Video games are good for you!

Ian Livingstone

lara croft 300x225 Video games are good for you!Bigger than the cinema box office, bigger than music and bigger than books, the video games industry is big business. Global software revenues exceed £30 billion a year, and are predicted to rise to nearly £60 billion a year by 2015. Yet its growth and success are little known. Games are played by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So what’s the big deal about games? Well, games are the product of an exciting marriage of art and science. Games are interactive; a compelling non-linear experience that allows the players to control the action themselves rather than watching somebody else on screen having all the fun.

Everybody is playing; male and female, young and old. Games are as important socially, culturally and economically as music and film. They are certainly the preferred entertainment choice of today’s youth. And since moving out of the bedroom and into the living room with games like Wii Sports and Dance Central, games have become socially inclusive and part of mainstream culture, a new art form that helps to define us as who we are as human beings.

Graphic-intense console games continue to drive the industry in terms of production values and creating cinematic interactive entertainment. But their method of delivery is changing, and in the not-too-distant future, digital-only distribution will dominate as cloud gaming becomes more pervasive. Whilst some traditional retailers have had a tough time of late, failing to adapt to the changing world of digital delivery and consumption of content, every time a console blockbuster like FIFA, Grand Theft Auto or Tomb Raider is published, their cash tills ring loudly. There was tremendous excitement and anticipation surrounding the release of the new Tomb Raider on 5th March.

Having discovered Lara Croft for Eidos back in 1996 when visiting Core Design, the Derby-based studio where Tomb Raider was originally developed, I get as excited as anybody when a new Tomb Raider game is launched. This time it’s a reboot of the franchise; a prequel rather than a sequel. The game concerns the young Lara Croft on a voyage of discovery. Shipwrecked on a desolate island and thrust into a brutally hostile environment, she learns the art of survival and self-preservation the hard way, and discovers what it takes to become a Tomb Raider. The game is an immersive, emotional roller coaster that is visually stunning, and is being talked about as being the game of this generation of console hardware. Its gritty realism means that for the first time a Tomb Raider game is 18-rated, but its core pillars of exploration, environmental puzzles and combat remain. Crystal Dynamics have developed arguably the best-ever Tomb Raider game.

Today the games industry is in transition like never before, moving from analogue to digital, from a boxed product to a digital service, from a premium to freemium business model, monetising free-to-play games through in-App purchases of virtual goods and services. New technologies create opportunities at every turn.

These are very exciting times for small Indie studios that are able to serve digital content to global markets via super high-speed broadband. The supply chain has shrunk to the point where content creators can now connect directly with their audiences. And the democratisation of finance through increasingly-popular crowdfunding channels such as allows them also to retain ownership of their intellectual property without having to trade it away in return for project finance from the usual gatekeepers. It feels like the second golden age of gaming is happening.

Whilst some commentators speak of games as an industry in crisis, nothing could be further from the truth. New games-enabled digital devices are constantly appearing, delivering games to new audiences. Today, everybody is carrying a games platform around in their pocket in the shape of a smartphone. Millions of people are enjoying playing casual games together like Words With Friends via connected mobile devices. There have been approximately 1 billion downloads of Angry Birds. Hundreds of millions of people are playing social games on Facebook. There are 65 million subscribers to Moshi Monsters, a great British success story from Mind Candy. Games like Minecraft inspire creativity on an unprecedented global scale.

I see people happily playing games everywhere – at  home, on buses, on trains, yet the perception of the games industry remains poor, thanks to negative reporting about it by sections of the media. The consequences of that negative perception is that parents, guardians and teachers have never been aware of the career opportunities the industry offers, nor the commercial opportunities it offers the investment community. What is seldom reported is that people learn through play; puzzle-solving, contextual problem solving, choice and consequence, logic, intuitive learning, micro management, simulation, communication, social skills, character development, narrative structure, creativity and even manual dexterity. Games-based learning and training is incredibly beneficial.

The industry deserves more public support and recognition for its success to date. Now a cornerstone of the Creative Industries, games makers are digital manufacturers, creating valuable content with the potential to scale, and making a major contribution to the UK digital economy. Human beings are playful by nature. You are never too young to start playing games and never too old to stop. For me, games are a very good thing.

Follow Ian on Twitter @ian_livingstone

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  • chyvalrous

    Yet the Independent spares barely half a page a week to video games reviews (compared to multiple pages for movies, books, music and stage productions) and doesn’t have a dedicated reviewer on staff.

  • Snoopy

    Perhaps I should start a new line of commentary along the lines of, “Ultraviolent video games are good for society because they relieve the stress of a hard day.” “It is good to be constantly fed reports in the press and news programs about war and crazed killers, serial killers, gang violence etc. because it is realistic and keeps people aware. Under no circumstances does it aggravate such tendencies in the populace.” “Constant listening to macho highly-sexualised music is excellent therapy for people; rather than stimulate abusive urges it actually pacifies them.” Seems to be the general opinion…

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