The Present Future of Gaming & Business
Gaming is truly changing our world.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past 10 years, you’ve probably noticed that gaming is becoming more commonly integrated into multiple platforms and industries. It’s impacting and framing how we interact with one another and with brands.
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Alan Youngblood, a friend and gaming industry professional. Alan is the co-founder at Mighty Rabbit Studios where he markets, creates art and prototypes for game production. Mighty Rabbit is currently working on releasing a series of commercial mobile role-playing games entitled “Saturday Morning RPG.” Alan has planned out the revolutionary Raleigh Game On event, a new form of entertainment, networking, and marketing. Mighty Rabbit has worked on several contracts with other companies using gaming technology and appeal to help their businesses. Alan studied Communication Media and Art+Design at North Carolina State University where he also worked making games for the University’s distance education.
I asked Alan the following 5 questions to help us novice participants better understand what’s emerging in this area and its potential impact on our work:
1. Would you give us an overview of where the gaming industry is today (i.e., its growth, its reach, etc.)?
With 25 billion in annual revenue, the gaming industry is much bigger than both the film and recording music industries combined. 72% of American homes already play games which is roughly equal to how many homes have cable or satellite TV. Games are reaching more mature audiences – the average age of a gamer is 37, with most being adults and more 50+ gamers than there are children playing games. While men still represent a higher part of the gaming world, women are not greatly out-numbered: they are 42% of the total. Video games are retaining art form rather than a passing fad as evidenced that gamers have been playing on average for 12 years.
The growth in the market is actually more of a transition right now. From offline to online, from physical media distribution to digital downloads, from consoles to mobile devices and web browser based games. The market itself appears to be growing steadily and is expanding in other parts of the world, not just the US. There is rapid growth in South America, Asia, and the Middle East.
2. What is it about gaming that draws so many to its products?
This is the billion dollar question that people cannot easily answer. In a word I could summarize it as “fun.” But there are many other things that are not games that provide fun, and yet do not provide some of the same benefits as games. Engineers in our industry joke about finding a formula for fun, but that’s exactly how you kill fun. I personally think games are quite more than just fun. In fact games are one of few things where one can say the whole is worth well more than the sum of the parts. To me games are akin dreams. Humans dream to combine old ideas and make new ones in order to predict possible future situations and test our reactions to them. This is why “going with your gut” by trusting your subconscious works. There’s a good bit of hard science lately that bolsters these notions. I think games often function like dreams in the sense of a MLK Jr “I have a dream” where one is not so much thinking of the weird and novel combination of experiences or ideas swirling through his mind the night before but expressing the human skill of imagining a better reality and then actualizing it. It’s a little out there metaphysically, I know. But the most esteemed people have a dream and a vision. Games create an environment for us to test and mold this dream. Creating meaning is the crux of anything worth doing. Games invite us to worlds where this becomes easy and natural.
3. How do you see gaming impacting B2C and B2B relationships?
Games are part of the vernacular of our current culture, so your fluency in gaming culture as a business will in part determine how well you communicate and connect with customers and other businesses. The future of advertising is increasingly in games. When executed correctly it can work better than other advertising. I can see difficult to explain B2B relationships being explained easily with a game simulation. If the old adage of a picture being worth 1000 words is true, then a video could be said to be worth 100,000 and thus a video game 100 million words. What’s best is that all that value comes across in much less time than it would take even the most astute scholar to read it. For companies where time is important, video games happen in real-time. They can offer instant feedback with analysis or make transactions instantly from actions. The way technology has advanced in recent years, the biggest limitations are now imagination and budget to make it happen.
4. How can companies and organizations leverage the reality of gaming to benefit their own efforts?
Three of the best ways to use games in your company:
- Education/Training/Awareness – Learning by doing is said to be far greater than learning by hearing, seeing, or reading. If it’s important for your employee to do something right, you want make sure they are not lost in the process. Games can be made to automatically incentivize goal achievement, allow people to experiment with methods and adjust to the particular person’s learning style. Some people want to be told what to do before they try whereas others like to jump in head first and figure it out while doing it. Games can teach both types in a way that makes sense to each. I believe an optimal educational game is made by where satisfying the “win conditions” requires one to know the concept. Providing in game teaching or encouraging people to look up/share answers may be there but is optional. This way someone can jump in and learn by trial/error or they can have it explained if they like. As opposed to a quiz with fancy graphics the game might provide a context and incentive to learn new information and skills.
- Testing ideas – games do a great job of simulating environments and often can be cheaper than real world testing. It may be a way to test quicker and cheaper than actually making something in our physical world. Instead of spending lots of money on biopharmaceutical equipment to test a new production line, make it in a video game engine that has realistic physics simulation and see if it works there before making the equipment. This may also be a way to learn about and understand the line’s capabilities, test for problems and troubleshoot.
- Social/Mediation – Not all companies care about employees liking each other and generally enjoying their experience at work, but the good ones do because they know a happy employee performs better and is much more fun to have around. While video games have mostly created the weird divide where so many are single player, the history of games (sports, card games, board games) has many instances where games are multi-player, that is involving many people. Many studies have been done that suggest players of World of Warcraft are better adapted for work because of their ability to socially coordinate and execute tasks in a group. From building cohesion to learning one’s place in a working group, games can be a fun, faster organic way to do this. Virtual worlds can create a great place to solve real world problems without many of the hinderances of our world. People can become anonymous or change an attribute that is getting in the way or just relax in an environment that has less emotional baggage.
5. In your opinion, what will the future of gaming look like?
If I’m allowed to indulge my inner geek I would love to see things like true 3D displays (that is displays that project into volumes, not stereoscopic displays) more intuitive interactions, perhaps through neural interfaces, more augmented reality and hybrid reality that is merged with our physical world. While many of those technologies are real and I’ve experienced them first hand, they are not all practical nor marketable. So realistically I see in the future of games that work on any device (most likely through a web browser). One of the brilliant things that Apple has done lately is making technology that is simple, sexy, solves problems, excites people but mostly just works. I think there’s a certain movement of the mass market towards things that do not require a computer science degree and lots of money to use or benefit from. People often criticize the gimmicks of Apple’s iOS devices or the Wii, the Kinect, Playstation Move –you name it– but the game industry is one with many fads or trends. It has been in constant flux and moves at an accelerating pace. It’s regular practice in the industry to start making a game for hardware that may not even be finished yet. So by all those standards, it’s almost best to just let the future worry about itself. We should expect to get hit sideways from disruptive innovation. The best future, the one I see is one we adapt to and embrace. I see games becoming a more important cultural and artistic part of the world’s societies. Technology will continue to advance, but I feel the humanity of games has some catching up to do as they become accepted along side films and novels. It’s already started and it will continue into the future.
What are some of your thoughts on this topic? I’ve asked to Alan to interact with your thoughts on questions.