At this year's GCDC developer conference in Leipzig, Stormfront Studios (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Neverwinter Nights
) president and CEO Don Daglow tackled the question "what makes games next gen?"
Daglow's seen a lot of "Next Generations", dating back to his role as director of game development for Intellivision during the first generation of video game consoles, and shared his opinions in a panel going in-depth on the ubiquitous phrase, what the definition of a "Next Gen" game should be, and how developers can create more unique kinds of player experiences for future generations.
"NextGen Magazine was founded in about 1995, so the idea of next gen was already being used in the 90s," Daglow noted at the session's opening. Reminiscing on the first generation of consoles in the mid-eighties, Daglow touched on some of the limitations that developers have trotted out over the ages -- first, it was the number of colors, then it was the limited hardware.
Now, Daglow said, the machines aren't holding anyone back; "we're going to blame the finance guys," he says, on the reasons he hears most often today. "It's the big budget, it's the attorneys, they are holding us back."
"Whatever next gen is, there are patterns to next gen... they are repeating over and over and over again," he added. "Even with all three platforms it's so hard to make money. It's all repeating."
So what are the hallmarks of a next gen cycle's early years? Daglow cited a small install base and difficulty of profit earning as one key. Even with cross-platform titles, exclusives still get extra resources -- and the prior generation still has legs.
The early adopters are the "hard-core" gamers, Daglow says, and both the press and retail target them initially. But, he adds, there's a demand for "the completely different" at the same time, making it a great climate for new intellectual properties.
"You have to think completely different," he says. "We must produce games that please the hardcore. Everybody demands innovation. It is the time to create great games and great ideas."
In a next gen cycle's middle years, Daglow continued, the installed base grows and profit becomes more predictable. The prior generation becomes a "hand-me-down" as development teams master new hardware and the hard-core audience broadens. The press and retail fight for "eyeball share" -- and it's still a good time for new IPs, as licenses become more feasible.
According to Daglow, once a next gen cycle has reached its later years, the larger installed base enables "major hits" as the prior generation fades. At this time, the hard-core is "still a significant force," but becoming distinctly a minority, as the continued increase in licenses help reach "non-gamer gamers."
And Daglow said his model of next gen cycles is applicable to any economy. "France, England, Hong Kong, Germany... one of the things that unites us is how we buy games."
But is there more to next gen than console cycles? He recalls that some people, when first introduced to it, didn't think Sim City
could even be called a game -- but Maxis co-founder Jeff Braun published it to resounding success. "To see what everybody else misses, is this
next gen?" Daglow wondered.
Another example of Daglow's next gen is a title like Guitar Hero
that crosses age barriers and engages entire families. "Drawing a group together playing one game, is that
next gen?" He asks.
"How can retro be next gen?" Daglow posits -- and yet, he holds up Geometry Wars
as an example of a way it certainly can. As for World of Warcraft
: "Is providing a massive audience next gen? How will it influence what comes next?"
Daglow rolled it all up into his "Law of Next Gen," which states, "Next Gen Hardware is any platform that, upon its introduction, dramatically changes player's view of the potential for interactive entertainment.
Next Gen software is any title that, upon its introduction, dramatically changes player's view of the potential for interactive entertainment.
And, unlike hardware, next gen software is usually recognized in hindsight, not in advance."
As a corollary, he continued, "The search for Next Gen inspires us to create products that dramatically change the player's view of the potential for interactive entertainment.
Never stop trying for Next Gen. Old hardware, new hardware, I don't care. There's always a Next Gen available tomorrow."