Twenty years of innovation: the industry verdict, part one

E258

To celebrate our 20th anniversary special issue, we sought out leading minds in the videogame industry to pose the question: what would you identify as the most influential game-related development of the past 20 years?

David Braben, founder and CEO, Frontier Developments

“Since August 1993 and the first issue of Edge, the game industry has changed dramatically. Most especially it has moved from being an unfashionable minority sideline to truly mainstream. There were quite a few factors that fed into this, but probably the biggest single thing was the launch of the first PlayStation in late 1994 (early 1995 in the west). Sony brought a glitzy respectability to games. They had a strong brand and this made the mainstream media sit up and watch. There were social changes too: the subsequent decline in violent crime in the US (40 per cent from 1995–2000) was attributed by some to the rise of PlayStation, because of the reduction in delinquent teenagers on the streets.

“The games market appeared to have plateaued in 1994, but the launch of PlayStation kicked off the amazing double-digit percentage industry growth that has continued ever since, growing from around $5 billion then to the $78.5 billion it is now. This too was as a result of this respectability. Most importantly, it made the games better. It brought a professionalism to the industry and the games became richer as a result. We are all better for it, but we shouldn’t forget that Sony took a big gamble, and it paid off for all of us. Now we can proudly say that we are gamers.”

Sid Meier, director of creative development, Firaxis Games

“It’s the speed of interaction with our players. When Civ originally came out there was no Internet – three months after release, we’d get letters that said ‘I liked your game – here’s what I’d do next’. It took months for us to get feedback and respond to it. We couldn’t patch, really – you’d have to save up ideas for the next iteration of the game. Now we get feedback very quickly and we can turn around change very quickly – there’s a much richer sense of interaction between designers and community. That has all evolved around the Internet. Dan Bunten was a visionary when he thought back in 1983 that two or three people could play MULE together. Today [the Internet has enabled] massively multiplayer games where thousands are in the same world: that’s an amazing evolution. Also, the ability for games to be dynamic, to constantly evolve… these are the most significant changes.”

Hidetaka Suehiro (aka Swery65), director and producer, Access Games

“Maybe this is a well-worn answer, but I identify the most important game-related development of the past 20 years to be the expanding videogame userbase. In Japan, arcades grew and gave root to home consoles. This let PCs and consoles became the trunk of the industry, branching out into handhelds, cloud [gaming] and so forth. The market has been developing and expanding without any stops over 20 years. Various ideas and technologies have been developed, and the power to express ourselves has been enhanced. Because there is a market that accepts these expressions, a more diverse range of technologies, ideas and expression are developed. [The] concept of values becomes more multifaceted, expressions become more sophisticated, and entertainment, art and culture fuse together. Since there is a cycle like that, videogame creators like me get a chance to make a living and interact with variety of people. I say again: for me, the most important development is the expanding userbase of videogames. Without new users, there is no reason to keep creating videogames.”

Kellee Santiago, developer relations, Ouya

“The App Store blew up the conventional notions of how people were allowed to make and distribute games to paying players. Enabling anyone to create any kind of interactive experience was the tipping point of making going indie a viable career option for a game developer, as opposed to figuring out what terrible corporation they were going to have to serve time in before they got enough experience to raise money and make games on their own. The indie development wave had begun, but the App Store made it a part of pop culture. And the fact that it lived on what became one of the most popular mobile phones on the market also tore down walls between gamers and non-gamers. It invited anyone to play, and so everyone did.”

Tom Hall, senior creative director, PlayFirst

“I had a few answers, but the main difference between then and now is the rise of the casual game. An arguable first breaking of the casual ceiling was more than 20 years ago, with Tetris on the Game Boy – but with Bejeweled, Peggle, Bookworm, Diner Dash, the Wii, the iPhone, Angry Birds and so forth, we’re finally in a market where more than niche, nerdy core players play games. There are people making and playing games who actually interact well with other humans! And there are growing numbers of women making games; there should be more. After the next 20 years, that won’t even be [an issue]. Ping me then to talk about the new brain-jack thought-games.”

Keiji Inafune, CEO and conceptor, Comcept

“Over the last 20 years, the game industry has continued to change at a rapid pace. In particular, hardware specs have evolved constantly. And to someone who has seen it all, the biggest deal was the introduction of the smartphone. In terms of pure spec, it represented a moment of throwback or degeneration in the evolution of hardware. For a creator, improvements in hardware allow us to add more detail, while a devolution in hardware imposes limitations. Further, it means we have to make development budgets more compact as well.

For example, it’s like asking someone in the building trade who had, until now, been making houses at ¥100 million to instead make them for ¥2 million. Most of them would be unable to do that, right? Any creator who can hear the modern-day cry of ‘make something – and with a lower budget!’ and respond to this major change is a true creator. As a top runner in the game industry, with a pride that has maintained a sprint through 20 years, I will do my best!”

Read on through the link for the second part of this feature, which includes the thoughts of Brian Fargo, Tim Willits, Toshihiro Nagoshi and more.

Edge’s 20th anniversary edition is available now – you can buy a single issue or subscribe in print, or download it on iPad and through Google Play. E258 is half price (£1.99/$2.99) on iPad, iPhone and Android devices via Google Play for a limited time, until September 17.