Understanding Video Games text-book
The EU Commission starts the game

Date posted: May 14, 2006
Updated: Oct 24, 2006

By Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen (sen@game-research.com)

Europe is starting the focus on gaming as an important area for development but still it is unclear, what precisely is needed to challenge the dominance of US and Japanese game companies.

During the last forty years the computer game market has changed considerably from its early years as a pastime in labs for researchers and an area for garage developers. Over time still larger conglomerates of game distributors and game developers have emerged. Vivendi Universal saw games as a natural part of a larger media venture, whereas the other large game companies like Electronic Arts, Ubi Soft, Nintendo, and Sega maintained their focus on game or game-related activities. Although Vivendi Universal has not fared well during the year 2002, it seems that they gave us a glimpse of the future. Clearly, computer games are moving away from being a niche product and are becoming mainstream.

Although the computer game industry has changed one thing seems to remain the same. The game market is not driven by Europe. Instead, the US and Japan are driving the market with the leading game titles being The Sims, Quake, Neverwinther Night, and Warcraft III. However, if we look a little closer we’ll discover that Europe is not so bad off.
We do have interesting game developers and especially UK, France, Germany, and to some degree the Nordic Countries have interesting titles and companies. One of the major problems is that the major publishers in Europe are primarily French with UK based Eidos Interactive being the major exception. Furthermore American and Asian publishers overall far outperform the European.

Still, the game industry is one of the fastest growing, which has lately drawn the attention of policy makers in the EU. Especially under the Danish presidency it has been a hot topic, and the Danish media have produced several items on the potential of computer games. The latest development is that the EU Commission has now passed a resolution with the intention of securing the communication of European cultural values through interactive media, especially computer games. To some degree, the same pattern is emerging, which was present when Hollywood movies almost completely dominated the scene a couple of years ago. Today the selection of movies is broader, and Europe is well represented, bringing something different into the film scene - perhaps best illustrated by the Dogma 95 concept.

In the resolution several points are identified as necessary for the cultural and linguistic richness to be part of the interactive media landscape of the future. This will happen through development of high quality content through networking, competence development, and access to venture capital. This is furthermore specifically supported by:

- gathering information and experience, and monitoring the development within the production of interactive media content.
- assessing whether there, on the basis of national experience, is a need for initiatives to exchange good practice in respect to the cultural, economic and social dimension interactive content.
- considering how the industry that develops interactive content could benefit from networks with the goal of developing competences.
- considering if interactive content demands special actions on a national or a joint level in respect to development, distribution and marketing.
- considering how interactive content can be used to advance and communicate Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity.
- considering how special consideration can be given to users, especially the young.

Source: http://www.kum.dk/sw5059.asp [Danish]

It is clear from the resolution that the main aim for the EU is to encourage the cultural and linguistic diversity of the future media landscape. The resolution does not clearly show what is meant by interactive media content but from the report published in connection with the initiative and the presentation on the IST conference 2002 in Copenhagen, it is clear that computer games play an essential part. Without much ado, computer games have after so many years as inferior media products, won their colours, at least in the eyes of policy makers. It seems that policy makers could no longer overlook the potential and importance of this field. However, the resolution is only a first step, and success and prosperity for the European game industry is still not secured. For this to happen, serious attempts will have to emerge at the national level, and then be forged into joint projects.

Striking the right cords
I would suggest that each EU country took a good look at the current state of their interactive content industry, and competences already in place that could be revitalized in such a setting. The examples below are primarily oriented towards Northern Europe.
Although games are often presented as stories, it is clear that games are not exclusively stories or narratives. This has been one of the preferred ways to get computer games into good standing but this perspective only takes into account a very limited part of computer games, and far from explains the dynamic of computer games in general. If we focus our efforts here, we will end up with games that mostly resemble books or television – this is not a viable way, and is perhaps one of the greatest risks, if the EU is to fund projects. Do not be lured into thinking that good computer games have good stories.

Suggested strengths in Northern Europe
- Research and tradition for learning, toys and games with good quality – combing playing and learning.
- Adjoining areas have knowledge about narratives and storytelling, which can be put to good use in computer games.
- Good and solid tradition for board games, and strategy games, which can inspire quality games within the strategy genre.
- High broadband penetration, especially in the Nordic Countries.
- Research into computer games is world leading, and is beginning to co-operate through the newly established Digital Game Research Association (Digra)
- Northern Europe is more open-minded in respect to the possibilities of gaming compared to other European countries.

Suggested weaknesses in North-Europe
- Lack of publishers and venture capital
- Small market with great demand for localization
- Different degrees of attachment to the EU.
- Tradition for going to the UK or the US if one want to be in the game industry.
- Lack of critical mass in several European countries

TABLE MISSING

Below is the paper that tries to present the view on connection between culture and gaming in Europe to brief the EU-Commission.

http://kum.inforce.dk/graphics/kum/downloads/
Publikationer/TheInteractiveCultureIndustry.pdf

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