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A Look Back

A great deal has changed in over 20 years in the game industry. How about a boiled down summary that's at least minimally fun to read?

Some things have changed in the gaming biz. For example...

A team of one for a hit title now numbers at least 50 and as high as 600, though typically not all at the same time.

Developers used to just deal with tools, whatever tools they got. These days, good tools can mean the difference between getting your product shipped and crashing and burning in agony. There's a little more to it than 250 lines of code and a few data tables.

What was two pages of Atari boxes on the inside cover of "Electronic Games" magazine is now 1,099 titles, at least 1,000 titles per year. As Jerry McGuire once said, "it's hard to keep up." No, I haven't played Dragon Age yet. (sigh)

Games based on film franchises are just as risky as they were years ago, but far more of them are being attempted.

What was something only enjoyed by buying a handheld item that only displayed LED lights is now thousands upon thousands of detailed games in something one quarter of the size in your pocket. Oh yeah, that thing in your pocket also holds all the music you ever owned and will own, and is your frickin' phone, too.

Online games only played by a maximum of sixteen players now number in the millions. In fact MMORPGs, (okay, WoW, with apologies to the other ones like Eve Online) are by far the greatest pillar making PCs as a game platform viable.

Genres are almost meaningless. Strategy, action, adventure, RPG. They blend together in a motley collection of anything and everything.

More news is published about games in a single hour than was reported in a month twenty years ago. Mostly online. Game print magazines, in fact the world of print itself, is encountering a cataclysmic shift, though perhaps not complete destruction.

CGDC, now GDC, started at 150 developers in 1988 and 2009 attendance numbered more than 17,000. "17,000, Chewie. These guys must really be desperate."

In the old days, more hours of gameplay meant "better". Shorter gameplay meant you were at an arcade and understood that people were only after your money. Not anymore. And this is awesome. Though it forces people seeking a lucrative result to come up with more techniques for monetizing a game experience, such as micro transactions.

Seeing a woman working in games in the 80s and 90s as a developer was surprising. At the publishers I've worked at / for these days, I work with at last as many women as I do men, and those in development are rapidly filling more roles.

It was very easy to score gear and / or be approached by hardware companies in game development, even with consistent feedback and consulting on the hardware. Now, not so much. I have to create a very compelling business case and do some thoroughly unflattering begging.

Emergent gameplay in conjunction with just the right touch of high quality graphic realism / superrealism and compelling narrative is incredibly difficult. But oh, so worth it. Publishers that have sweated through the overages in development have reaped the rewards afterwards.

But some things oddly enough haven't changed.

Mario was at the top of the heap for platform games. Still is. Funny, that...

The guy that created SimCity way back when somehow can't go wrong. Will something. Well, let's just not mention SimEarth and SimCopter and you've got an unbroken string of hits. Impressive, nonetheless.

Those data tables? Yeah, still in use pretty widely. And in some cases still good tools to use.

Games encounter a cyclical transformation from lateral console conversion to remakes on platforms that are introduced years later or versions that contain the same subject matter but are entirely different on a much less capable system.

Almost every company has its horror stories. Decisions made and perspectives represented that just boggle the mind. Millions wasted, thousands laid off. But guess what, this is true in every industry. What game management can't do yet is plan and nail targets ten and twenty years in advance as other industries have mastered. Admittedly, it is much more difficult.

Voice acting and lip sync is still light years behind people taking it seriously when compared to film (I'm working on the voice acting part with the Game Audio Network Guild's Voice Actor Coalition).

A wise engineer that wrote a large chunk of a very popular engine that I used to work with told me "take the amount of time you think it will take to finish your game. Then add seven months. That's usually how long it really takes." To this day, on average, he's been absolutely right.

And there's my jaunt down memory lane. Got lists of your own? Post em in comments, lads and lasses. I hope you have a great holiday season and a prosperous 2010.

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