Serious Lessons from the Commercial Games Industry

Serious Lessons from the Commercial Games Industry

Dave Beaudoin (Michigan State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0149-9.ch014


This chapter seeks to find the common ground between the business oriented design practices of the commercial video game industry and the scholarship based design practices of the serious games segment of the video game industry. The examination of commercial design principles allows the serious game designer to maintain an internal catalog of effective game design tools and the ability to establish a historical perspective on the effectiveness of game mechanics as they have evolved over time. Developers can utilize this perspective to determine game design methods that are likely to establish flow and subsequently improve the conveyance of information to the player.
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There is a lack of primary research on the distinctions between the serious and commercial sides of the video game industry. This lack stems from the basic differences between the approach of the commercial and serious branches of game design to the process of design itself. When examined technically, the commercial design studio relies on individual historical knowledge and game playing experience to develop new game types or adapt existing mechanics into new games. Because the goal of commercial games are primarily to entertain, results are measured via community or consumer reaction and revenues. The subjective nature of entertainment and the for-profit nature of the commercial industry necessitate this approach to quantification of results. Serious games, on the other hand, rely on quantifiable design practices and peer reviewed methodology. This is required, in part, due to the nature of the funding models for serious games, which tend to rely more heavily on grant funding, public funding, or non-profit models. Notable exceptions to this model exist, primarily in the games for health and advergaming sections of the industry, but it is also within those segments where the design process is closer to that of the commercial industry.

Additionally, the gulf between the two sides of the industry is such that the serious games approach is seen as both slow and reactive by the commercial segments of the industry. For example, within a few weeks a designer can tell if their game is well designed based on player response and fiscal returns. To arise at the same conclusion via a peer reviewed methodology, using quantifiable data would take significantly longer. The peer review process, which can take up to a year, is roughly one quarter the full life cycle of a modern console game system. The market life cycle of individual games is often measured in weeks or months; taking the time to go through a rigorous peer review process negatively effects competitive advantage in a quickly evolving market. As a result, most formal research on game design is done well after the value of the game design decisions are proven in the marketplace. By the time research is published commercial developers not only understand the value of the game design choices that have been made (both philosophically and monetarily) but they are also working on the next advancement. This time lag ultimately casts serious games research in a poor light in the eyes of professional game developers, further widening the extant gulf between the two similar yet different factions of the industry.

Key Terms in this Chapter

World Tracks: The various branching story paths through any given game, ranging from linear story telling to non-linear open world exploration.

Publisher: The company or individual responsible for distribution, advertising, and sales of a finished game product.

Game Mechanic: A basic interaction within a game which defines one or more play-based competencies required for success in the game. Examples include: puzzle, shooting, fighting, environmental manipulation, and others.

Agile: A software design methodology typified by a team based, iterative approach to software design.

Porting: The process by which a game is moved from one hardware platform to another. Often this requires recoding of game engine components and reconfiguration of control and display schemes.

Flow: A state of immersion in an activity in which a person feels a heightened sense of focus and involvement.

Quick Time Event: A game mechanic in which the player is prompted to push a button or series of buttons to initiate a special sequence outside of regular game play.

Win-State: A condition or state within a game or level which designates successful completion of a predetermined task or goal.

Pedagogy: The study of teaching, instruction, and the methodologies supporting those goals.

Developer: The company or individual responsible for the creation of the game product.

Waterfall: A sequential design process based on production flowing from conceptualization, to implementation, and finally to maintenance states.

Scrum: A specific implementation of iterative software design based on specific time frames for work.

Non-Player Character (NPC): A character controlled by the game to advance the story or provide interaction.

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