Do we Need more Video Game Research?
Reading this interview with Peter Molyneux over at Gamasutra got me thinking. Do we need public research on game design? Oftentimes products, including software, are not created in the depths of some secret company laboratory. Instead, the underlying principles are developed in research facilities with little or no commercial application in mind. The gyroscope in your Wiimote wasn’t invented by Nintendo; they just came up with the idea to use it to control games. Researchers find underlying principles; companies come up with commercial applications. Except in games.
The huge advantage of such a system is that it allows for the research of concepts that have no direct commercial application. Companies, by definition, are out to make profit and therefore don’t usually invest in projects that are very likely to cost them money. Furthermore, companies are often reluctant to share information with their competition.
All of us can see what this leads to: The games market is full of sequels, clones, and people reinventing the wheel. Creativity is at what feels like an all-time low because companies focus their money on projects with a guaranteed return of investment. Understandably so. Real innovation tends to come from independent developers who don’t have investors breathing down their necks and can survive a failure of their project.
Now I wonder if it wouldn’t be useful to really get research on video games going. Sure, there are a few individuals around who study games (me included, whenever I get the chance) but their focus is limited to research on existing games and the budgets are incredibly low. Implementation and testing of prototypes is rare if it happens at all. Independently funded video game researchers could systematically create and test new concepts, producing prototypes that could then be refined by game companies into actual games.
Companies in other sectors have learned that it is worth it for them to actually invest into public research and governments understand the value of attracting quality scientists to their universities. Yet, the sector of computer games research seems to be awfully underrepresented and underfunded.
Now, I don’t work in game development. Maybe I’m totally wrong about the need for independent research. I just don’t see though why it should work for everyone else but not for the games industry. Surely, dealing with entertainment doesn’t simply disqualify a field from being worth studying?