Opinion// The Videogames Industry's Perception Problem

Posted 8 Mar 2013 10:38 by
Gina Jackson is a games industry veteran who has worked in numerous roles. In her time she's headed up a studio for Infogrames, negotiated console deals for Kuju with the likes of Nintendo and Konami and taken Eidos's catalogue online through new platforms such as mobile, set-top boxes and digital distribution. She currently runs her own consultancy business, Blushing Blue, and is Chief Executive of Women in Games Jobs.

We recently spoke to her about what 2013 holds for games but we asked her back to talk about the games industry's perception problem.

As a football fan I have always been intrigued by the Millwall chant of, ďNo one likes us but we donít careĒ. It seems to be the Julie Burchill approach to life. Sometimes I wish I could be more like this, not caring what people think of what I say or how they perceive me, but I do.

As an industry we appear to take the Millwall/Burchill approach, we are linked to violence, blamed for mass killings, violent behaviour, anti-social behaviour and taking advantage of children. Recently on the BBCís The One Show a mother described how her young son had wanted to play a game on her tablet.

Sheíd logged on to allow him to download the game labelled as 4+ and looking like a childís game. Her son had managed to rack up a bill of around £1,000 through multiple in-app purchases as he hadnít realised that the in-game gold had cost real money.

It was great to see Jo Twist from UKIE elegantly and passionately defending games developers who use in-app purchasing as a way to monetise these high quality games made available for free, and how parents can change their settings to ensure they are totally in control of their childís spending.

It seemed interesting to me that the mother hadnít wanted to sit down and share the experience with her child, to know more about the game she had downloaded for him. She didnít see this as her responsibility. In a way it heartened me she wasnít concerned about violence, mass killings, anti-social behaviour, just the developer taking advantage of her.

So, what about the company in control of the payment mechanism, who decides the default settings for the payment gateway and profits from the in-app purchase? Well, they had refunded the money and seemed to be blameless. I was wondering, is it because they have better PR than the developer or is it because everyone has become used to putting the blame on us, as we donít usually defend ourselves because no-one likes us and we donít care?

So why should I care? Is it just because I want everyone to like me and the work I do? Perhaps a little, but it is really because it matters: because itís about business and our games industry's long term success. If people donít like you itís harder to influence them. Itís more difficult to be at the table when the decisions are made, provide a balanced view and, most importantly, the facts.

It was only recently when I was putting together a list of the UKís Top 50 women in games that I realised just how much has changed in the last few years. Iíve worked through the introduction of the PlayStation, the Xbox, the emergence of mobile games and digital distribution, but where we are now is such a huge change. We are now interacting directly with our players, we finally know what they are doing instead of what we think they are doing, we have the widest audience ever - many who donít think of themselves as 'gamers' - and the edges are blurring between all content sectors such as TV, books and film.

To thrive in this changing environment, in this new games industry we need the best talent to see the opportunities games can provide. If you are working in a digital agency today, would games even be a consideration for your next career move? If you code, will games or the financial services be your choice to pay off your student debt? Are we hoping the best talent will join us simply because they see a career in games as fun, an extension of a passion from being a hobbyist?

TruSim's Triage Trainer
TruSim's Triage Trainer
With the loss of Publisher work-for-hire deals for developers, the desire to self-publish and the growth in the freemium business model, the need for investment is ever-greater. We need to enable talent to create originality, take the risks that havenít been taken in years to develop new games properties, new genres for new markets and new audiences. Our image has an effect on this, especially in markets that havenít traditionally understood the games community. Accessing finance in an affordable, speedy and low-overhead way from traditional sources or new ones requires individuals to see the opportunity, to feel comfortable with it and with us.

So how can we do this? We need to stand up en mass to dispel the myths that hold us back, which have been used to define us and donít give a true representation of what we do.

Everybody learns through play and some of the most positive examples of the power of games are now being talked about.

Blitz Game Studios' 'games for purpose' division, TruSim, has been developing Vitalize with the US Department of Health to help soldiers to physically rehabilitate after being injured. By using the Xbox Kinect this game overcomes the boredom of doing repeated exercises and makes sure they are being done correctly, all whilst having fun. If you are having fun you are more likely to do the exercises as often as you should and if you do them you recover more quickly.

NASA has said ďGames are fun and entertaining, but they also can be inspirational and informativeĒ when they were talking about their collaboration with Rovio on Angry Birds Space to teach people about physics and space exploration.

So if NASA and the US Department of Health talk about us in a positive light, shouldnít we do more of the same?

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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