Gaming industry’s mixed messages

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21 November 2011 | 0

Earlier this year I wrote about how gaming studios like PopCap and Blizzard and publishers like EA were maintaining their Irish presence. Since then casual games giant Zynga has arrived and its competitor PopCap is on the grow, World of Warcraft creator Blizzard has expanded its staff and middleware developer Havok has opened another international office. This is before we consider the impact of subscription-based gaming services and tentpole titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – which has managed to make an astonishing $775 million in five days. Onwards and upwards. Given the upward trajectory of the gaming sector and a stagnant a/v sector strangled by RTE budget cuts, how can creative media professionals like writers, animators and composers get a piece of that gaming action?

Last month Forfas – the state’s policy advisory board for the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation – published what it called an ‘action plan for growth’ in the games industry. In a concise report Forfas outlined a series of short and long term goals, many of them attainable at minimal cost to the exchequer. While some suggestions like increasing awareness of the games industry among students; inviting industry input to the design and modification of courses; and the introduction of game-based learning come across as easy sells others, like the development of a dedicated gaming cluster, seem beyond the ablity of the State to provide. The only high cost, long-term obstacle the report mentioned was the limited penetration of broadband services – hardly a unique insight, ask any business with an international client base.

Indeed the recommendations as a whole could be applied to any industry or profession: improved awareness of opportunity, tweaking of curricula to reflect industry demands, providing attractive working conditions and tax incentives. This kind of long view, however, might not yield results in the relocation of creative positions for at least 10 years. In the meantime there exists a wealth of talent already in Film, TV and new media, surely there is scope for mobility.

 

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This very question was tackled at the recent Press Play panel discussion at Filmbase in Dublin’s Temple Bar last week. Attended by a mix of aspiring and existing professionals in TV, music and games there was a lively session with a number of takehome points: 1) the games industry is there for the taking and 2) getting ahead in the games industry is a function of luck and persistance, not necessarily talent. Confused? You shouldn’t be, it’s the same for any industry anywhere, if anything the impression was that gaming is even more of a closed shop than more established media. 

Creatives who showed up looking for a guide on how to pitch their skills were essentially told they would have to start over, learn the vernacular and structure of the industry and immerse themselves in games and gaming culture. Not quite the same as a linear progression from commercials and pop videos to TV to movies. It begs the question, would the same problem apply in the other direction, that game composers be limited to their medium of choice against the wider media sector?

A further barrier to entry for creatives according to the panel was the lack of royalties. Unlike film and music, where ongoing residuals can form the backbone of an annual wage, there is no long tail effect where successful material provides a consistent revenue stream. This may not have been an issue in the past, where inherently modernistic video games have a short life span, but given the explosion in social and casual games which have extended shelf lives and ongoing revenue opportunities, pursuing a career in the creative arm of the gaming space could be a lot of energy wasted for comparatively little reward.

As for scripting and designing games from scratch the message was a flat ‘don’t bother’. Studios’ creative hubs have yet to break out of LA, Japan and France, and even if you do get your foot in the door everything is written to a brief, designed at committee level and handed down to the creative.

The sobering lesson from the Press Play panel was ‘if you’re into gaming already, then jump in’ but for anyone interested in porting their skills, the effort may well outweigh the reward.  

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