Virtual reality used to be the topic of conversation whenever anyone talked about the future of game development software and the games which surround it. Even at the Develop Conference 2016 in Brighton, every track had a talk (or seven) which focused on VR. The design, the evolution, the funding, the art, the business, the coding and the marketing of… VR.
Last year, the excavation of a remote site in the New Mexico desert revealed a long-forgotten treasure. Rather than Neolithic remains or fragments of medieval pottery, the excavation team in question exhumed a mound of Atari video game cartridges – buried in 1983, following a dramatic crash in global video game demand.
More than a 100 million monthly players. Just stop and take that figure in. League of Legends hasn’t merely attracted 100 million players who have played the game at some point or another, but 100 million individuals who are playing every month. No other online game even gets close. Valve’s DOTA2 only reaches around 13 million monthly players. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive? Around 23 million players. If the game is attaining and maintaining a vast global audience, Riot’s Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA) is in a league all of its own.
When video games first hit the arcade, developers built the game from the bottom up – structuring the kernel to fit the technology and specifications available at the time. They were constantly challenged to keep games within tight parameters as the technology battled to keep up with the demands of the software and the burgeoning gaming market.
Which mobile games took their tiny development company from a small room or garage to a mega-conglomerate almost overnight? Bet you can list at least three. Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Pokémon Go, Clash of Clans – these games are so popular they’ve become household names, and at least two of them have their own soft toy ranges. They are almost the pot of gold at the end of the mobile game development rainbow – who wouldn’t want that level of success?
As the first examples of mass online gaming began to take root in the late 1990s, including legendary titles like Quake and Everquest, it became evident that a method of communication was required between players. With keyboards tied up issuing reams of commands, the obvious method of communication was verbal, yet the technology of the time was wholly unsuitable for this task. Transmitting packets of voice data from one IP address to another was as alien to late 1990s’ audiences as the concept of shopping on their mobile phones or streaming movies via their TVs.
Starting a business is one challenge; scaling it is quite another. Why? The answer is quite straightforward: it’s difficult to know how many people you might serve at any one time.
In hindsight, it should have been obvious that Pokémon Go would be a king-sized hit. Sure, the Pokemon franchise isn’t as big as in its glory days, but it still means something to a huge number of people around the world, while the way the game mixes real and imaginary worlds is incredibly appealing. It’s a game that appeals to our collecting instincts while bringing in social and competitive motivations. Providing Niantic Inc. got the basics right it was always going to be a big success.