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E3 2009: Microsoft Press Conference
Jun 1st, 2009 by worldblee

Just finished watching Microsoft‘s press conference–if you weren’t there or missed the stream you can watch the replay on GameSpot here. MS showed a good lineup of content for both games and videos, and the Facebook and Twitter additions could be nice too, although I’m waiting to see more information on how you input your updates and Tweets before passing judgment.

Most of the MS games played to their core demographic rather than expanding their base–Alan Wake looked great (really nice particle effects!), but more Halo, Splinter Cell, Crackdown, etc. just continues to feed the current audience. That’s all good, but the Concepticate philosphy is more focused on new and different ways to engage with players.

Tony Hawk Ride, with its new skateboard controller, was a very logical extension of the TH franchise utilizing the Guitar Hero/Rock Band/Wii Fit pack-in controller philosophy. Technologically it should be straightforward to execute and it should do well.

But the part I was looking to most, of course, was the Project Natal 3D camera announcement. We all knew it was coming, although I wasn’t privy to the fact that it had a microphone and voice recognition as a component. The game demos that were shown were very competitive with the other 3D camera sensing technology that’s out there, and they had better graphics than other games that have been shown in the motion gaming space. As expected, the 3D camera (whatever they end up calling it) probably won’t be available until late 2010. Developers are supposed to start getting dev kits now.

Microsoft showed good tech, but they didn’t reveal any killer app that will drive people to the Xbox 360 for motion gaming in the manner the Wiimote and Balance Board have driven players to the Wii. This doesn’t mean they don’t have better stuff up their sleeve, but I have a feeling if they had anything great already in development they would have teased it at the press conference.

Looking at the games they did show via videos or live demos we saw a racing game where the daughter was driving the car using her hands while the Dad performed tire changing duties in the pits, with all the actions, including shifting, being mimed. I didn’t take good notes during the video section, but there was also a skateboarding game with the player miming skateboard motions on the living room carpet, video recognition of people to call up their Live avatars, and gesture-controlled onscreen navigation. A kid also scanned in his skateboard to create a virtual deck he could use in the skateboard game. However, all this footage looked conceptual, created to show the possibilities of the system rather than being video of games actually in development.

Im a model pretending to be a teen skate kid

"I'm a model pretending to be a teen skate kid"

Moving to the motion games actually demoed, we mostly saw ‘2D-ish’ outline avatars a la the old Super Punch Out game rather than full 3D avatars. The 3D camera was being used for Z-axis data (e.g., your foot being kicked forward at a ball) but for the most part the experience was similar to the soccer ball game in Wii Fit. The kickball/volleyball game Ricochet shown was like the Wii Fit soccer game but with the option to use hands and feet as well as your head and with the velocity of your limb or head having an appropriate effect on the ball coming toward you.

On the plus side, the girl doing the demoing looked like she got a good workout and there are many more game options available if you don’t have to stand atop a static Balance Board. I should add there was some 3D avatar control demoed with Natal creative director Kudo Tsunoda (the ex-EA guy from the Fight Night franchise) controlling his Live avatar with his body. As is typical with this, the software had difficulty keeping his skeleton intact when he turned his body, but there wasn’t much delay.

They also showed Splat, a kind of party painting game that allowed players to splash virtual paint on the screen and create 2D stencils of their body (they made a very cute elephant silhouette using a guy and a girl and a couple pillows)–if they had 30 such games packed together they’d have something every bit as entertaining as Wii Fit.

Lastly, Peter Molyneux (the best pitchman in videogames) showing a video of a Lionhead project called Milo that featured a virtual boy with whom you can interact. This was very much a tech demo, but had some fun applications, especially if you imagined it embedded in something like Fable 3–I would be first in line to play that game if that’s the intention.

Milo: everyones little virtual friend

Playing in a fishpond with Milo

If I sound underwhelmed by the concept, I’m not. Microsoft showed they are competitive with others in the 3D camera space and with their superior resources and graphics they showed a higher fidelity (at least visually) experience than anyone else has demonstrated. And now it’s announced so developers not working for the major publishers can get into the game with dev kits so we all can get our hands on the technology first hand. While there was some excess hyperbole (not unusual for a press conference) I really do think motion games provide new possibilities for fun while providing exercise benefits, and that’s all to the good for the games industry.

For more reading, you can also check out the VentureBeat article on the conference–I lifted the two images above from them so it’s good manners to credit them.

Videogame Censorship
May 21st, 2009 by worldblee

The politicians are at it again. Like lab rats that push a button hoping that food will come out, California Attorney General Jerry Brown is appealing the state’s earlier loss in court with regard to its bill to restrict the sale of videogames in the hope that votes will come his way should he run for re-election or for Governor. Every time this type of restriction is brought before a reasonable judge or court it is thrown out as unconstitutional. The results will probably be the same this time, with the tax payers of California footing the bill for the failed appeal.

My name is Jerry Brown, and I also hate puppies

My name is Jerry Brown, and I also hate puppies

The response from game industry folks such as me is just as Pavlovian–why would anyone want to ban our lovely games? Parents should be responsible for the children’s buying choices, and anyway games rated ‘M’ for Mature aren’t available for sale to minors… But even if expressed in self-interest, the arguments against censorship are all valid (and personally I don’t believe in the ESRB ratings system anyway-having submitted games through it I’ve seen how arbitrary it can be and the fact that nudity is rated more obscene than violence just makes no sense to me) and there is no empirical evidence that games ever actually hurt anyone.

Columbine wasn’t caused by videogames. People with severe problems kill other people, and pixilated characters aren’t powerful enough to cause a normal, healthy person to kill another person. These truths are self evident.

But not to Jerry Brown:

“These video game makers are shamelessly exploiting vulnerable children for profit,” Brown told The Times in an interview. “And in the same way pornography can be banned, pornographic violence can be banned as well.”

So what can a videogame supporter do? There are a couple things:

  • Follow the issue at www.gamepolitics.com -they do a good job of covering game censorship issues.
  • Follow general censorship issues at http://www.mediacoalition.org/.
  • Don’t be shy about writing to your elected officials-let them know that videogame censorship is an issue you take seriously. If you’re lazy like me, sign up for the Video Game Voter’s Network; this will allow you to receive notifications and express your views in pre-rolled and pre-addressed emails to officials so that you can express your views without having to use your noggin much.

One would imagine that this issue will go away eventually as more politicians enter office having played games their whole lives-but who knows, perhaps having fun* and wanting to hold office are mutually exclusive.

* By fun I mean legal, open activities as opposed to the clandestine affairs that have brought down more than one politician (or preacher).

More Motion Gaming Rumors
May 1st, 2009 by worldblee

First, Microsoft bought 3DV Systems and was rumored to have a deal in place to provide 3D motion sensing cameras for the Xbox 360 platform. Now Engadget reports a rumor that Microsoft is preparing to launch a motion-sensing peripheral:

Here’s a quick rundown of capabilities mentioned:

  • Full body and hand gesture control of games/characters.
  • In fighting games you kick, punch, duck, dive, jump and so forth with your body.
  • It also picks up small hand gestures like pinching, grabbing and scrolling.
  • There will also be video conferencing and games with video.
  • Trivia game over the internet with live images of each person playing. When a question pops up, they can clap to buzz in.
  • You can “move objects on your screen” and the other party can see what you’re doing in real time.
  • Sensor detects only the person playing, not folks observing on the couch.
Engadgets picture of MS peripheral

Engadget's picture of MS peripheral

The reporter is a little fuzzy on the details of how infrared 3D cameras work (they calculate the distance between the camera and any object and in conjunction with software like that produced by my colleagues at Omek Interactive you can algorithmically determine where a person’s hands, head, body, etc. are positioned). Nonetheless, an interesting development given how hard the company has seemingly worked to keep their motion gaming plans secret.

Not to be left out, Variety reports that Sony is readying a similar system, albeit one with an actual peripheral rather than just a camera. Here’s the article’s lead:

Sony’s much rumored motion sensing controller for the PlayStation 3 is real and it will likely be unveiled at E3.

That’s what I’ve been hearing from several sources, one of whom has seen the device and two of whom are familiar with Sony’s plans to show it at E3 next month.

Rumors that Sony will come out with a motion sensing device have abounded for over two years, ever since a patent was first reported on in January of 2007.

It will be interesting to see what is revealed–or not–at E3. I’m expecting peripherals to be released in 2010 rather than 2009 but it would certainly be a happy surprise to see something come out this year.

And Nintendo? I’m sure they’re quaking in their shoes right now. Not. Nonetheless, it will be interesting for gamers to get an option to play motion games on all three platforms with a variety of input mechanisms. Once people try controlling avatars with full body motion I expect to see converts to this style of gaming since it can provide exercise benefits along with exercise. Body motion is not the right controller for every type of game, but for some sports, fitness, and adventure titles it provides a fresh new way to play.

Cool Factor vs. Purchase Intent
Apr 29th, 2009 by worldblee

Gamasutra had an interesting article today looking at game awareness vs. sales in the case of the Wii game MadWorld from PlatinumGames and SEGA. The game had high awareness and good reviews (80+ scores) yet sold only 66K units in the US according to NPD. VGChartz tracks it as 100K units in the US and 180K worldwide, but either way its sales numbers were smaller than expected based on awareness and coverage of the title.

Here’s a quote from the article:

There has been a great deal of speculation about the underwhelming retail performance of PlatinumGames’ MadWorld, but now research firm OTX’s business intelligence tool GamePlan Insights shows detailed data illustrating the often-thin correlation between online acclaim and real-world retail success, particularly on the Wii platform.

As demonstrated by OTX Gaming Insights director Nick Williams at the Los Angeles Game Conference, with slides made available to Gamasutra, the game’s strong awareness among the hardcore online gaming community bore little relationship with its weak awareness among the wider gaming public.

OTX‘s GamePlan Insights tracking tool, based on a survey of 1,000 gamers, had MadWorld‘s purchase intent at only 2.8%, which placed it 41st among Wii titles. Conversely, IGN‘s tracking of its users had the game ranked highest in interest among Wii games.

So what can we learn from this? For starters, without the aid of research we can probably predict that an extremely violent black and white game (although technically it’s not black and white since the blood is red) won’t sell very well. Feast your eyes on the screen below.

MadWorld screenshot from Joystiq.com

MadWorld screenshot from Joystiq.com

As you can see, this is not a game that your average Wii Sports player is going to snap up in the first week of release. It has what I would describe as a self-conconsciously ‘edgy’ design style and really violent play mechanics (although in truth the outcome of gameplay is no more violent than most shooters; you’re carving up people with a chainsaw rather than a shotgun but the effect is the same).

Aside from that, it always, always, always pays to look at interest in your game title from the perspective of your actual customer. You (the designer, producer, artist, writer, engineer, product manager, etc.) may love your game, but if it only appeals to people just like yourself your market will be smaller than if it appeals to, for example, the afore-mentioned Wii Sports players. And gamers on IGN’s Wii channel are not representative of the larger Wii market; they’re core guys closer to your dev team than they are to Wii Fit customers.

In this case, we have a cool niche title that appeals to niche players, which is great if that’s in line with your expectations and budget. But if you’re dealing with Other People’s Money (OPM), which you usually are when dealing with a disc-based console game, you have to know the realistic potential of your game (Note: realistic potential, not the potential you wish for your labor of love).

Depending on the dev budget and marketing, MadWorld may end up turning a profit or at least breaking even (Wii-only development, single player, so they have a shot). But if they overshot the mark, they have no excuse since it should have been easy to prognosticate that this game was not likely to be a huge seller (easy for me to say, I know). New IP, developer not that well known, smaller publisher, and niche-oriented gameplay. Not a single one of those attributes screams, “breakout title!”

The lesson: If you’re making a full budget title don’t let interest from the game press–or from your dev team–get you too excited unless it corresponds to larger (and quantifiable) customer interest. If you’re making an indie game for a core audience, on the other hand, this interest can mean you are on track with something that is going to work for your audience and your budget. Just don’t confuse the two.

Judgment Day
Apr 21st, 2009 by worldblee

I don’t want to play Wii Fit right now. My weight is up a few pounds and if I step on the Balance Board Wii Fit will tell me that I’m moving in the wrong direction from my weight goal of a 22 BMI—and I don’t want to get chastised.

Wii Fit, preparing to judge me

Wii Fit, preparing to judge me

Has the fear of being judged by a PC or video game ever kept you from buying or playing it? If so, you’re not alone. Whether it’s perceived difficulty, fear of multiplayer competition (online or offline), or any numerous ways of being shamed, most of us don’t want to play games that are going to make us look or feel bad.

(Of course, there is another class of gamer who seeks out tough challenges so they can affirm their gaming skills. They’re often referred to as hardcore gamers. This post isn’t about them. It’s about the rest of us.)

For teams working on games, whether from the development or business side, having a strong sense of how much hand-holding and challenge your audience wants is critical. There’s an old adage that to determine game difficulty, have your team play through the game and then take what they call ‘easy’ mode and set it as ‘hard’ mode, making two easier modes below it for normal gamers. That’s not a bad rule of thumb in terms of level design and AI tweaking, but it doesn’t take into account how the player is treated for what the game perceives as success or failure.

If the player character dies and it’s ‘game over’, then you’ll have a brutally difficult game that only hardcore, old school gamers will want to play. If there’s no way you can fail in the game (whether through the character dying or some other metric) then you have a game that hardcore gamers will hate—but other audiences may appreciate.
But between outright success (you beat the whole game) and failure (you’re dead; game over) lie a multitude of smaller outcomes. How you communicate to the player in these smaller outcomes is every bit as important as the philosophy for winning and losing.

Going back to Wii Fit, the animation that plays when you achieve less than two stars for an event (showing your avatar slumped over in defeat) was really hard for my wife to get over. It almost made her stop playing the game altogether. And when did she see it most? Right at the beginning, before she got better at the games, at the time when she needed her confidence boosted. If she hadn’t really wanted to improve her balance, she would have walked away from the game. Anecdotal evidence suggests that few Wii Fit owners play very long after their purchase, and I would posit that the game’s negative feedback plays a factor in this (the abysmal amount of time it takes to get in and out of an activity, coupled with the lack of a real ‘career’ mode are others, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Nintendo may laugh off this issue since they’ve sold a boatload of Wii Fit units and it doesn’t cost them money if no one sticks with the game for long. But what if you’re selling your game through online trial? If you have any missteps in user feedback during your trial you’re not going to make any sales beyond the hardcore gamer—you can kiss that larger potential market goodbye.

This is a factor I’m facing right now with a client developing games for the casual market, and I get on my soapbox about it on a weekly basis. We’re taking it seriously both in terms of the game’s challenge, especially early on, and in how we provide feedback to the player. Any lost sale that occurs during the game’s trial takes money of their pocket, and ultimately, out of mine too.

If we in the game industry are serious about expanding the games market, we need to take a hard look at how we provide positive motivation that encourages success and keeps players gaming—and also how we let people know they can play better without making them feel rejected. If we keep doing things they we did in the past there’s a chance we’ll someday end up like the music CD market: facing declining sales and relevance.

The Recession vs. the Console Cycle
Apr 7th, 2009 by worldblee

Game publishers and developers have been laying off workers right and left. Game stocks are depressed. EA, Activision Blizzard, and THQ, among others, have announced quarterly losses. But game sales are not down—in fact, US sales were up 19% in 2008 compared to 2007.

The old adage says that entertainment performs well in recession compared to consumer goods. And it’s true. While I wouldn’t want to launch a pricey new console in today’s economy, there is a vibrant market for quality games.

Recession advertising

Recession advertising (and yeah, I am linking to a stock image)

Let’s look at our situation in 2009 compared to the environment of 2005-2006 when the Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii launched. During that period game publishers and developers faced a falling curve of demand for PlayStation 2 and Xbox titles while the market for so-called ‘next-gen’ titles had yet to materialize. That meant that R&D costs were up while revenue for titles based on that R&D investment was still low.

You’d think that the stock prices for game publishers would have been lower during that time, wouldn’t you? But if you look at the record you’ll see that companies like Electronic Arts had a robust stock price of around $60, more than three times its current price of $15-20 per share.

So what is going on?

One factor is that the large publishers haven’t created healthy studio systems on par with the Hollywood studios of days of yore. They want a large staff around when it’s time to make a hit game, but when production is done they want those costs eliminated, pronto.

And as publicly traded companies their CEOs and Boards of Directors answer to shareholders (including themselves) who want to see stocks go up, up, up. At the hint of financials that are not rising at a healthy clip—and remember that while industry numbers were up, the numbers at individual companies were not necessarily as healthy—their answer is to cut costs. Capitalism doesn’t care if profits come from rising incomes or cost cuts; profit is profit.

So that means layoffs for internal development teams and a continuing reliance on outsourcing for development. This will bring development costs down since external studios pay their workers less and offer fewer benefits than the big US publishers, especially if they’re located in countries with lower living costs and/or government tax subsidies. It also lowers fixed costs since you’re only paying people when they’re working on a project, and if the contract is milestone-based, you’re only paying if you’re getting the game you want.

This means the situation for creative workers is worse now than it was in the last platform transition even though the market for games is larger now than it was then. The economic meltdown gives game companies a plausible reason to cut their staffs while slowing salary growth or even implementing wage reduction. Because we’re at the point in the cycle were console technology is well known and game development risks are lower, publishers don’t need as much experienced talent as they would if they were preparing to launch PS4 titles. Thanks for your help; don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

This is not to trash game publishers; they’re merely acting in what they perceive are their interests. But for creative workers and for game developers it offers opportunities as well as challenges. If you’ve saved your pennies and can subsidize starting up quality IP that appeals to a sizable audience (remember the Concepticate adage of the right game with the right message for the right customer at the right time) you are in the driver’s seat, no matter what’s happening with game publisher stock prices or the overall economy. Know what your partner on the other side of the table is thinking, make sure your business case is sound, and seize your opportunity.

And should you fail, you can always go back and work for the man when the next generation of consoles comes around. This business goes in cycles and your experience will still be needed.

Omek Announces Motion Game System
Mar 17th, 2009 by worldblee

Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat wrote a nice article today on Omek’s Motion Game System announcement that I helped put together. Dean knows the 3D camera space so he was able to quickly summarize goings on in the category in addition to relating our news.

Here’s a quote from the article:

Omek, based in Bet Shemesh, Israel, isn’t developing the cameras itself. It will use cameras from companies such as 3DV Systems (rumored to have been purchased by Microsoft), PrimeSense and Canesta. Omek differs from its software rivals in that it is making its own games as well as technology. The company contends it can do 3-D skeleton-tracking in real time. Sony and Nintendo can capture the movements of parts of your body, but they can’t capture all of the subtleties of an entire body in motion.

The cameras it uses can detect how far away an object is at any given time. They can thus detect movement and translate those movements into the commands used to control games. So you can have very realistic user interfaces for game consoles. If you punch at the camera, for example, your character in a boxing game will do the same on screen.

Janine Kutliroff, chief executive, said the company has built its technology from the ground up and will make the initial games for PCs. The technology and camera could be adapted to game consoles at some point. It uses infrared technology in the cameras.

Virtual Worlds also had an article on the announcement today:

Omek Interactive announced today that it was using its Motion Game System to create games using 3D cameras for movement control. Omek isn’t developing its own cameras. Instead its system is hardware and platform agnostic, potentially integrating with both PC projects and console games. This isn’t directly virtual worlds-related (Omek seems focused on the games space), but any development of new interfaces, particularly like these, are of at least some interest.

Mitch Kapor’s Handsfree 3D, for example, has been working on 3D camera interfaces for Second Life, though I haven’t heard anything from the company since fall. More commercial applications, like games, could stimulate development and acceptance of new interfaces for 3D environments. If nothing else, it seems to be appealing to someone at Microsoft, which is rumored to have acquired 3D camera manufacturer 3DV Systems earlier this year.

If you’re in the games industry and motion games sound interesting, drop me a line to set up meeting and take a look at Omek’s software.

It’s Official, Exergaming Is an Important Genre
Mar 13th, 2009 by worldblee

As a person working in motion games myself I’ve followed Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2009 since it came out. The game itself is atrocious. I bought a copy at launch and it was worse than I could have imagined–bad controls, bad graphics, poor use of the Balance Board, and just really poorly designed and implemented mini-games that showed all the originality of a cloned flock of sheep.

But aside from that quibble, the game has sold very well to the huge Wii Fit audience (which itself is approaching 17M WW according to VG Chartz). Five hundred thousand units is nothing to sneeze, especially for a game that must have been inexpensive to develop. I can’t imagine the Jillian Michaels license itself could have been that expensive upfront although for her sake I hope she gets a good royalty since she is the sole selling point of the game other than the package’s white box look that suggests a Wii Fit lineage.

Here’s an excerpt from GameDaily’s ‘Chart Toppers’ article on the game:

According to the NPD, Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2009 was the fourteenth best selling title for the month of January 2009. The game was the fifth best selling title on the Wii console over that period. Since launching in October 2008, Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2009 has gone on to sell over a half million copies.

“Not all consumers might be aware of what Wii Fit is, but most weight conscious women know Jillian Michaels as a brand,” said Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter. “She’s branded as a fit person who helps people lose weight and that brand affinity could help more people see the Balance Board as less of a video game gizmo and more of a health product.”

If you put the pieces together you have to realize the power of the exergaming market. Thus far it’s only shown its strength on Wii titles but the demand is there. Which developer is going to be the first to create quality titles that not only replicate the fun of Wii Fit but go beyond it?

I’m working on an initiative with my friends at Omek Interactive that I certainly expect to rise to that level, but there are other companies exploring the space as well. There are huge numbers of people who want to combine fitness benefits with interactive entertainment, and I don’t think games that are based around exercise routines are the only way to tap into this demand. We’ll see what comes out this year but I think 2010 is when we’ll start to see some really quality stuff.

When you’re thinking of game concepts, don’t leave player movement out of the equation. There are tons of ways to incorporate it, from the Wii controllers to the new 3D cameras that capture player movement. It brings new challenges (like requiring floor space) but what new videogame opportunity doesn’t?

The Game is the Message
Mar 12th, 2009 by worldblee

Before I started working in the videogame industry, I had the common artist’s conception of marketing: that it consisted of lies disseminated by weasels. There certainly is some of that in the worst marketing campaigns, but good marketing has neither of those elements. Good marketing amplifies the truths that exemplify a game, and a clear product vision can make a good game better.

A game’s identity shouldn’t be something that’s tacked on after the fact to try to sell it. The game’s identity should be agreed on at the start, and while events–a great new gameplay innovation, resources leaving the project, a competitor coming out with a similar vision, etc.–can alter it, everyone working on a game should know the game’s identity all the way through the process.

An example of this is the EA SPORTS brand. Along with its catchphrase of, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game,” I and a lot of people working on the games and brand internalized this as, “everything you love about sports, in a box.” If you were working on a hockey game, you knew that scoring, fighting, and smack talking fit in the game. Other things that might appear in the real-life sport–long periods without a score, playing for a tie, favorite teams that never, ever win the Stanley Cup–obviously didn’t belong in the game. That clarity made game development simpler since most of us were on the same page from the get-go. This is not to say that all EA SPORTS games were great (they weren’t), but they were better than they would have been if we had conflicting visions.

Contrast that with a game that sprang into existence to fill a revenue hole, exploit a game engine, or capitalize on an existing genre (and we’ve all worked on at least one of those if not all three). The programmer thinks he’s making one game, the producer another, and the executive a fourth. Meanwhile, the product manager is struggling to come up with a vision that all parties will approve.

Publishers have tried to alleviate the situation with  development milestones that require signoff by multiple shareholders, and that’s a step in the right direction (although process is not a substitute for organic agreement). But how about the independent developer that is trying to make a great sci-fi game based around rhythmic fighting. How does the developer ensure their vision makes it all the way through the publishing chain to their potential customers?

I believe the answer is that a) they can enlist the help of someone like myself to craft an identity that includes a strong positioning statement and strategic marketing document supported by audience metrics and backed by the game’s feature and development plan, or b) hunker down and work on said documents themselves. You don’t need to spend a lot of money if you’re willing to put in a lot of work and research on your own–marketing is not rocket science (and if it is, it’s of the vinegar-and-baking-soda variety).

The alternative is plowing ahead and throwing yourself on the mercy of your publisher. But, like a band that signs a bad contract with a record label, this gives away a key component of your identity, and your destiny. If you put in the effort to create a coherent vision from the get-go you’ll always be in a stronger position.

The Identity of Racing Games
Mar 11th, 2009 by worldblee

I wanted to give a shout out to my former EA colleague Mike Lopez’s good article on Gamasutra on the racing games genre. I managed the marketing for EA’s sports racing games (NASCAR, Supercross, F1, Superbike) and worked on the Road Rash and Need for Speed series so I know exactly where he’s coming from. It’s hard to sell a new racing game!

Personally, I’ve gone from playing racing games a lot to hardly playing them at all. Is this because of a lack of innovation in the genre, or is just me? The last racing series I really liked was Burnout, but even then I didn’t play it for very long because my eyes would get tired over a session because of MNBOIWC (Must.Not.Blink.Or.I.Will.Crash) syndrome.

I think Mike’s right that people use inaccurate and sloppy terms to characterize racing games, but I’m not sure that more sharply defining them will help matters. I think the lack of kick-ass new ideas is one problem, and the incorporation of fun driving elements in games that fall outside the genre (such as the behemoth GTA series) is another issue. Maybe racing by itself is no longer that appealing.

Here’s a snippet of what Mike has to say:

Cue 15+ years of racing game evolution. Now it’s 2009 and the simplistic and archaic arcade/sim categorization struggles inadequately to describe modern racing games that have evolved in many different directions, and that no longer have such clear-cut differences.

The racing games of today have truly blurred the lines between arcade and sim descriptors, with executions that vary wildly in physics model (deep vs. simple), racing style focus (technical vs. non-technical) and track type (circuit, point-to-point or open-world).

Because the industry marketing and press have not kept up with advances in gameplay variations and provided more granular descriptions, many racing products of today suffer from an acute identify crisis and are poorly differentiated from their competition.

If that sounds interesting, read the full article to get Mike’s POV.

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