10 March 2010

Keynotes about the future of video games

In the last six months, I have noticed two particular buzz surrounding two keynotes given about the future of video games in prestigious video game industry conferences. One was Chris Hecker's talk at MIGS 2009 (buzz), and the other Jesse Shell's talk at DICE 2010 (buzz). With GDC 2010 approaching, I am confident another buzz about the future of video games may appear soon.

Key nodes

Over-dramatizing a talk about the future is really tempting (see Shell's talk). Moreover, the content the speaker provides is not always totally original and unique. For instance, Chris Hecker's questions were already foreseen by Jenkins two years before when the later commented about the future of video games. Steve Gaynor, a year before Hecker, already compared video games to comics and movies. This topic was so serious that Gaynor received more than 60 interesting comments, and edited his post three times to add precisions about what he exactly meant. How is it possible that discussions about the future of the video game industry did not spread one or two years ago as they did only very recently?

Too early: It might be the case that people in the industry were not ready. November 2009 figured stats of Modern Warfare 2 launch rivaling other forms of entertainment in terms of revenue and units sold. Little by little, in the very recent years the industry has been realizing its size. And power.
Too far away: Jenkins is academic, writes a lot and I doubt many people in the industry care spending too much time seizing all possible nuances from Jenkins' articles. Gaynor, on the other hand, is a young game designer whose career started in 2007. This might explain why his blog did not cause in 2008 so much buzz as Hecker's talk did a year later.

Hence the (magnificently-found) section title: keynote speakers are key nodes in the video game industry network. They are the ones who spread information over the industry network. Chris Hecker might have been inspired by Gaynor's article and comments. So much the better: this helped spread awareness. But one may ask how it is that the industry can not think about its future by itself.


The keynotes given at frequented video game industry conferences such as GDC about the future of games are useful for several reasons:

  • Not everyone in the industry is aware of what the speakers mention. For instance, I doubt many game developers were realizing the impact games could have in our everyday lives. With Shell's talk, and the buzz following it, the gap is filled.
  • Not everyone in the industry cares about the future. When you have your nose to the grindstone, it is hard to project your whole industry sector ten or twenty years in the future. In his talk, Shell noticed that ten years ago, very few people had seen Facebook games coming. Mentioning unforeseen successes pushes the video game industry to think about its future.
  • Not everyone (in general) realizes obvious facts until these facts are mentioned. As a parabole, a spell-checker detects many typos, but the most sneaky ones are those which are an actually existing word. Proofreading is the only way to detect the typo in "... pale and female ...". So if you are in the video game industry and have always thought that games are like comics and movies at the same time, Hecker's proofreading talk should have made you re-evaluate your judgment.

In the end, what matters is whether the questions raised during keynotes make some wheels turning. This is a different ball game.

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