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Mark Cerny & Eugene Jarvis discuss how games have changed since the '80s

Industry veterans Mark Cerny and Eugene Jarvis reminisced about the business of making games in the '80s and how it has -- or hasn't -- changed during a panel discussion today at DICE 2014.

Alex Wawro, Contributor

February 6, 2014

3 Min Read

Cerny Games president Mark Cerny and Raw Thrills CEO Eugene Jarvis met up onstage during the DICE Summit in Las Vegas today to reminisce about the business of making games in the '80s and how it has -- or hasn't -- changed in the decades since. During their DICE panel, which was moderated by Zynga senior creative director Mark Turmell, Cerny and Jarvis joked about how much mobile game makers could learn about aggressive monetization techniques by looking at the arcade games of the '80s. "One of the beauties of Defender was that we killed you off in 37 seconds," said Jarvis, who created the sci-fi arcade game for Williams Electronics in 1980. "That was monetization! Now you get what, five or ten cents out of a guy in a day? We were getting 25 cents a play!" “25 cents every 37 seconds or so -- we were monetizing like a mofo,” exclaimed Jarvis. “Well actually, you weren’t monetizing -- the supply chain absorbed most of that,” corrected Cerny. Cerny, who was designing arcade games like Marble Madness and Major Havoc for Atari in the '80s, cautioned the audience against comparing the -- typically tiny -- development teams who designed arcade games to today's small-scale independent developers. According to Cerny, the development process for classic arcade games could be every bit as complex and costly as that of a contemporary AAA title, even if it was a one-man project. "It might look like indie development, but the financial commitment to making an arcade game was so huge that we had to go through a brutal, paper-based design process," said Cerny. "I went back and found the Marble Madness design document, and on the front page there are approvals written all the way up to the president of the company that yes, I can sit down in my cubicle and make this game." When asked about whether or not the pair would prefer to return to the days when arcades defined the games business, neither seemed too excited to give up contemporary game design. “I like the way the business is now,” said Cerny. “It’s nice to see the growth [of the game industry] and the universal acceptance.” Still, Cerny didn't shy away from highlighting the challenges of trying to publish your game in an industry that sees tens or even hundreds of new titles released on a weekly basis. “If you made a game [in the '80s], you would have maybe two competitors in your chosen genre. Your success ratio was more like 33 percent, by default," said Cerny. "I do miss having that intimacy and that level of innate potential for success.” “Now we have this winner-take-all market,” said Jarvis. “It’s awesome. You give your finger to the man, you start your own thing, and bingo -- Angry Birds, you know what I mean?” “That’s the indie dream -- you’re conquering the world with four guys!" exclaimed Jarvis. Yet despite his apparent enthusiasm for the burgeoning indie mobile market, Jarvis -- who serves as the CEO of a company that creates contemporary arcade games like Big Buck HD -- seems firmly committed to keeping the arcade business going as long as possible. “I love the arcade," said Jarvis, when asked about whether or not he thought the arcade game business was moribund. "Not only was it the birthplace of the ‘video game’, it was the birthplace of this magical venue -- it made people say ‘man, I want to have an arcade in my house!’” “Yeah, that’s how it started,” added Cerny. “And now everyone has an arcade in their pocket,” said Jarvis. “Dude, we won. We fucking won!” Jarvis then proceeded to high-five the moderator.

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