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DICE 2012: How social and mobile are creating the 'new arcade'

At DICE 2012, Atari coin-op veterans gathered to shed more light on their new mobile game company, Innovative Leisure, and how the new social and mobile landscape is like the old arcades.
At DICE 2012, Atari coin-op veterans gathered to shed more light on their new mobile game company, Innovative Leisure, which is working on iPad games with publisher THQ. Company founder and former Xbox man Seamus Blackley said the short form gameplay on Facebook, mobile and other new platforms has led to the emergence of "the new arcade." Blackley reviewed the history of the arcade, from its humble beginnings to its explosive success, to the video game crash of the early 1980s. While Blackley is optimistic about new market opportunities, he warned, "We're kind of entering another cycle in this explosion of games into a broader demographic of people," he said. "There's danger in this." These dangers include a race to market and a careless design process that will hurt the quality of games on these new platforms. In the early video game era, people were easily impressed with the novelty of games. But then they develop something called "taste," said Blackley, then they become more discerning. If game makers ignore these more refined tastes and crank out bad games, and try to exploit the audience, that could doom the market. Blackley referred to an internal Atari memo from Rich Adam, best known for Missile Command. He was becoming frustrated with Atari's careless licensing practices, and a decline of quality in Atari products. His note said that some people are suffering "severe cranial dysfunction if you think the industry will go forward without making quality products." With Innovative Leisure, the group encourages a culture where they "beat the crap" out of each other's work, are critical about each other's games and ideas, and then absorb that internal feedback and iterate until they get the game that they want. Alongside these classic arcade veterans at Innovative Leisure are USC Master's students. Learning goes both ways, as the vets learn new tools like Unity and the students learn the basics of game design. Blackley joked how these game designers, with their years of experience, can hold influence over these youngsters. "Ed [Logg] can just say 'I made Asteroids, so just do it,'" said Blackley. Ed Rotberg, best known for Battlezone, said today's "new arcade" does have similarities to the arcades of old. Both areas are conducive to short bursts of gameplay, and designers need to keep that in mind. "If you don't grab the attention of the player and give them fun early on, they'll move onto something else, because there's so much else out there," he said. Competition in the new arcade is intense, likely more so than the classic arcade environment. "There's so much product out there that's infinitely, immediately available," said Adam. "It's maybe even easier now for users to turn off their phones or mobile device, instead of physically moving to play another game [in an arcade]." said Blackley One of the appeals of new platforms like the iPhone and iPad are the new control options that touch screens and accelerometers offer. Owen Rubin, known for Major Havoc, referenced Nintendo's Wii and how that attracted so many people to games. "That controller was so different," and people didn't mind that the Wii had less processing power. Adam added, "[Control is] just as important as it was 35 years ago. What we're selling is the ego gratification of you being in control of a complex machine in a complex world ... where you're not here, you're in there." He added, "In our daily lives, we don't have that control. .. So if I can feel that [control] over a complex machine ... that's really what we focus on, that ego gratification. "And of course, fun."

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