I was recently considering what the cycle of evolution has been in the games industry and why it is a struggle for some to see the scope of the change, whilst to others it is obvious.
I drew this picture to illustrate the evolution of not just the technology but of the social aspects of gaming.
It stems from the origins of the games arcade. Illustrated in Wave 1 above.
The arcades were places that people gathered, they were social hubs, even if many of the orginal arcade games were not really multiplayer. Of course asynchronous turn taking 1up and 2up etc were built into the earliest arcade games. High score tables were prevalent.
The arcades were viewed by many as the “Pool Hall” of my generation, feared as places kids hung out and got up to no good. However they were great places. Anyone go go in and try.
When the home computer revolution started in the early 80’s many of us were amazed that we were able to reproduce or create those same gaming experiences in the comfort of our own home. We did not have the ability, other than via posting tapes and disks or via magazine listings to share the creative work, but it did happen. Games companies formed out of many of these self organizing groups of people.
However in the consumer space that led to wave 2 above. People in their homes, separated with no connection to one another. Yes there were LAN parties and still the 1UP 2UP games but in general the LAN parties were not something everyone did. It required a certain commitment and technical expertise to go and join in. Wave 2 started to cater to the hardcore gamer based on the sort of experience that works best in isolation.
There was a quiet evolution going on, the web was forming, the MMO genre was forming, bulletin boards and early web pages started to share content between people. However it was still quite insular and and scary place for the non tech literate. Unlike an arcade you could not just wander in drop 10p and have a quick go.
Then of course the internet started to become all encompassing. Consoles started to connect, the PC world was already hooking up to replace the LAN party. More importantly though many game experience evolved, the casual games, that people could just have a quick go. If you had a computer and a connection, you could wonder in and drop your virtual 10p into a slot.
The barrier to entry to games dropped significantly, which also increased the acceptance.
More importantly though the web and social media have now become the new arcade. It is a socil space where various results of different games experiences jostle with one another just as the sounds of Space Invaders battle with the ripping noises of Defender in the old arcades. Genre’s sit virtually next to one another and people are once again connected.
Not just connected through the game mechanic, there are still single player stand alone games, but the results of the games, the joy or frustration are played out in space that is social media. We can feel a gaming atmosphere, just seeing a Farmville achievement flow past on a Facebook status or a tweet from someone enjoying the ending of Red Dead Redemption adds that gaming atmosphere to everything.
This return to the social element, the awareness of others experiences and the sharing of common interests is a cultural win for games. For games developers though this is going to be new.
In wave 1 the arcade consoles were developed and the arcade owners hosted the space. The two were not really tightly linked, one arcade console just happened to be next to another.
With the web arcade we have today the developers have to be cognisant of both the environment they are in and of the other experiences they share that meta space with.
The achievements in games that are shared in these spaces have their currency to the players of the game but also to prospective players and bystanders. In a wave 1 arcade you would (as a novice) have no idea if a score was good on machine x, y or z. Now though the game will produce a badge or certificate to say what you have done is actually really quite good.
It is an exciting time for games and for gamification as it is called. This wave 3 picture is the eco system it drops into, as much about people as the technology.