Roundtable: Has The Industry Grown Up?

After a year of controversies, we take a hard look at the industry's growing pains

Was this the year that gaming grew up?

Something seems to have changed in the last year or so. We're not sure when it started, but nearly all of us could point to a spot where we noticed it happening.

You might have seen it on Twitter, arguments cast in 140 characters or less. It may have been the sudden, vicious turn of a comment thread or the undertone of dissatisfaction in a headline. You might even have felt like this all along. Things are being challenged, conventions called to account.

Gender imbalance, the lack of inclusivity, the corruption of journalists, issues of maturity, sex and violence, copycatting, the exploitation of the customer - all these issues have been pushed to the fore over the last twelve months. Turned over and inside out, vaunted or ridiculed - there seems to have been barely time to draw breath this year between long, hard looks in the mirror.

For some it's been a welcome change, the relief of realising that there are other people who feel just as angry, marginalised or outright excluded. For others it's been an unwelcome distraction, unnecessary navel gazing which only leads to a pointless stirring of the pot and no real progress - frenzies whipped up by the press for cheap hits and self-glorification.

Whatever you feel about them, many have been almost impossible to ignore. Whether it's the storm of abuse endured by Anita Sarkeesian, the crisis of confidence ignited by Rab Florence or marketing tactics which are somewhere on a scale between condemnable and very clever, this has been a year in which our industry has been pulled from many ruts, asked to reassess and re-examine.

How much has actually changed is debatable, but what is clear is that it's unlikely we're going to see these issues swept back under the carpet. Like it or not, these debates aren't going away. We've hosted and participated in all of these discussions, and more, but we rarely get to comment on them directly. So, read on as we ask our international staff - was this the year that gaming grew up?

Rachel Weber

While I love being part of the games industry, it's just embarrassing when it acts like the guy that everyone tries to avoid at parties. Take this Hitman thing - I'm no angel when it comes to the inappropriate humour, but then I'm not a multi-million dollar corporation with a team of PR and marketing experts who probably earn just slightly more than the queen to make sure things like the "kill the girl with the small tits!" app don't happen. But this year something has changed, and it's the community.

"Yes, there are still trolls furiously masturbating under internet bridges, but I think most sensible peoples' brains can filter that stuff out"

Rachel Weber

When things have gone wrong it's been the community that has stepped in to let companies know they're just not cool with it. Social media means people can communicate directly with the companies or people that have upset them. Yes, there are still trolls furiously masturbating under internet bridges, but I think most sensible peoples' brains can filter that stuff out, and concentrate on the good stuff, like the recent #onereasonwhy movement on Twitter.

So gaming isn't quite a responsible adult with a mortgage and a monthly donation to Amnesty International set up, but it is getting there. At least right now we're more well meaning student in an ironic t-shirt than eight-year-old playground bully.

Matt Handrahan

I have been writing about games for just under 8 years, and 2012 has been a clear high-point for self-examination throughout the industry. Cynicism is a common trait among journalists, and I would be the first to call this hand-wringing into question, but there is an underlying sincerity here that has been absent when such issues have been raised in the past. This year, more than any other, I sense a very real desire to say that we are finally past all of this mess, to congratulate ourselves for talking the industry's problems into submission.

But that doesn't mean that gaming has 'grown up', exactly. Sure, the industry is bigger and more popular than ever before, but the bulk of its products remain sharply divided between the blandly innocuous and the strikingly abrasive. We can hold up Angry Birds and Call of Duty: Black Ops as symbolic of the diversity in modern gaming, but the vast gulf that lies between the tone of these products is not being addressed, leaving a huge number of potential customers out in the cold, and undermining our ability to take a firm stance on issues like race, gender and violence.


The latest Hitman controversy is a case in point. I have been playing Absolution in my free time for much of the last week, and my non-gaming girlfriend has watched me gleefully kill scores of virtual people - both guilty and innocent - in a variety of inventive ways. But when I explained the outcry around the game's Facebook app I was greeted with an apathetic shrug of her shoulders. To someone who sees bad taste as one of gaming's major selling points, the moral outcry over a bad taste marketing stunt is baffling at best and hypocritical at worst.

In her eyes, our collective high-horse has unsteady legs, and we enjoy the view from the saddle far more than the view from the ground.

Dan Pearson

There's that old expression about elephants and tents - how it's better to have one inside, pissing out, than vice versa. It's a a charming analogy, one of those aphorisms with the no-nonsense efficiency of a military background. I've heard it used to illuminate a dozen different scenarios, in a dozen different ways, but for me it sums up the crux of what so much of this year's turmoil has been about.

The idea that, if you're not in the club, then what the hell do you think you're doing trying to change the rules?

"It's not our tent. There have always been others in it, no matter whether we've acknowledged them or not"

Dan Pearson

Allow me to explain, abandoning, for now, the image of tents full of angry, urinating pachyderms. Games, for so many years, were a pretty exclusive club - or so it seemed. At first it was just for nerds, safe amongst labyrinths of terminals and command lines - waiting patiently by squealing tape recorders. Soon, a few more, attracted by bright colours and the tooting of tinny speakers, began to gather round. Cartridges and CD-roms brought another wave, people who'd never typed "" LOAD or cd C:\GAMES.

They were accepted, welcomed, encouraged for the social acceptance and crisp cash they brought with them. For many years, this remained - we knew who we were we knew what we stood for. Aliens, barbarians, race cars and space ships. Heroes, wenches, shotguns and warhammers. Occasionally someone new would poke their head in. Sometimes they'd see what we were doing, tut or sigh and move on. Sometimes they'd bawl us out, accuse us of training to murder or being slobbish and unhealthy, call us names and intimate that we lacked in social graces.

They were, largely, ignored. They didn't understand, didn't get it. Water off a duck's back.

But it wasn't quite. It affected us, there in our little tent, lit crazy neon with the humming glow of our TVs and monitors. It made us defensive, aggressive even - prepared to raise the drawbridge and endure the siege. Pushed into a cultural corner by so many for so long, we began to believe that we were different, that we had a hobby which might make us sad, or immature or weird or portly, but it didn't matter, because we knew how amazing it all really was. Our tiny club of millions. Special.

Then the others came. People waggling wands and planting pumpkins, busting gems on smartphones and playing whole suites of plastic instruments. These weren't our people, not rejects or shut-ins - they hadn't paid their dues. "They'll ruin everything," we cried! "This is not what games are about - you don't understand!" Ignore them, we thought - they'll go away.


They didn't, thank god. They continue to arrive at the door of the tent. Some just want a look, some want to stay. Some of them want to try and make things better, more welcoming, to broaden the church. Some of them, unbelievably, want to take down the club's eternal motto - those sacred words, those two syllables of perfectly efficient exclusion: No Girls. A proposal, it seems, which causes us the most problems by far.

That's all rubbish, of course. It's not our tent. There have always been others in it, no matter whether we've acknowledged them or not. But the thing is - these are valid concerns. They're valid because people have them. Thinking about violence in games and how that might affect children has led to several studies and the use of the straightforward and well recognised certification system we have today. Thinking about mechanics and formats which will appeal to a broad range of ages, interests and abilities has given us an industry which counts hundreds of millions more among its adherents.

"Like any teenager, you're going through an awkward phase where you discover a bit about who you are and what you want to be in the future"

Brendan Sinclair

Perhaps we can start to think about what we can achieve if we bring the bearers of all of these complaints inside the tent, to let them contribute to the bigger picture - to allow them to be heard instead of covering our ears and hoping that it'll all go back to how it once was, because we started this and we're not giving it up.

We're not necessarily wrong about everything. Some people are undoubtedly over-sensitive or looking for any chance to take the moral high-ground, but it's as much their tent as ours. We should let them hold the controller once in a while. Maybe, one day, we can even take down that sign.

Brendan Sinclair

Will 2012 go down as the year gaming grew up? Sort of. Growing up is a process with many stages of development, many phases to go through. Coming into 2012, gaming was like a typical eight-year-old: Zero concept of empathy, throws tantrums, a picky eater who sulked at anything it didn't instantly recognize from a McDonald's commercial, and prone to saying things like, "You don't need LightCore Skylanders Giants because all Giants are already LightCore, don't you know ANYTHING?"

But as the year wore on, gaming seemed to have a series of revelations. Big publishers will abandon all ethics for the sake of profit. Games view women as nothing but sex objects. How can we trust a gaming press that pals around with the people they're supposed to cover? Minority depictions in our games swing between "mildly insensitive" and "wildly racist." Military shooters are trivializing war and viewing guns as nothing but sex objects.


In other words, gaming has become largely aware of these problems, thinks solving them should be trivially simple, and is prone to saying things like, "Everyone else is stupid except for me." So congratulations, gaming. You're a teenager! And like any teenager, you're going through an awkward phase where you discover a bit about who you are and what you want to be in the future. And even if you're not certain what that destination is, you're eager as hell to get there. It's taken you a bit longer than I expected, but after roughly 40 years, here you are. And I know you'll probably roll your eyes at this, but I just wanted to say that we're all very proud of you.

James Brightman

I think Brendan's teenager analogy is spot-on. The industry is far from ďgrown upĒ and it does appear at times to be having an identity crisis. What exactly is a game? Who is it for? Are developers supposed to be creating deep, emotionally engaging, cinematic experiences like Heavy Rain? Military shooters like Call of Duty? Expressive, artistic endeavors like Journey? The answer is all of the above. Games need more variety, not less. Where are the new genres? Why is the business - and its marketers - so obsessed with violence? There have to be other ways to engage an audience and to build buzz around a product.

"I can embrace my inner 14-year-old from time to time, but it's like McDonald's - eat too much of it, and you'll regret it"

James Brightman

The industry for years has had tunnel vision, focusing on over-the-top violence, gore, action and special effects. It's partially driven by a fear to branch out but it's also a result of men in suits deciding that any game that doesn't have a three or four next to its title is likely to post lackluster returns for shareholders. Let's face it, it's what's been working. We're a part of the problem because we all run out and buy Call of Duty on launch day. That's not to say Call of Duty is a bad product by any means, but if we're going to complain that we're seeing nothing new, we need to start putting our money into new and innovative products.

The good news is that Kickstarter is enabling that, and the digital revolution as a whole is opening up new avenues for developers to express themselves and take greater creative risks without some suit leaning over his/her shoulder, saying something can't be made because marketing analysis said so.

I saw Lincoln at the movie theater recently, and it made me pause and think - it made me think about the trials and tribulations this great president went through as a civil war raged, the difficulties he had to endure while pushing with his entire soul to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, and how a great nation managed to heal itself. There aren't many games that can do that - to make you really stop and think - certainly not the ones with scantily clad babes, huge guns, explosions and giblets. I'm 34, but the industry still talks to me like I'm 14. I can embrace my inner 14-year-old from time to time, but it's like McDonald's - eat too much of it, and you'll regret it.

Latest comments (23)

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago
Sorry, what were we talking about? I was busy firing a pair of exploding robot tits from the window of my Lamborghini.

Great article, peeps.
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James Sweatman Senior Game Designer, Jagex Games Studio5 years ago
A really great read. It's fantastic to see certain aspects of the industry moving in the right direction, however as we've seen, we're still a long way from where we need to be.

On a side note I hope the comments don't turn into a mass brawl like some of the other articles of late, it makes us all look bad.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend5 years ago
Why do we feel the need to apologise for the industry we are in all the time?? Yes, we do stupid things, say stupid things and even do some downright ridiculous things. Sure I want equality, tolerance and honesty in the games industry as much as anyone else, but why the need to buckle under any little scrutiny or media slapping?

Of course it is good that valid issues have been brought up, discussed and people will possibly change things for the better in their own circle. I am all for that, but not everyone will want to change. Some people like making and playing games where you explode peopleís heads, or swear constantly. Is that a reflection of the whole industry?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 6th December 2012 10:44am

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Richard Westmoreland Senior Game Designer, Codemasters Birmingham5 years ago
I fully agree Darren. It's like judging the whole Film and TV industry based on Michael Bay's output.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up5 years ago
The games industry has done and always will evolve. Itís always been open to anyone. Itís just people didn't think it was for them. Itís never because they were excluded or looked down on in anyway by the people in it. That's a totally ridiculous idea.

The thing that has changed the industry and made people interested in games on the scale that we see now is simply the proliferation of personal electronic devices. There was a time when someone with a PDA was considered and called a geek in a derogatory fashion, which in itself is a pretty narrow minded view of people who used computers back then . Now itís the norm and the word has lost its weight. You could argue that people outside the industry grew up in that respect.
Also, I canít ever think back to a time when people looked at Singstar (as a good example) and thought "who are these people, they donít make proper games". Singstar was a game that was pretty influential in women adopting the idea of playing games at all on any great scale, and sort of changed their mind set about what a game is or can be, and who these people were that played them.
As more people take an interest itís pretty obvious that different ideas will be explored and different experiences will be created with technology. Itís nothing to do with growing up. Itís simply an industry with a wider demographic. Social media also has an effect on any industry or product out there.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 6th December 2012 11:34am

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Robert Fuller Studying GSP, DeVry University5 years ago
@Darren & Rich - I don't think its apologizing for the basis of creative ideas but more for the paranoid fear that the old way is the best and only way and becoming its own road block in innovation of the industry.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Has the industry grown a little?
I think that depends on perspective. To inside the industry, most would likely agree that some growing up has taken place. To the majority outside the industry, they likely still see us as childish as ever.

What I think we are seeing is the broadened demographic having a large enough voice, along with platforms to project that voice, to finally speak up from within rather than having outsiders constantly yelling at us.

And that in itself may be a sign of growing up but it's only happening because of the broadened demographic. We aren't seeing much of this activity coming from the original demographics or the content creators which I think should be the case if we were truly growing up.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 5 years ago
I'm puzzled by the whole question really.

How are we growing up exactly? Last time I checked the film industry had been around for what a 100 odd years and still does some pretty dumb things. Similarly the music industry goes through bouts of dumbness every decade or so.

Shouldn't the question be more along the lines of "Has the games industry matured?"

By this I mean reached a stage where it's now a part of society and will simply continue to grow and change as society itself does. The same way every other industry has.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
I don't expect any industry to be free of controversies. Its part and parcel of life really...
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Emily Knox Associate Designer, CCP Games5 years ago
Peter has highlighted a crucial point that this roundtable discussion missed for me. Trying to ascertain whether or not games have "grown up" this year means we need a definition of what sort of games a "grown up" industry creates (and if we're encompassing web sites, what "grown up" content is produced). Obviously age ratings for content don't make a game more's more like a "contains nudity/gore/swearing" label, a game can have that label or not have it and it doesn't tell us that the game is "grown up" (but again, I've not come up with a rationale that defines whether or not a game is "grown up", so maybe it does).

If we're going to answer the question, we need to know what a grown up game is. To me personally, diversity is more important than being "grown up". Diversity provides for everyone, it's inclusive to broader interests, variety is healthy, I can drive cars and shoot people, read stories, make choices and run down linear corridors. As James Brightman put it, this means I can eat steak one day and McDonalds the next.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Emily Knox on 6th December 2012 5:15pm

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Nick Parker Consultant 5 years ago
I think we do a pretty good job of entertaining the majority of people who want to game. Gaming is subjective as are movies and music. All three industries are moored to a platform of fun, creativity and sometimes irreverence which translates to an industry that does not have to behave in a grown up fashion sometimes. From my suited industry perspective, games companies have grown up and more closely resemble the more mature industries of FMCG, commodities and finance with teams of researchers and strategic planners in house to reduce risk, a resource that a handful of companies had ten years ago but which are now on recruitment books every day. Studios have to acquaint themselves with finance and corporate responsibility and on a parochial level have to work out how to seduce gamers to spend cash at every level of the games they develop. Yes I want business to grow up but not our culture as entertainers.
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Robert Mac-Donald Game Designer, Lethe Games5 years ago
In my opinion the industry will only grow up when we stop calling everybody "gamers" and everything that is Entertainment Software a game, just because it was placed in a digital package.

And when it realizes that just like movies or books, there are games with gameplay and/or story intended for kids, teenagers, adults and even intellectuals. Games are not just for kids, but saying all games are for adults is just as wrong, a myth.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online5 years ago
@Richard, you write: "It's like judging the whole Film and TV industry based on Michael Bay's output"

There is one difference though: There are many other genres than action in film and TV. In gaming, remind me which games make one billion dollars in 15 days again?

Even though there *are* other genres in gaming - thank God! -, the sad fact is that game publishers cater to the loud minority of forum trolls aged 12-22 with their "hardcore" products. Just look at Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

Is it coincidence that so many older gamers now put their money in Kickstarter projects instead of buying "Call of Honor: The Need for Medals"? ;)
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
Around any one large and well known "thing", you will find two large groups of people. There will be those that are involved and those that want to change stuff and get attention that way.

I don't want the industry to "grow up" and I even dislike it being called an industry. I certainly want to be able to blow up some fake robot tits if the need takes me. Without even justifying that this in turn stops me doing it in real life...
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I think saying the best selling games of all time are catering to the minority, is quite the oxymoron?

Here's the long version, about this topic in general:

I don't think it's hard to come up with good explanations on why gaming is dominated by the 'action' genre and that much of gaming is the same, instead of saying the culture is immature.

One explanation is that it's inherent to what games are. I think the best definition of a game is this: A form of play with a clearly defined set of rules working towards a clearly defined goal. In videogames, actions undertaken by the player(s) should cause a satisfying reaction, thus creating satisfying feedback loops, preferably on both the long term and the short term. There are lots of different goals to make this interaction meaningful, but the end goal for the players is always trying to win or finish the game. In short, games are about satisfying interaction. With that in mind, it makes sense that most games consists of a lot of run-jump-dodge-pew. It's the most direct way of creating these short term feedback loops, as it's interaction is continuous. If done right, and games are your thing, this can be extremely satisfying.

Instead of comparing games to movies, TV or books, I'd say games are, by definition, much more comparable to sports. Movies, TV and books are, by their definition, storytelling-tools, which games don't even have to be, while sports are about it's players, their interaction and a goal, all inherent properties of games aswell. No wonder sportsgames work so well. With that in mind, the question of why there aren't that many different kinds of games is like asking; why are all sports about scoring points? Why are all sports about winning? Well, if it isn't about that, it isn't a sport.

But as has been pointed out, there are many different genres: Sports, RTS, RPG, FPS, TPS, MMO, MMORPGFPSRTS... you name it. The only conundrum is that all of these genres still need to provide that satisfying gameplay. So that means lots of run-jump-dodge-pew-click-kill. What else?

I can think of Heavy Rain for example, which had very significant consequences for it's interaction, by folding the story around it. It wasn't about running, gunning or scoring, but it's still a game, because it is about meaningful interaction. I personally thought it was great and truely something new, but then there were plenty of people saying: "I wouldn't call Heavy Rain a game!" So.. what are we really talking about then? How do you define games?

Simply put, there just aren't a whole lot of different types of games. Once in a while there is something that you might say breaks the mold, like Heavy Rain, and then, sadly, not a whole lot of people buy it. There were plenty who didn't even like it at all. Which leads to the second explanation of why so many games are the same, which is:

Making games is a business. For there to be games, people have to buy them. If we could all be making games just for the sake of it, there probably would be a whole lot of crazy, strange, beautiful and meaningful stuff you might call games or maybe interactive stories or gamesports or whatever. But for now we all need to make a living, so it's not at all strange that game publishers cater to the people who... buy their games. And a lot of people buy Call of Duty. Besides that, making games costs a lot of money, especially big budget games of course, and it's hard making a good game! It's a very risky business. If it was easy to think of something new and fun, we would all be filthy rich.

I am not afraid to admit I've enjoyed Call of Duty immensly by the way, especially Call of Duty 1, 2 and Modern Warfare 1. Not that much anymore, though... which leads to my third point: We are getting older... :(

As someone who has played nearly everything there ever was in terms of games, well... almost, I am indeed seeing much of the same thing. But when I was 20, I very much enjoyed all the jump-jump-pew-pew! It's was all new, exciting and awesome! It's a bit silly to now call that immature, isn't it? We're just not part of that market anymore. It has little to do with the industry not growing up, though. It has all to do with the fact that there simply are a lot of 20 year olds who buy games. Otherwise they wouldn't sell as many Call of Duty's. That market didn't vanish, but you might have outgrown it. And, to put it a bit more bluntly, I'm afraid not everyone is as sophisticated as you'd like them to be. There are also a lot of 30-year-olds who buy Call of Duty. I know quite a few of them, and that's perfectly fine.

Luckily though, there might be hope. We, the people of the games industry, are also still buying games. So as long as we keep on making them, it should all be alright in the end!

Edited 11 times. Last edit by Laurens Bruins on 21st February 2013 8:51pm

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
The most played games in the world are probably Angry Birds, with 1,000+ million downloads, Windows Solitaire, which is on just about every PC and Nokia Snake which is on an immense number of phones. The game chart contains games with a tiny fraction of the user base of these three.

What we are seeing just now is a very big jump in the number of people who derive pleasure from gaming, the number has gone up several fold. These people don't see themselves as video gamers. The most popular of our products are now seen by more than any film. We are approaching ubiquity.

In many ways we are lucky, we aren't widely used for propaganda yet, in the way that the Braveheart film was. And we aren't used politically. We live in an age of innocence because those in power who seek to shape our minds haven't yet realised our importance and power. So we can concentrate on entertaining whilst the TV output does its social conditioning.

However as an industry we still have a lot of growing up to do. We lack simple things like credible, unified industry bodies to coherently represent us and our interests. And many still do not understand the brands that we create, what their power is and how they need to be managed. And our representation on other popular media often owes nothing to reality, largely due to our own inadequate communication.

The good news is that sections of the MSM are switching on to us, but we still have a long battle ahead.
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago
Want to start a company with me, Laurens? :P

You have more intelligence, common sense and logic than almost anyone I know. Great post.

Nice read from you, too Bruce, though I would argue Ė only on one small point Ė that the last two Medal Of Honor games skirt extremely close to military propaganda.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 7th December 2012 8:19am

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend5 years ago
+1 Laurens
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Al Rhodes Web producer/designer 5 years ago
If we are going to continue to compare games to the movie industry as a competing form of entertainment, then we should accept that gaming is a return-to-experience. I can watched, absorb, enjoy, emote and be challenged by the most obscure art house movies out there but I rarely watch them repeatedly. The ones I return to over and over are the bawdy comedies, the violent action movies, the gory horror flicks and the effects laden fantasy/superhero output.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Al Rhodes on 7th December 2012 12:39pm

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Mariusz Szlanta Producer, SEGA Europe5 years ago
Well, itís business in the first place. If next big thing is llamas games, then half of Game biz readers will be making llama games in no time.

It happens that shooters are very popular video game genre. It doesnít mean that industry is immature or needs to grow up. It only means there is a market to which video game developers respond to make for a living.

I think that signs of ďgrowing upĒ should be looked for in processes, number of execs with MBA titles, number of studios affected by mass redundancies, changes in organisation of production, costs budgeted against spent and so on.

I would argue that something as complex as CoD or Battlefield multiplayer modes could not be produced and serviced 10 years ago. Are teams behind it better organised and managed or just bigger and financially secure?
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Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University5 years ago
Great Article.
The industry is experiencing a major identity crisis. Hopefully change will lead to more kick-starteresque projects and innovative titles that offer experiences not possible in the past, that expand the scope of the industry, and challenge the very idea of what we all believe constitutes a video game.
The term Video Game will surely be more inline with the generic term of Interactive Entertainment as the years pass on.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Aaron Brown on 7th December 2012 4:41pm

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Thanks for the great responses, guys. Made me feel good.

@Dan; I would and the same applies to you, mate. So, if anything, it would be nice if you posted again sometimes. ;)
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Pascal Pimpare Writer/Blogger 5 years ago
+1'ing Laurens here also. Absolutely great comment.
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