The Future of Video Game Development: It’s All About Social

Game developers take note: the future of video games is all about casual, social games that women and grandparents like to play; think Facebook and the Wii. Hardcore games like Grand Theft Auto will still have a place in the industry; they will just move into a dark corner. So said Bernie Stolar, aka the “King of Content,” during a Keynote interview at a Microsoft-hosted event in Mt. View, CA last week during which a who’s who of the industry discussed the future of video game development.

Why should you believe Stolar? Because his impact in the video game industry is deep and far-reaching. His credentials include former Game Evangelist at Google, former CEO at Mattel Interactive, former President and COO of SEGA, and EVP at Sony for the launch of the Playstation. During the Keynote interview (with some big names—Activision/Blizzard, THQ, and Electronic Arts—in attendance), Bernie carved the headstone for the anticipated death of the hardcore game and couldn’t say enough about the future of casual gaming.

To secure a place in the future of game development, you need to make the games fun and ignore gender and age limitations. Social gaming has broadened the demographics away from the 18 to 35-year-old male. Game demographics are now 50 percent women in their late 30’s and 40’s and that does not include grandparents and grandchildren who are playing video games. This new game demographic are playing games on Facebook and bowling on the Wii (Reuters is reporting that 800,000 Wii’s were sold over the Thanksgiving weekend).

Facebook is now a viable gaming platform, as are all social networks. If a developer creates a multi-player (MP) Facebook game that connects to the iPhone, that game is almost guaranteed success. Take golf as an example of an iPhone/Facebook/MP game. For the game to work, players use the accelerometer on their iPhones to swing their clubs, they see their actions through Facebook, and they compete against other players online. Mobile games are going multi-player as well; if you develop it, they will come.

If developing mobile games isn’t your forte, then the future for you most likely includes Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG), social communities, and cloud computing. In terms of developing games for the cloud, you need to remove the computing from the client and put it on the server, which allows for a much larger-scale community, easier updates, and simplified creation of new environments. Cloud gaming reduces retail and packaging costs, increases the life span of a game through easy updates, and allows for micro transactions.

Anne-Marie Roussel, Microsoft’s Director of Strategic and Emerging Business, presented MS’s vision for the future of video games during the conference. Roussel mentioned that the third version of XNA is now available to the community and is geared towards developing games with a social community. She expressed the need to democratize video game development and the importance of nurturing a creative community. Microsoft boasts 12 million subscribers to its Xbox Live services, which they will continue to grow (think of Xbox Live growing from one station to a multitude of stations; just like how TV channels evolved).

Video gaming is a $30-37 billion business, and it’s not going away anytime soon. In the future, more and more independent game startups are likely to emerge, which is a great way for the big publishers to find new talent.

Developers, it’s time to get your social game on.

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