How Can Museums Capture the Attention of Game-Obsessed Youth?

Games are on my, and many others minds right now thanks to the Electronics Entertainment Expo, commonly known as E3, which began today in LA. Two exciting new console launches were announced – Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. Keith Stuart of the Guardian describes the reaction to the launch in his article E3: 2013 Xbox One v PS4 heavyweight clash dominates day one. Video game publishers will be sharing their latest and greatest games over the next couple of days.

On the Museum Game front there’s been some buzz about the V&A’s very first game design resident Sophia George who will taking on the role this October. Sophia was interviewed by the BBC about what she hopes to achieve:

Mike Murawski of Art Museum Teaching shared The Independent’s article V&A museum appoints first ever ‘game designer in residence’ to add virtual dimension to its collection, and commented “…Not sure this would have gotten my attention when I was a video-game-obsessed youth…” He has a valid concern.

Triple-A – the Hollywood Blockbusters of the Game Design World

How do museums who have small to non-existent budgets compete with Triple-A games? How do we get the attention of game-obsessed youth?

Triple-A games have massive budgets to finance voice actors, motion-captured movements, screen-writers for storylines, feature music from film composers and well-known artists, and top of the line graphics for visuals. Hundreds of staff work on these masterpieces over a span of a few years. Their budgets are similar to that of Hollywood movies. These are games such as Call of Duty, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Calm down. It’s not pointless to delve into games. If we take a minute and look at who else has tried to compete with the mammoth Triple-As we will see that there are two groups who have done so successfully. Two groups for us to learn from.

1)     Indie Games

2)     Game Apps

Indie Games

Indie games are typically self-published and push the boundaries of game design. It doesn’t mean they are small necessarily – Minecraft is an indie game and it’s sold over 23 million copies. Free or cheap development tools such as Game Maker and Unity Development Kit allow independent developers to create games with small budgets. It also means you don’t need to have in-depth programming ability meaning energy can be focused on creativity instead.

These games have managed to compete by being innovative. Triple-A games may have big budgets but it’s those same budgets that put immense pressure on them to succeed and means they are often conservative in order to be assured of having a hit. It’s innovate or die – game design Darwinism, for medium to small budgets.

There’s no reason why museums can’t take advantage of these free/cheap tools to create new and interesting games.

Game Apps

This is option number two. Game apps are made for smartphones (iPhones and Androids) as well as tablets – Angry Birds is a great example. It’s easy to distribute them through the Apple App store, which offers developers 70% of all revenue from sales as well as a straightforward publishing policy and through Google Play.

Many of these games survive by having absolutely no barriers. They are free (initially…they make their money by encouraging players to buy things to succeed at the game), they take up a small amount of space on your smartphone or tablet, and they are intuitive to learn. These casual games are usually pretty simple in terms of gameplay but they keep you engaged. They are in constant beta with frequent updates. These updates serve two purposes – one is they make the game more interesting to play and two is to remind users that the game is there. This can be key when there are a huge number of games competing for gamers’ attention.

For museums to follow this model it’s important for us to remember that it means a dedication to games in the long term. There will be no “finished product” when a game is developed. It will require constant updates to stay alive. Otherwise we may as well not bother creating it.

What’s the point of a Game Design Residency?

This isn’t just about this one game being created and this one game design resident. This V&A game design residency is bigger than these things. It’s a message from the V&A to game designers saying that the V&A values them as a community, and game design as an art-form. It’s about sustained engagement with this group and by inviting them into the museum, hopefully, encouraging them to pay attention to the games the museum creates with their help.

What do you think about museum games? Can we possibly compete with Triple-A games? Should we be trying to make games to use as an interpretive tool?



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