YouTube changed how we think about film, television, and music. It allowed a new generation of artists to find an audience, and it is currently the biggest source of entertainment for millennials and generation Z. The gaming scene is changing rapidly in much the same way, as video games become more broadly accessible, and game development becomes easier for younger generations to start on well before they finish college or even high school.
The gaming space is following in the footsteps of online video. What we're seeing now in gaming is a rise of young, amateur developers. What they lack in technical polish they more than make up for with passion, determination, and, perhaps most importantly, youthful appeal.
And make no mistake about it, their technical prowess is growing by the day, too.
Budding game developers are creating everything from homepages to popular games to new, innovative experiences that defy general game conventions. And they're gaining audiences, thousands of fans who love what they make. Gamers on Minecraft, Project Spark, ROBLOX and other game creation platforms are building their brands without even being fully aware of it.
Why user-generated game content continues to rise is an interesting question. Largely the answer is technology. It's easier than ever for people of any age to get started making games, without the need for massively powerful computers and years of experience. Going as simple as Twine, a novice with no experience whatsoever can make a text adventure in under an hour.
Beyond that title, games like LittleBigPlanet and Disney Infinity have been scratching the young gamer's itch for creating content, though with less of a focus on making "celebrities" out of the players, and with far more limited social interaction.
The social aspect of game development can't be ignored, either. The most popular platforms are the ones that make it easy to share work with the community. To look at ROBLOX as an example, the most popular games rise up the ranks not through expensive advertising or PR campaigns, but by word of mouth, mostly enthusiastic fans sharing games through social media.
The feedback from fans, the attention, and seeing the numbers rise can be as rewarding as any monetary compensation. And right now, the people powering the user-generated gaming space are making games more for the love of the craft and the joy of watching people play than for a paycheck.
Of course, the allure of money doesn’t hurt. ROBLOX is an especially open market for young developers, giving them full control to do everything from offer their game and all of its content absolutely free, to make a free game with an in-game store, to charge players for access to their title. Every time a player purchases something within a game, a share of the revenue goes to the developer – and eventually, developers can convert their virtual revenue to real-world cash. ROBLOX is free, and the community sets the price of admission, if any. That’s why it works.
What's the future of these wunderkind game developers? Again, we look to YouTubers as the inspiration. Some of the Internet stars moved to Hollywood, especially in the comedy scene. Cast members on The Office, Saturday Night Live, Community, and more have their roots in YouTube. The music scene tells the same story. Lana del Ray, Karmin, and even Justin Bieber all started with YouTube videos.
It's likely that many of these kid developers will move on to college, and make their way into the game industry proper with their projects as their portfolio. When asked what they want to do when they grow up, many of these teen and younger devs talk about going into game design. However, many don't want to work for big studios making AAA titles. They want to be the next Steve Gaynor, or Dean Dodrill, or Notch (man, who wouldn't want to be Notch?).
Gaming is the next frontier. It's the next budding art form, and culturally, gaming is in 2006. It's still owned by these huge blockbusters, massive big budget titles that are fighting each other for the two or three slots in the 20-35 year old's yearly gaming roster. There's the indie gaming scene, which feels a lot like the early days of channels like FX. And then there's the user-generated gaming scene.