GDC 07: Games need to get serious

Developing serious games is crucial to the survival of the industry, believes Square Enix exec Ichiro Otobe.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Serious games will be instrumental in expanding the audience and profile of the games industry and allowing the new media to gain widespread acceptance, Square Enix chief strategist Ichiro Otobe believes.

Otobe told attendees of his Serious Games Summit keynote address this morning that he believes the industry is at a crossroads and the releases of the next few years will be crucial in deciding the market penetration of the industry.

"Not all new media become mainstream," Otobe told the packed room. "We've got the market size, but if we can't expand the scope of our content beyond the current core gaming market we could just become a niche media content type."

Square Enix has partnered with Gakken, an educational publisher founded in Tokyo in 1946. Otobe commented, "In Japan, comic books have been elevated to the mainstream. The Himitsu or Secret series [educational comics which explained the 'secrets' of various topics] by Gakken have sold over 20 million copies, and through these kind of activities, comic books have become mainstream media."

Square Enix will be using a similar approach by partnering with Gakken to produce serious games, Otobe stated. He hopes that what helped convince people that comic books weren't just a niche media will also work in the same way for games. The company is currently working with "many" corporate clients, including a fashion magazine, to create targeted content for each.

While Otobe didn't reveal specifics, he did confirm that Square Enix currently has two serious games projects under way: SG Labs, which it is working on in partnership with Gakken, and Project GB (Game Brain), an in-house serious game project, which is developing a Nintendo DS game to teach game development skills to users.

Project GB was initiated in February, and the as-yet-unnamed game will be finished in approximately six months, although the company is not sure whether or not it will be releasing the finished product to the public.

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