Who's taking serious games seriously? Television networks. With network execs bolting out of bed in a cold sweat at the thought of a generation raised on games thumbing their noses at their programming ideas, the business of selling TV shows to gamers is becoming a viable business. At today's Serious Games Summit, reps from a trio of developers clued attendees in on the task of motivating lapsed TV watchers back to the soft blue glow of passivity.
Randy Brown of Virtual Heroes talked of the Discovery Channel's desire to create "buzz" for their $US 21 million mini-series Race To Mars, an investment that ultimately resulted in the Unreal Engine-powered Mission Two, one of many video games inspired by and intended to promote the mini-series. More robust than your typical Flash game, Mission Two packs a lot into its 56MB download, including online multiplayer.
"There's a lot of interest from big brands, because they feel like they're losing audience to games," said Dante Anderson of Kuma Games, a company that has worked on advergaming titles for the History Channel and Spike TV. Their method of promotion differed slightly from Virtual Heroes, with their Dog Fighters web game releasing one minute after the program first aired.
That relationship as game developer and promoter actually works both ways according to Anderson. "We won't typically do a game with a company unless they give us a little buzz," he says, with "free" television advertising one of the nice perks of working the field.
While most of the gameplay concepts weren't necessarily breaking boundaries, as Sven Vincke of Larian Studios proved when showing off his company's games, they relied on tried and true titles. Work they did for the BBC emulated—some may say ripped off—classic games like Galaga, Mario Kart and Breakout in an attempt to appeal to kids.
"Children get the crap of the family, the hand-me-down computers," Vincke said, forcing them to work in the confines of low-end spec PCs.
It may not be the most glamorous of development pursuits, but expect to see more of this type of fare, as television viewership numbers shrink and casual gamers look for more free gaming opportunities.