GTA Creator David Jones keynotes World Cyber Games 2004 Conference

The man who introduced gamers to carjacking says mainstream multiplatform gaming is the next big thing.

SAN FRANCISCO--Keynote speaker David Jones, creator of the Lemmings and the Grand Theft Auto franchises while at DMA Design Ltd., kicked off the World Cyber Games Conference in San Francisco Thursday morning. His topic was the future of multiplatform-connected gaming. Now heading Real Time Worlds, Jones has spent the past few years laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be a truly mainstream massively multiplayer online experience.

As part of his exploration of what constitutes truly mainstream multiplatform gaming, Jones presented some striking data about the nature and evolution of connected devices. Currently, mobile phones represent the most prolific connected platform, far outnumbering consoles, PCs, and interactive TV platforms.

Looking to the future of designing entertainment for connected platforms, Jones noted that mobile devices will continue to far exceed other types of connected devices. By 2008, he estimated, consumers will be connecting with each other via 50 million handheld game devices (such as Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS), 125 million next-generation consoles (Xbox Next, PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo "Revolution"), 374 million interactive TV boxes, 480 million PCs, and a staggering 2.1 billion mobile devices. Combining these figures, Jones arrived at a connected base of 3 billion devices to which entertainment can be delivered.

The essential thing Jones noted about such a large potential base of customers is its vast diversity. “We’re going to have people who just want to play a couple of minutes a day, right up to the hardcore who want to play eight hours a day,” he said, and it’s up to game designers to devise new forms of games and gameplay that can appeal to them all in different ways.

To illustrate this key point of how to address a broad, diverse audience, Jones took five minutes to design a hypothetical game that could appeal to his entire family: Jones, a seasoned gamer with PC strategy game proclivities; his wife, who is drawn to more casual, creative, and puzzle-type games; and his son, whose main concern is the firepower of any weapon involved. Interestingly, the game turned out not unlike Lemmings, but it had a few creative additions. Jones could spend time constructing strategic systems for a persistent population of creatures, his wife could express her creativity by designing special new units for her son, and his son could find a way to access a unit with some special (and, no doubt, violent) powers that he could use to test the boundaries of the game design.

The challenge to game designers in the coming years is learning to design for those outside their traditional audiences by emphasizing community, communication, persistence, nurturing, and personalization in games. “Make it really cool for your 100 million current gamers,” advised Jones, “but if you want to be really successful, make it cool for the 3 billion gamers-to-be.”

The WCG Conference continued through Thursday, with other presentations by Bill Roper, CEO of Flagship Studios and, of late, Blizzard Entertainment; Microsoft’s Mark Terrano, who worked on the Age of Empires series; Big Huge Games’ Tim Train; EA producer Steve Gray, who was development director of several of the Lord of the Rings games; and Norman Cheuk, studio manager of Microsoft Game Studios Japan.

Past WCG conferences held in Korea have attracted American speakers and attendees interested in learning more about how to break into that potentially lucrative market from the West. Now with the WCG in the United States, the audience interest in the cross-cultural potential of gaming has come full circle. “I’m interested in designing games that appeal to the worldwide market,” commented conference attendee Charlie Cleveland of Unknown Worlds, the designer/programmer behind the Natural Selection multiplayer Half-Life mod. “In a couple of years, I want my next game to be the hottest thing at this event.”

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