G4C2008: “the next big thing is games with meaning”

There is a market for meaning. – Christophe Watkins (Artificial Mind and Movement).

Notes from the “Moving Markets” panel at G4C…

Robert Nashak (Worldwide Casual Studios, EA) — we’re looking for emotional connection, and what better way to connect emotionally than to do something people care about?

Richard Lemarchand (Naughty Dog) — grow our audience, deeper narrative — story games that marry videogame play with rich storytelling, strong characters.

Austin Hill (Akoha) — Because of new models, we can look at new distribution mechanisms for games with meaning. Over $100M invested in “casual” or “socially meaningful” games — and some are more risk bearing than the public sector. For example: Handypoints for doing chores, Grokkit for school prep in an MMO, Lumos Labs, Vivid E labs.

Christophe Watkins (Artificial Mind and Movement) — Now that we have kids, we feel we have social responsibility, and we want to keep finding new ways to develop games.

How are games pushed through? Internal pipeline, prototyping, video versions, etc… Can be year-long.

Austin: Is there a market trend you’re after? Is this a great team of entrepreneurs? Are you efficient with capital? There is a market for meaning whether it’s from social gathering or from narrative. Example of Club Penguin spinning off hundreds of copies. I believe the next big thing is games with meaning: something that adds game mechanics that add real-life meaning to life.

Modding to let players create their own narratives, impact. Nashak — The Sims illustrates the user becoming co-author with the game designer of the stories; see also SimCity Societies’ “green” tinge in partnership with BP. Echoed by Christophe: games are historically social, an excuse for people to get together through the game. Austin: “Funware,” putting the “fun” in “functional,” e.g. Facebook as networking game and Ebay as social reputation / shopping game.

Marketing/Distribution — Alan Gershenfeld suggests foundations think of themselves as game publishers if they want to enter that market. But being a game publisher is really hard! Can foundations work with publishers in partnership? Foundations are willing to do high-risk investment that’s powerful R&D, while publishers can make it happen.

Austin — Consider other funding, distribution, revenue models even as cost structures fall due to open source and open distribution. If you can get the concept working and out there, you can walk in and ask for money to get to the next level. Christophe — PS3: $15-30M+. Virtual world for kids: $300K+, plus competing with all the also-rans.

Alan — Possible to slip into a company with the assets, manpower and do a short-form game to get people excited between product shipments?

Robert — Cultivate a very focused market that you can bring in as an asset.

Austin — The time is now for meaningful games, it’s going to happen in the next 2-3 years, and when that occurs, every investor is going to crowd the space, and it’s going to become commonplace and you’ll see a lot of crap out there. If you have an idea for a meaningful game, now is the time to talk to commercial partners so you’re part of the rising trend.

Richard — Games are starting to mature as a literary medium. The technology and techniques is letting us talk about the same subject matter as books and film. Consider the role of Charles Dickens in social reform as a crafter of pop media.

Nashak — the revenue model isn’t clear, right now demonstrate that you can get the users / audience.