the economy. Anything that was positive and showed potential to create jobs and start the economy was welcomed. Even a tiny games industry was enough to catch the attention of the media and politicians.

The industry, however, played a much stronger and active role. With a few game developers that just organized into an organization, the challenge was to form a structured professional entity.  How could a few gamers become a processional organization? The answer turned out to be simple and that’s where the Association of Industries (Samtök iðnaðarins or SI) come in.  The Head of Innovation, Davíð Lúðvíksson, at SI, did not need much time to take action. He jumped at the opportunity to form a new branch within SI.  He set up meetings and helped the group organize into a formal structure. Strategy meeting was held under the supervision of SI and the outcome was a vision for IGI. Thus, IGI became a member of SI and enjoys their professional guidance and formality. This is the reason why IGI remains unfunded and based on the efforts of volunteers but still can function as a professional organization.

What did IGI accomplish? Now we come back the real reason IGI was formed. In 2009 there were several gaming companies in Iceland. Some of these companies looked the government for support. For example, financial support to attend the Nordic gaming conference in Malmö. The reply was always the same: we can’t support a company. This is not surprising. Any direct support from government, using public money, to a privately held company is suspicious. It just doesn’t work. But if these companies get together, form a group to represent them, it’s a totally different thing.

Some of the activities of the IGI include:

  • Monthly meetups where some insiders in the industry or some guests speak about gaming related issues. The topics range from development issues to specific product introduction
  • IGI Game Award: a competition of game development.
  • The IGI conference: The Future is Bright
And indeed, the future is bright. Three years after the initial meeting was held on the second floor of a sports bar, with the roars of the football fans watching a Champions League game in the background (ok, it was Barcelona – Chelsea), IGI is still going strong. Sure, there are lots of challenges ahead and we still need to convince a lot of people that playing games is actually good for you and parents should encourage their kids to play computer games, but at least we are on our way to change the world.

Games Summit in Antwerp

The place was at best strange but so fitting the event. Set in a old, somewhat respectfully neglected house where the walls could tell many stories, this event was the second Games Summit, held in Antwerp, Belgium on the last day of September. A one day of sessions bringing together games industry people from Flemish and the Nordic region.

The morning session was moderated by Erik Robertson of the Nordic Game Program. First speaker was Tom Putzki, a veteran game designer and now a consultant. Putzki’s talk was a good overview of the games industry providing insights and statistics into the world of gaming.

After Tom’s presentation, Wim Wouters from gaming studio GriN presented a social game. It was the social version of the popular Snake game. This idea was this: everyone has a smartphone so why not use the smartphone as a remote. People in the audience took out their phones and played a multiplayer Snake for awhile, or until so many were playing that it got too messy.

Next two sessions were about unconventional games. First was Lau Korsgaard of the Copenhagen Game Collective. He talked about how the console companies are trying to reinvent the input controller. Nintendo’s success with Wii sparked responses for Sony, unveiling Move, and Microsoft with Kinect. But according to Lau this is the wrong way. You, the person playing the game should not be the input but the output. Your body should be the output device. Lau introduces a game called B.U.T.T.O.N. which stands for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Ok Now. In this game the players are asked to step back and are then given instructions, for example do push-ups or lie dead for some minutes. To win, participants have to get back to the controllers and perform simple task, such as holding a key down for 7 seconds. This can lead to interesting actions.

The next speaker was Martin Ericsson from The Company P. He talked about transmedia, a story format where multiple mediums are use to tell the same story. His example was the TV series The Truth about Marika done with Swedish TV corporation, SVT. The story was told not only on the TV screens but also using the Internet and mobile, as well as the streets. The viewer was invited to participate and find and post clues to the mystery.

In the afternoon participants of the Crossover Lab presented their projects to the audience and to a panel of game experts. The last section was a panel with representatives of from the Nordic countries and the European games industry. The message was clear. The Flemish games companies need to organize and have a voice. This industry is competing with other countries, many of which provide good development grants and even subsidize game development. I explained how the Icelandic gaming studios got together and formed an association, the Icelandic Gaming Industry, IGI. The Flemish gaming studios need to organize and become a united voice. Only then can they lobby the government for support and funds. And, from what I learned at the summit, the government officials are calling for this – they too want to support the creative industries to fuel the industry and create growth.

Now it remains to be seen if the Flemish Games industry gets born.