It's The Best Time To Be A Gamer, And Here's How That Happened

As a gamer, you've probably noticed a bunch of really interesting stuff happening in the games industry over the last few years. It seems like only a while back, we were stuck in a situation where, as gamers, our options were limited and frankly, boring. Pretty much the only games of note were big-budget console-based sequels created by large publishers and bought from stores. Game design was conservative, graphics were photorealistic and every game was full price.

Fast forward to 2012, and things have changed a huge amount. Sequelitis still sadly infects the few remaining AAA console games, but alongside those experiences sit a multitude of options in terms of platforms, gameplay and ways to pay.

On the PC we've got free-to-play high-end PC games like League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, mid-priced more niche games on Steam like War of the Roses and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, plus an enormous world of experimental indie titles from blockbusters like Minecraft & FTL to smaller titles like Zafehouse: Diaries.

On mobile we've got everything from ultra-casual infinite runners like Jetpack Joyride to ultra-hardcore rougelikes like Sword of Fargoal and Japanese imports like Rage of Bahamut. Hey, you might not be a fan of Facebook games, but despite Zynga's rather embarrassing Icarus-like story, there are still hundreds of millions of (mostly, older female) people clicking cows, buildings, bubbles and chefs on the platform.

We've had a massive power-shift, away from major publishers and console manufacturers and towards the developer.

As a developer, the options for getting your game funded have expanded massively. In the old days you'd rely on an ‘old boys network' of contacts at major publishers, or you'd need a job at a major publisher. Nowadays you can build and distribute a game in your spare time, like Notch did for Minecraft, seek funding via Kickstarter like Double Fine, try to get noticed on Steam Greenlight or even approach Silicon Valley big-hitter Venture Capitalists like Riot Games or (Hawken creators) Adhesive Games did.

We've had a massive power-shift, away from major publishers and console manufacturers and towards the developer. This power-shift and subsequent opening-up of new distribution channels has meant more innovation, fresher experiences and ultimately a better selection of games. In short, it's never been a better time to be a gamer.

How did this happen? Will it continue? Do we have any formal way to understand why it happened and whether this wonderful chaos will continue in the future?

Well we do, and in the most unexpected of places — with a 60-year-old Harvard Business School professor who's probably never played a video game in his life.

The Disruption Against An Old Industry

Clayton Christensen is considered a god to many who study and work in the technology business. His 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma was, for instance, one of Apple founder Steve Jobs' favourite books. Flicking through it's pages, skimming passages on hydraulic excavators and perusing graphs of the steel industry, you'd be forgiven for wondering how it could be relevant to the games industry. But with a bit of patience — and inside information about how the games industry works — you'd definitely see the connection.

Disruption' is a word used a lot in the book, and in Christensen's further teaching and research. His specific, academic definition of the term ‘Disruption' is most definitely what's happening to the games industry right now.

‘Disruption' (in this context), describes a powerful, seismic impact that hits an old industry, when new products enter that space that aren't necessarily ‘better' than the status-quo, but that often offer a cheaper, more convenient or just a different solution. These ‘disruptions' are often fuelled by a technological innovation that enables that new type of product.

Clayton Christensen would point out how the Personal Computer in the 1980s (powered by new, cheaper CPU chips) offered a cheaper but less powerful computing solution than the old IBM mainframes, but a younger reader might connect better with the falling out of favour of the high-end CD-based hi-fi system in favour of the tiny, portable MP3 player, fuelled by faster, cheaper broadband connectivity.

Faster internet connectivity has disrupted industry after industry as it has enabled the average internet user to download bigger and bigger files — we've already seen print media and advertising disrupted by online news and blogs, paper photographs disrupted by the digital camera, the music industry up-ended by Napster and later iTunes.

Most recently we are seeing the TV and movie industry struggle to come to terms with the impact of YouTube and The Pirate Bay.

Well, what media has the biggest file-sizes? Games.

The snowball of internet speed and (more recently) mobile internet availability and quality is fuelling this rapid and exciting disruption of the games industry. It's enabling the creation of amazing games, and a diverse selection of interactive entertainment for all kinds of people. It's also anointing new millionaires and billionaires while simultaneously causing companies that just a few years ago seemed untouchable to almost crumble into dust right in front of our eyes.

***

Over the coming weeks I'll be delving into this phenomenon — examining recent news events to see what they mean, how they might affect us as gamers as well as the companies and creators we love. Who's wielding these weapons of mass disruption, what ordinance are they planning to fire, and who do they have lined up in their crosshairs?


Ben Cousins (@benjamincousins) is a 13-year veteran of the games industry who's worked at Lionhead, Sony and EA among others. He currently runs Scattered Entertainment, a studio in Stockholm owned by Japanese mobile gaming giant DeNA — where his team are working on disruptive AAA mobile FPS The Drowning.


Comments

    That was an interesting read, Mr Cousins. Thank you.

    Interesting discussion..

    That being said I think the finance graph's for Sony and Nintendo are a tad bit misleading. If your willing to scroll through the whole graph way back to 2K1 instead of just the tail bit of 2k8 to 2K12 projections you will see almost the exact same rise and dip.

    This is because 2k1 and 2k9 were the spots for the biggest global recessions and both companies took about 6 years to get back to the "higher" end of that graph before going back down (incidentally the 'low' parts of 2k1 are around the same as the 2k9). 2k9 is a mere3-4 years back. So the effects of a low economy is still kicking (and there is the usual fears of a 2nd recession hitting since apparently economies are still rather in the slow side at the moment). Of course should both companies still be on the lower end w/in the next 2-3 years is when we start looking at the status quo.

    Then again what would I know. =P Not really an economist anyway xD

    I came for the hydraulic excavators, and stayed for the insightful information.

    I read the last section as;

    "Ben Cousins (@benjamincousins) is a 13-year old..."

    That's one switched on kid.

    An interesting conundrum that has been building slowly in Australia is that DVD rentals are declining, and online downloading or rental is climbing, but at such a slow pace that the industry will be stuck in the middle for some time.
    Australia's landline internet speeds are inferior to the USA's, and noting that Netflix and Redbox killed Blockbuster Video over there, we don't have a fast enough internet for Netflix to work here, and we don't indulge in the vending machine culture like America does, so RedBox wouldn't take off at all, and yet Blockbuster is closing down stores all over the place.

    Yes we have the NBN fibre network being built, but it's being built by the government established corporation of NBNco, who are acting like they are superheroes who are going to make our lives better, when Telstra would have had a fibre network going already if the government/ACCC hadn't have shut down their operation.
    From what I hear, it's also going to be using above ground cables, which will break down and malfunction after 10 years, so when the NBN is completed, the first parts of it will need replacing, not sure if the above ground part is still true, but the sun will definitely kill the cables if they are exposed.

    The NBNco haven't stated an actual purpose for building the NBN, other than vaguely being for fast, domestic and business based relatively lightweight reasons, so due to this, that is all they have officially built this for, they have officially not considered any other uses than faster general use.
    So the truth is that when they are pushed to the breaking point financially due to slow/non-existent uptake of the network, they will then lower the prices to something more acceptable, after which we, the people, will take their network and find a use for it, namely, downloading videos, games etc and getting a decent connection for multiplayer.

    Just trying to make sure people are prepared for the day the NBNco might try to turn around and say 'aren't you glad we built this network when we did, otherwise you wouldn't be able to enjoy hundreds of Gigs of online entertainment and games', when that was not part of the original mentality of the project, and we all give them the finger for being hindsight heroes.

      Franz... you had me up till the point you started ragging on about the NBN. A huge majority of which is riddled w/ holes and whatnot. A majority of the stuff you've mentioned has already been disected and discussed ad infinitum in almost all IT sites out there...

      1) The NBN is using underground cabling. That was the whole point of leasing the Telstra ducts. And the very many engineers running around installing pits and whatnot.

      2) Telstra weren't making a Fiber network. ACCC did *NOT* shut them down. The whole network was conceived as a government project at the time to fix the massive divide in Net services (which was curiously also Telstras fault =P). Telstra was asked to put in a tender for the project. They did it severely half assed because they knew that if the government went the FTTN route they could get away w/ just overbuilding w/ any existing competitor ala "Cable Wars" days w/ Optus seeing as a Telstra already owned a large majority of the copper needed anyway. As for an actual network built by Telstra.. do you enjoy having your area being cherry picked as financially viable or not? As there is no way financially Telstra would ever do a full country roll out for services like Fiber.

      3) NBN *have* stated the purpose of the build. It's all their on the NBNco website. In fact it plainly states the whole *point* of the project is to create an existing communications infrastructure that can handle all the required bandwidth today and till the near future. Also if your calling a Full Fiber to the Home footprint to 93% of Australian Homeowners as "lightweight" given the mass, area and population scope of Australia then my friend you need a rethink on your definition of "lightweight" in terms of scope.

      4) In fact Fiber is one of the more durable and dependable mediums AND able to cope w/ the massive amounts of data we intend to shunt through it (Fiber has already been show to handle 1Gbps speeds). As for "non existent" take up. How do you get non-existent take up for a country wide roll out that replaces current infrastructure? Everyone will be on the NBN once copper on the fiber areas are decommissioned.

      Also your final argument is a tad contradictory. Your saying that NBNCo might have financial issues w/ the network because of "low/non existent" users so when the time comes that we actually start using it the network can't handle it? Your telling me (after your first paragraph on how usage/bandwidth is much needed right now for internet businesses such as NetFlix) that when NBN becomes available in area the "take up" will be slow because no one wants/needs the speeds. And yet it will be "needed" anyway but by that time because no one wanted it when it was being rolled out it will be financially unviable? So your telling me when you already have fast access your going to *wait* instead of taking the opportunity?

      @Franz: Best humor piece I've read in years thank you. :)

    Based purely on hearsay and observation, the games and porn industry are often the biggest disruptors as most technological improvements and innovations come from them trying to do bigger and better things. As a software developer, this pretty much sits with what I see. If you are developing software for anyone other than the average person, you are often encumbered with ensuring that your software meets years old standards and is compatible with years old applications. While you can try and take advantage of new technologies and push the limits even further, the fact that most medium to large businesses won't upgrade within a suitable time frame means you won't get very much initial business.

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