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City Perspectives on the video game industry

In the latest City Perspectives, our academics discuss the features that have made the video game industry a success and highlight a new wave of games that aim not only to entertain, but also to advances social causes and academic research.
by Ben

By Demetri Petrou, Corporate Communications Team

The launch of Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA 5), at the end of last year, saw the video game industry shake off any notion that the medium was still the preserve of 'geeks and fanboys', rooted in alternative culture.

GTA 5 monopolised many column inches in the mainstream media and more importantly, it highlighted that video games are now outselling blockbuster films and albums by the world's biggest musicians.

The fifth edition of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has to date sold 30m copies worldwide achieving £500m worth of sales in the first 24 hours of release. City News spoke to City academics about how the sector has become the most valuable entertainment industry and where the future lies.

The growth of an industry

In 1972, Allan Alcorn designed the game Pong, which became the first arcade video game to break into mainstream popularity. By the time Alexey Pajitnov created Tetris in 1984, the industry had established itself as a staple for children as well as adults all over the world with characters like Mario, Sonic and Pac-man going on to become household names.
Today's industry would be unrecognisable to those early pioneers. 

nullIn 2012 the video games industry was worth £41 billion worldwide with the UK accounting for £3.2 billion. In comparison, consumers spent £10.1 billion on music and £21.2 billion on movies worldwide. The pace of growth shows no sign of slowing with the industry's value projected to grow to over £50 billion by 2017.

Professor Charles Baden-Fuller, Professor of Strategy at Cass Business School whose current research focuses on how young high-technology firms can grow successfully explains: "There is a great deal other industries can learn from the video games industry, particularly in the area of change management and new business models." 

"The video game industry has mastered change and generally has made money and created superior consumer value from advances in digital technology. Specifically, gaming companies have not just innovated new products, but they have adopted novel delivery systems for their products and perhaps most importantly, innovative charging systems that have changed the model of the industry." 

The cultural impact of gaming

Whilst it's difficult to deny the industry's place in the world of business, video games have polarised opinions of cultural commentators this year. Some see them responsible for causing aggression and health problems. At the same time, they have also been credited with improving social skills, coordination and boosting intelligence. 

"Much like other art forms, video games reflect on our society and shouldn't be 'in the dock' as it were," Andy Pratt, Professor of Cultural Economy in the Department of Culture and Creative Industries at City. 

"The relationship between computer games and behaviour indicates a rather more complex process then the usual headlines" he continues. 

Professor Pratt's research has looked into the social and economic organisation of the industry and its cultural impact. "You can see what the obvious attraction is when people play games. Gamers enter an increasingly immersive environment that allows them immediate gratification. They allow someone to be good at something that they are not necessarily skilled at in real life. They also offer an outlet for people that want to be social as well as for those that don't" he adds. "Gaming could in fact be a way of making us more social and not the perceived opposite." 

nullAs well as gaming's affect on our behaviour, Andy also recognises that for the industry to continue to grow we need to develop what children are being taught in schools. "The more recent success in the games industry as a mainstream medium has also highlighted the distinct lack of coding being taught as part of the school curriculum. Coding is becoming an increasingly vital tool in the working environment, so it is important we prepare the next generation accordingly," Andy says. 

Teaching kids to code

City is involved in the Code Club, which teaches 8 to 14-year-olds in Islington how to code giving them the chance to write computer programmes and create their own games.

One of the academics in support of the programme is Dr Chris Child, who is the co-director of the Computer Science with Games Technology BSc (Hons) and Computer Games Technology MSc at City.

Chris, who has been at the University since 2001, has several years of experience in the gaming industry having worked for Empire Interactive as well as his own company, Childish Things, where he continues to develop his own gaming series, International Cricket Captain, which has sold over 1 million copies. 

null"Year on year, hardware continues to develop, making the things we once thought impossible in gaming possible. To keep pushing the boundaries of entertainment, we need to give developers and designers the foundations they need to continue the development of the industry. Introducing coding skills at a young age will only help us do so" Chris says.

"There are so many skills and aspects that people don't appreciate that go into the development of a game. Physics, graphics, audio, artificial intelligence, storyline creation - the list is endless. Here at the School of Informatics, we are trying to give students the skills at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, as well as the experience of working alongside some of the biggest game developers in the world to best prepare them for a career in the industry. 

"We have only started to scratch the surface of what the games industry can achieve"

says Chris's co-director of the BSc and MSc programmes, Dr Gregory Slabaugh. Greg's research involves both computer games technology and healthcare applications. 

Play to Cure: Genes in Space

Last year, Chris, Greg and their students had a prominent role in Cancer Research UK's (CRUK) Gamejam project. "The amount raw data that CRUK have is so vast, it would take teams of people years to go through it. The idea was that if you turn the data sorting into several games, they can get members of the public to play, helping them further their research. It's a great project that I was proud to be part of", he said. City students received awards for the games they produced for the Gamejam. 

Looking to the future

While the industry has grown rapidly in recent years, the big question is can it maintain its growth, or has it hit its peak? Many articles have been written about the decline of the industry following its move into the mainstream and the increased involvement of big business looking to increase profits. 

Professor Baden-Fuller, who wrote the book 'Rejuvenating the Mature Business: The Competitive Challenge' doesn't agree. "In the world of business, maturity is a state of mind," he says. "The people and the level of talent are the things that matter. As long as institutions such as City keep delivering a creative and talented workforce of graduates, the industry will grow and be an important place to start a business or seek employment."

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.