Will content drive the state of the art in game development?
While the current global recession has impacted the traditional AAA
title game studios and publishers with mixed financial results, today
we are seeing at least three new forces pushing the window of game
development with favorable results and exciting potential. These
forces have at least this one thing in common: the need for a single
open pervasive way of interchanging, archiving and reusing expensive
Three opportunities for the game industry to remain vibrant and profitable:
1) The surge in popularity of social networking has cast casual gaming
into the forefront of game development and profitability while garnering mind share from new or non-traditional game developers. (See Zynga, Big Fish, PlayFirst games etc. and the technology behind Unity3D, iPhone games, etc. for examples).
2) User Generated Content (UGC) is on the rise and moving into mainstream, thanks to “the tool is the toy” model of games such as Spore and Little Big Planet. Additionally, social networking games drive users to share content, as in most Facebook games like the exceedingly popular FarmVille, designed from the start to leverage the social networking aspects of Facebook. While users are not yet building individual content in droves for these games, likely that will happen as soon as easy-to-use tools (e.g. something like Spore Creator) are provided to players and content creators who can access and re-purpose existing repository content. UGC is often available as free 3D content (e.g. as found in Google 3D Warehouse, etc.) as well as in commercial 3D applications, such as in virtual world builders, animation tools and databases. Note that content repositories and standards go hand by hand as it is hard to serve/sell content if it has to be maintained in many formats, and the larger the content base in a given format, the greater the popularity of the format itself (think VHS vs BETA, Flash vs. QuickTime, or Blue Ray vs HDdvd) – all with very close in features and format, but content popularity made all the difference in adoption and success. Likewise, UGC will make the difference in championing a lasting 3D format standard.
Popular content repositories such as Google’s 3D Warehouse, Dassault’s 3DVIA, rogue Spore models, and Papervision3D content, for instance, all support COLLADA, allowing any of the applications that use their data to import or export 3D content to any other application supporting COLLADA. This puts COLLADA in the driving seat format wise for 3D content, particularly for on-line 3D content.
3) The development and fast adoption of native web rendering and “plug-in free” Web browser support for 3D, as witnessed by the interest and participation in the Khronos Group’s WebGL project (http://khronos.org/webgl), exploiting the HTML 5 canvas element — which eases the burden in the game industry to develop 3D for the web without needing to install the 3D web plug-ins of the past.
From these three efforts and those unforeseen, new and compelling content is being developed, which has the potential requirement to archive for future revisions and games, later modified by developers as well as end-users, and then re-purposed in game play.
The trends above are motivating savvy developers to turn more and more to (developing and using) open standards and open source API’s, formats and tools to maximize precious resources.
In light of reference to the three opportunities presented above, later I will profile the current state of the art for 3D open standards, many of which are designed to work in conjunction with one another, some already widely in use today, and some coming in the near future.