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July 1, 2010
By John Trent
Similarities, key differences and what the next generation of computer games and gaming engineers can take away from each industry highlighted the discussions during the annual IGT-University of Nevada, Reno Computer Science and Engineering Symposium, held on the Nevada campus in May. There were over 70 people who registered and attended the Symposium, the majority being employees from games and gaming related industries in Nevada.
Keynote speaker Chris Satchell, the chief technology officer and executive vice president for game platforms and development at International Game Technology, emphasized the key intersections between emerging games and gaming during his hour-long presentation in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.
Satchell spoke from experience, as his distinguished career has straddled both gaming and development of games. Prior to joining IGT, he enjoyed a long career in video games, culminating as chief technology officer for Microsoft Xbox 360 business.
“Gaming and games are siblings, but they’re not twins,” he said. “Each industry obviously has many similarities, but it’s in the differences where we can often find potential for greater growth and creativity.”
Satchell told the assembled audience of faculty and students, as well as alumni and visitors from across campus and industry that games and gaming have much in common, from interactivity, entertainment, experience-based platforms, design-driven products, an audience of committed users, as well as a certain element of social stigmatization.
“Both industries have all of these,” he said. “Both have all of these aspects.”
Yet, Satchell said, by contrasting games with gaming and vice-versa, opportunities for improvement are available for both.
“Gambling games can teach video games how to create ‘no-failure’ products,” he said, noting that whenever IGT creates a new game, the expectation of its customers is that it will never fail and will have a very long life cycle. Video games, by contrast, he said, have very few expectations regarding durability or longevity. The core video gamers, he said, fully expect that this year’s innovative game will be replaced in a few years by a superior, higher quality product.
On the other hand, he said, video games provide an excellent model for collaboration and teamwork.
He said during the creation of a state-of-the-art game, it is not uncommon to have “up to 300 artists, by pure necessity, working together. They’ve learned, and the culture has instilled, a constant need to collaborate in these huge teams on a new game. The gambling/gaming industry is starting to learn this idea, but can still do more in this area.”
He said both industries can benefit from maintaining high graphic and creative standards, while at the same time working to keep the consumer’s experience simple and unfettered.
“Around 2000 or 2003 we had a great idea for our games: tutorials,” said Satchell, whose quick-moving presentation included numerous joking asides, which seemed to resonate well with the audience. “The games had gotten so complex that it was felt we needed tutorials in order to explain how to play them.”
He noted how the tutorials became a “built-in” barrier for gamers to enjoy their games.
“Then we got wise,” he said. “What’s fun about having to learn about playing a game? Nothing. It became too complicated. In the gambling world, they know this instinctively. There aren’t a lot of barriers to enjoying a good gaming machine. They design all of their products accordingly, which is a real strength.”
He said that during his time working in both worlds, he found there are many surprises and “a-ha” moments. He said that although teamwork is a must for the development of games, it often doesn’t translate or is transferred easily through an ultra-competitive marketplace.
“When you walk into a casino, it actually works,” he said. “We are a very competitive industry in gaming. You have to compete very hard for market share. But when I walked onto a casino floor and saw that IGT and Bally’s games could stand side by side together and work on the floor, that blew me away.
“Now, in video games, when was the last time you ever saw Sony and Microsoft inter-operate in a similar fashion? I think it’s a very good thing that this happens in the gaming industry.”
Satchell passed along some figures regarding the two industries. He said that the traditional demographic for video games, 21 to 35 year old males, is “shifting to a much broader demographic.” While the gaming world continues to be anchored by Baby Boomers, he said “Generation X is starting to gamble, which is adding an entirely new element.”
In the future, he said, it will not be uncommon to see people “playing on the go,” as the rise of social and mobile computing will provide opportunities for both industries to create new ways for individuals to utilize their products.
He added that “Gamer Scores” will continue to fuel a rise in the use of products in games and gaming. For video games, the concept reinforces the notion of community that has become so important to members of Generations Y and Z, while for gaming aficionados, keeping track of scores and milestones “give people a feel that their gaming experience is adding up to something and means something.”
Before Satchell’s keynote, Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering, welcomed those attending by noting that events like the IGT-University Computer Science and Engineering Symposium help reinforce the college’s expertise in the field.
“Gaming engineering and many other aspects of our Department of Computer Science and Engineering are central to our plans for growth,” he said. “Computer Science and Engineering is a program that started from local need and it has exemplified an excellent University-industry partnership.
“We want this program to continue to serve as an example to our college.”
In addition to Satchell, speakers during the IGT-University Computer Science and Engineering Symposium included Dr. Ioannis Pavlidis, Eckhard-Pfeiffer Professor and director of the Computational Physiology Laboratory at the University of Houston, whose talk was entitled, “A Novel Way to Conduct Human Studies and Do Some Good” and Dr. Michael Neff, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Program in Technocultural Studies at UC-Davis, whose talk was entitled, “Making Characters Gesture with Personality.”
The symposium also included a panel discussion on “The Future of Gaming,” which included Andrew Kertesz of IGT, Walt Eisele of Bally Technologies, Patrick Crawford of Gametech and William Eadington of the University of Nevada, Reno.