Back at the genesis of the video game industry, games used to be made by lone (and usually hobbyist) programmers at home in their spare time. Today, however, the video game industry is the biggest entertainment medium around – dwarfing cinema by a huge margin in terms of revenue – and employs huge amounts of professionals from numerous disciplines and skill sets.
Moreover, the market is now far more diverse and no longer caters only to dedicated gamers. Given how varied the modern video game industry has become, those seeking a career in video games may want to consider the more recent (and rapidly growing) video game markets.
Causal Video Games
In the last decade, a market has developed for those more likely to play solitaire on the computer than the latest epic role playing game or first-person shooter. Casual games have a simple premise and do not require significant time to play Bejeweled.
The iconic casual game is PopCap’s Bejeweled, a tile-matching puzzle game. Bejeweled is one of the first successful casual games and inspired a variety of clones. Another famous type of casual game is the hidden object game, in which a player must find various objects in a picture.
Given the ubiquitous nature of mobile gaming, casual video games (which have predominantly set up shop in the smart phone market) have attracted demographics of gamers who were previously deemed a non-target market, particularly amongst females and older gamers. Indeed, female gamers now account for nearly half of the game-playing population and the average age of gamers has risen to 30.
Casual gaming has been a big contributing factor in this trend, and the market as a whole continues to grow and turn substantial profits.
Online Browser Games
Blurring the distinction between casual and non-casual game, online browser games are played by casual and hardcore gamers.
Browser games have the potential to reach a broader audience because they can be played in any modern browser regardless of operating system. Moreover, they accommodate any genre of video game from strategy to role-playing.
RuneScape, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), is one of the most successful browser games, boasting 200 million accounts. A more recent (and decidedly quirky) successful browser game is Robot Unicorn Attack, a platform game in which the player guides a robot unicorn through obstacles and gaps in the platforms.RuneScape
Social Network Games
Another kind of online game uses social networking sites, namely Facebook, to reach players.
Unlike regular browser games, social network games have access to a user’s network profile and usage statistics. Thus, they often invite a user’s friends to play the game or to help the user finish a task or quest. And unlike traditional video games, social network games do not end with a winner, but offer infinite quests. These games make money by selling virtual items that help fulfill a quest more quickly. Farmville is a notoriously famous example of a social network game with millions of players.
A game created or funded by a big name studio and intended to appeal to hardcore gamers is known as an AAA game (pronounced ‘triple-A’).
These games have high budgets, often comparable to major motion picture budgets in scale, and are expected to make a large profit (although the flops can be equally as costly as a Hollywood bomb). AAA games often contain cinematic cut scenes, orchestral soundtracks, and employ famous actors to do voiceovers.
Mass Effect is the archetypal AAA game with cinematic graphics, deep character development, sweeping music, and professional voice acting. AAA games appeal to non-causal gamers looking for a time-intensive, immersive experience.
Finally, games made by independent studios – or even a single programmer – with small budgets have become more popular in the modern video game industry thanks to the increased number of platforms for self-release and funding.
Indie games tend to fill a niche between casual games and AAA games. They appeal to non-casual gamers, but they do not offer the same cinematic immersion as AAA games. Minecraft is one of the most successful indie games of all time, making millions even before its official release.
Because there is less pressure on indie developers to stick to formulae and create a blockbuster, indie games tend to be rather innovative and artistic. Braid, for example, is a platform game with a distinct visual style and play mechanic. The player may reverse time in order to solve a puzzle that is otherwise not solvable.
With the video game industry wide open for innovation and new talent, all that’s left for a budding creator to do is to figure out where their revolutionary idea will slot into the marketplace. Hard work and perseverance is key (and a little hands-on training can fast track any chosen career in video game creation), but the barriers to entry have never been so removed as they are currently.