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RTW: Games and business models have come full circle

Studio manager draws similarities between the old arcade machine and today's micro-transactions

The games industry and the products it creates might have evolved in leaps and bounds over the last 25 years, but in some respects it's come full circle according to Realtime Worlds studio manager Colin Macdonald.

Speaking at the Dundee digital arts festival NEoN today, MacDonald pointed out that today's micro-transaction and subscription-based business models actually share many similarities with the arcade machines of yesterday.

"We're just on the brink of a micro-payment revolution," said Macdonald, "but back then we had a real micro-payment system."

Arcade games back in the eighties were designed around keeping players motivated so they would continue to feed them with 10p coins, working in much the same way as a micro-transaction.

They can also be compared to the relatively new subscription models used by many online games today, he added. "Playing those games then, you die, the game's over. You then get ten seconds to pump in your next 10p. That's like a subscription. You've got to put in more money to keep playing the game and keep your status. Really that's exactly the same business model as you see in online games today."

Realtime's studio manager also revealed his concerns five years ago that aspiring game designers no longer had the same route into the industry that the bedroom coders of his generation did.

Games had begun costing tens of millions of pounds to develop, he said, and there didn't seem to be a way for what had happened before to happen again. Thankfully, it turned out not to be the case.

"Things like iPhone and OpenGL have opened the door to small companies and students to make entire games and there's a way to commercialise them. They can be used as a stepping stone for bedroom coders to go onto greater things."

In his presentation, Macdonald also revealed the ethos Realtime's Dave Jones applied to making games, starting with keeping things simple.

The original Lemmings gave the lemmings just eight skills when they could have had 20 or 30, he said. There's always a temptation to overcomplicate things.

Having a game set in a contemporary place makes it more accessible to a broader audience too. It's better if they can look at a pistol and an AK-47 and instantly know, without being told, the AK-47 is better.

Finally, said Macdonald, Realtimes' games have always been designed to entertain and make people laugh, and the company has always sought to innovate - to the point of creating entire new genres.

The NEoN digital arts festival runs in Dundee until Sunday. Highlights include a demonstration of Crackdown 2 from creators Ruffian Games as part of Saturday's line up.

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