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Mediacamp Nottingham March 27: David Hayward, Games are Evil. I Love Them

David Hayward is a project manager for Derby-based games consultancy Pixel Lab.  He has run several innovative programmes for screen agencies to help games programmers to pitch and develop their ideas.  Many games developers have spent 20 years behind a computer and have limited pitching skills.  By videoing their pitches and pulling them apart with a trainer, they became far stronger at pitching.

The games industry is quite casual – no suits necessary – but the big publishers respond to confidence.  Commissioners want to believe they are responding to ideas based on rational business decisions, but actually research has shown that intonation and confidence take you far further with an investor.  It’s a pretty cruel business.

David designed a few levels of games, but in 2004 became sick of video games of people killing each other, littered with tits & ass.  The original games like ‘pong’ had great concepts.  You have to be incredibly clever to work in computer games which makes it particularly fun.

Two years ago at computer game conferences everyone was talking about casual games and the bigger players were worried that audiences would transfer their money and allegiance to games like Popgun’s Peggle.   In 2009 all the hype was about what ‘indie’ developers were and who was ‘indie’ – anyone from a bedroom coder to a multi-million pound company.  In 2010 all the talk was about Farmville – a social game played on Facebook.  The developers Zynga won a lot of awards like the Game Developer’s Conference award, which led to an awkward acceptance speech.  Zynga used every dirty trick in the book to get people to play and monetize including selling on users email addresses.  Zynga admitted they would do anything to get people to repetitively play their games to rake in the cash. They would use game play mechanisms to get players addicted, and do anything to extract money and imbue competitiveness between players.

Little Trumpet
, a Chinese game, would let people pay to ‘curse’ others, and then pay to unlift the curse.  This played on cultural insensitivities where people could feel humiliated.  Many games then create social divisons between the rich and the poor, as the poor cannot afford to win.  Hierarchies have emerged where the rich Chinese can recruit armies of poorer players to create their own empires.

Frank Lantz believes videogames are not media.  He developed real world games where people played Pacman on the streets of New York.

Jonathan Blower, the creator of Braid, went on record to say that World of Warcraft is a drug and it’s evil.  World of Warcraft has 12 million subscribers, each paying about £10 a month each – highly profitable for its makers Blizzard.  It’s a treadmill game taking you up to 80 different levels, giving you different quests that are lazily designed and weak.   Blizzard’s presence in China and income has reduced after they have had to censor the games as the government carefully restrict the gaming trading space.

Chris Hecker worked on Spore for EA where all the elements were generated procedually – the game can generate a model of animation and movement from scratch.

Many games developers are now reacting against traditional game play models – particularly games like Farmville, believing games should challenge conceptions, not just create repetitive patterns.

The games industry is notoriously bad on employee rights: it’s not uncommon for games companies in UK and US are pushed to do as much as 13-hour 6-days-per-week.  EA Spouse was a live journal page from the wife of a developer exposing poor working practices.  Henry Ford has done productivity studies showing that most workers are no more productive working long hours – 40 hours is the optimum working week for productivity. Other developers have a more ethical perspective like Bizarre Creations and Blitz which adopts more family friendly practices.

Masocore is a term used by Autnie Pixelate to describe games playing the expectation to approach player deal as an narrative technique.

Other simple game designs can have effective social users like Chore Wars, suddenly turning student houses clean by converting household chore to a point-scoring system.   Collaborative games give people new ways of engaging and working together, instead of against each other.

Board games are refreshing and reviving: a new way of think of games – collaborative games like Ticket to Ride and Carcassone, show new ways people can engage together (in the real world!).  Something you can check out at an event David organises in Nottingham: Gambling Lambs.