Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All the world's a game

Big thanks to James Baginski who alerted me to a special report in The Economist before the holidays. It is called "All the world's a game" and is a collection of up-to-date observations about the game industry that most people would benefit from knowing. Debunking some myths, the article explains that the average gamer is not a nerdy, teenage boy. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the average age of the U.S. gamer is 37 years and 42% of gamers are female. If you didn't already know, games are big business these days. Last year's release of "Call of Duty: Black Ops" brought in $650,000,000 in the first five days. Compare to the last Harry Potter film who brought in mere $169,000,000 in its first 3 days. There are also some interesting tidbits about markets for virtual goods and how the Chinese government is looking into taxing the supposedly $1.5 billion-a-year virtual-goods market. And how about those gamers that go pro and can win tens of thousands of dollars in game tournaments, watched by millions of people over the web, and pulling in big name sponsors like Coca Cola and Intel? And then there's the ongoing debate about linking aggression to violent video games, or the risk of addiction, where there is still no credible evidence for such causation. It actually seems the correlation is the opposite if anything. Maybe you can take out your rage in the virtual world instead?

Clearly, these things matter, but more important in my opinion is the way games have shifted away from the traditional video game console or PC-based system to hand-held devices and into web applications. This is partly responsible for opening the games to a broader audience, when your phone or a web browser on a library computer can be your point of access. And it also provides opportunities for constant, real-time access, making games an integral part of our daily lives.

The Economist then beg to answer "What video-game technology can do in the real world". Military simulation games are increasingly using real-world satellite and other geographic data to create game worlds that mimic our own. Other examples provide compelling evidence that games can solve real world problems and needs in a variety of areas; medicine, genetics, city planning (think SimCity), and increasingly companies are trying to find ways to 'gamify' their products and services. Obviously, turning the world into a game is an interesting prospect with many potential benefits as well as dangers. Our own GeoGames project hope to do one contribution to the understanding of how we can learn things about our world, geography, through games. Hopefully it is possible to combine the human desire to play with some bit of learning too :-)

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