Talent Agents and the Game Industry

“Talent Agents a New Force in the Video Game Industry”
— The New York Times

It happened to the motion picture industry in the 1930s and the music trade in the 1960s. Talent agents, initially brushed off as nothing more than opportunistic middle men, succeeded in making themselves vital parts of the machinery, helping the fast-growing but messy businesses mature.

Is it time — finally — for the same thing to happen with video games?

Agents have been trying to plow this turf for over a decade, succeeding with helping industry giants like Electronic Arts navigate Hollywood. But a deep cultural divide between the slick, Armani-suit-wearing agent crowd and rumpled computer-code-writing gamers has proven difficult to bridge.

… With the $46 billion worldwide video game market in upheaval — budgets are soaring for console titles even as free online games sharply cannibalize sales — agents are suddenly awfully useful: finding the right talent to complete increasingly complex titles, structuring deals across media, bringing in third-party financiers. And more agents than ever are looking to make a name for themselves in video games and new media, a consequence of layoffs after the merger last year of the William Morris and Endeavor agencies.

… Video game agents come in two distinct varieties. On one side are broad Hollywood agencies that extrapolate their movie and television approach to the pinnacle of the video-game business. United Talent spends most of its time working with prominent game writers like Susan O’Connor (BioShock, Gears of War) and the top echelon of publishers. Ditto Creative Artists, although it is also trying to cultivate a handful of promising young designers.

On the other end of the spectrum are scrappy, under-the-radar companies like Digital Development Management, or D.D.M., that focus solely on video games. Founded in 2006 by Jeff Hilbert, one of the first agents to specialize in the genre, D.D.M. is finding success catering to teams of developers — the movie business equivalent of an independent production company versus one superstar producer.

Brooks Barnes @ New York Times: March 26, 2010

This New York Times article confirms what I have been saying for years: that movies and games are merging into a new hybrid phenomenon.

The Predictioneer’s Game

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, author of The Predictioneer’s Game, describes his game theory method as “a way of evaluating how people interact when they are trying to advance their own interests.”The Predictioneers Game, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a professor of politics at New York University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. In his new book, The Predictioneer (The Predictioneer’s Game in the US), he describes a computer model based on game theory which he — and others — claim can predict the future with remarkable accuracy.


Replacing Grades With XP

In a game design class at Indiana University, traditional grades have been replaced by Experience Points:education-game-idol

Students of Indiana University’s game design classes start as Level 1 avatars with 0 XP, and progress by completing quests solo, as guilds, or in ‘pick up groups.’ Course coordinator Lee Sheldon says students are responding with ‘far greater enthusiasm,’ and many specifics of game design could also be directly applied to the workforce. These included: clearly defining goals for workers; providing incremental rewards; and balancing effort and reward.”


Employers: Look to gaming to motivate staff

Metroid Creator Inspired by Italian Horror Films

Metroid creator Yoshio Sakamoto says he is inspired by Dario Argento, the Italian horror film director:Deep Red (post for film by Dario Argento)

At his keynote speech during the Game Developers Conference on Thursday, Metroid creator Yoshio Sakamoto said that Argento’s films Susperia and Deep Red, which he discovered in his youth, awoke his creative sensibilities. The horror films were a big influence on the innovative, stylish space adventure Metroid games, he said.

“Deep Red has the greatest inspiration on my creative process,” he said. Sakamoto had always liked scary movies but always thought that there was “something missing” from other films. “I discovered that without a doubt, I wanted to create things in the same manner that Argento did.”

Sakamoto pointed to the director’s use of various tricks to control the “mood, timing, foreshadowing and contrast” to scare the audience, calling out Argento’s use of progressive rock music with its “almost indifferent echo of the stiff and robotic.” Much in the same way, the Metroid games use eerie, sparse music to great effect, heightening the player’s tension and fear.

Christ Kohler @ Wired.com

GDC 10: Abusing Your Players Just for Fun

Game Design Conference 2010Game Design Conference 10 is in progress, and the blog posts are blooming:

Jonatan Soderstrom, aka “cactus,” stole the show at last year’s Independent Games Summit with his surreal, multimedia presentation entitled “The Four-Hour Game Design.”

(Also: if you don’t know who cactus is, I’d suggest you spend the next week playing through every game he’s ever made. They’re alternately wacky, fun, surreal, irritating, totally independent experiences.)

This year, cactus delivered a talk about, in his words, “abusive design, and why you’d want to be mean to your players.”

… So, why would you want to be mean to your players? According to Soderstrom, most games are really easy, and worrying about what your player may be feeling and if they feel comfortable can compromise your vision as a designer. It’s more fun to just be free, and do what you want to do without caring how the player will feel. You can also find new players if you do something unusual — a lot of people don’t like “normal” games.

Anthony Burch @ Destructoid

See also GDC 10.

Semi-Finalists of the 2010 ScreenBurn at SXSW Game Design Competition

“ScreenBurn at SXSW announces the second annual ScreenBurn at SXSW Game Design Competition that provides a venue for emerging designers to pitch their concept to a jury of established professionals …. SXSW 2010Encompassing two categories, Casual and AAA gaming, the competition allows talented game design hopefuls a chance to pitch their concept to a jury of established professionals and SXSW registrants in a panel format. A grand prize winner for each category will be decided by live jury vote and audience feedback.”

The finalists and semi-finalists for 2010 have been announced:

2010 Casual Finalists

2010 Casual Semi-Finalists:

2010 AAA Finalists

2010 AAA Semi-Finalists:

Via Scrink

Color and Game Design

Take Initiative recently posted an article on the use of color in games:


Pink has also been used more in games over the past ten years. Pink has mostly been associated with fun and baby girls but recently more people especially men have been adopting more pink products. Games companies have even used this colour to their advantage by colouring their consoles in a variety of shades of pink to help widen their market and sell their products to young girls who previously would not have touched consoles. So pink is definitely having a bigger impact on the world.Needler

Within actual games pink, like white has been used to make certain objects stand out to players and show that they are not a part of the norm. In Halo 2 and 3 pink (and other exotic colours) are used to signify aliens weapons like the Needler.

Colour within Game Design: Colours with Meaning @ TakeInitiative.com

Speaking of pink:

Philip K. Dick wrote about “pink laser beams” and other pink light phenomena as a means of beaming huge quantities of information into a man’s head … a man such as Philip K. Dick himself.

Perhaps the world is ready for a Philip K. Dick videogame?

Left: VALIS cover art, which I absolutely love. Beautiful and relevant.

Empowering Africa

Urgent Evoke is “a crash course in saving the world” …

Urgent Evoke

Online game seeks to empower Africa

Game designer Jane McGonigal sees “superheroes” with untapped potential that can be used to fix vexing real-world problems.

McGonigal’s latest online game, called “Urgent Evoke,” launches on Wednesday. With it, she hopes to channel the obsessive focus online games create into something more productive than conquering monsters and earning virtual weapons.

She wants to push people in Africa — a long-troubled continent where people might feel less empowered than elsewhere — to solve problems like environmental degradation, lack of food, water scarcity, poverty and violence.

To do this, the Urgent Evoke game — classified in the emerging “alternate reality” genre — straddles the online and physical worlds. Players, a few hundred of whom are in Africa, earn points and power-ups by completing real-world tasks like volunteering, making business contacts or researching an issue, then submitting evidence of their work online.

At the end of the game, McGonigal expects some players to have business plans about how they will improve the world.

.. A new challenge, such as a famine or water shortage, is presented to players at midnight for 10 weeks. Players earn points by accepting the challenges and then responding with evidence that they’ve used their real-life “superhero” powers to help. A person might, for example, contact a community organization that specializes in environmental issues, or try to provide meals for someone in their neighborhood.

… People spend a collective 3 billion hours per week playing online games today, she said. That number must be 21 billion — seven times the current amount — for our society to realize its innovative and creative potential, she said.

.. In 2007, she created an online game called World Without Oil, which challenged people to re-imagine their lives without their dependence on fossil fuels.

John D. Sutter @ CNN

See also AvantGame by Jane McGonigal.

Persuasive Games

Over at Institute for the Future, Mathias Crawford recently published a thoughtful essay on how games persuade us to change our behavior:

Ends vs. Means and Persuasive Games

Institute for the Future LogoAs (Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse) Schell points out (in a videotaped speech making the rounds this week), persuasive technologies like the Ford Fusion dashboard, are already being designed with game-like feedback in mind. To him these technologies fall short, however, because they are being engineered by people who are not game designers. If game designers would start to design reward systems that aimed to improve behaviors, we’d have feedback mechanisms that are much more enjoyable, and as a corollary that are much more effective.

Though I agree with his conclusion – that there is a clear need for people with game design expertise to design things that can help people improve behaviors – by focusing on creating technologies that aim to achieving measurable ends, Schell misses a much more important use of persuasive technologies: namely, technology that aims to influence means.

Mathias Crawford @ Institute for the Future

Via Boing Boing.

Ford Fusion dashboard: “Efficiency Leaves — Indicates short term efficiency. The more leaves and vines that are displayed, the more efficiently you’re driving.”

Ford Fusion Dashboard

William Shakespeare, Game Designer

What if William Shakespeare had been a game designer?
Shakespeare Gaming

Wall Street Journal: You mentioned Shakespeare as one of your interests during your MFA [in theater directing]. What do you think he would have been like as a game designer?

Jonathan Knight: Shakespeare would have been on the forefront. He was an innovator and not just a great story-teller. Arguably, he’s more of a medium innovator. He borrowed heavily. “Hamlet” is a complete rip-off of a story on the prince of Denmark. Some people think he lifted it from a work that actually came between the two stories.

He was such a master at harnessing the new. For him, the new medium was open air theater on the south side of the Thames. He solidified a big portion of the English language with his plays much like Dante did with Italian vernacular.

James Knight interview @ The Wall Street Journal

Knight is executive producer of the upcoming videogame Dante’s Inferno, developed by Visceral Games and published by Electronic Arts.]

Interview by Jamin Brophy-Warren.

I’m reminded of Mark Twain, also a master of harnessing the new.

TypewriterTwain was fascinated, for example, by the typewriter; and he was the first author, or among the first, to submit manuscripts in typed, double-spaced format (as opposed to hand-scrawled in pencil, or worse yet pen).