Video games play leading role in technological advances

If you think video games is a niche industry, think again.

The global video games industry is worth around $250 billion, Ron Curry, CEO of Australia’s Interactive Games and Entertainment Association tells Cosmos

That’s more than the film and music industry combined, he says.

And Australian consumers are spending just over $4 billion dollars a year on game related products, second in terms of entertainment after subscription television, but closing in.

“A long way then behind comes books, and film, entertainment and music,” he says.

And with the industry often driving technological developments and breakthroughs – everything from virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to high performance programming – video games will be the focus of Cosmos’ next Science City event on 4 July (you can tune in to watch the event live on 4 July from 12.30pm ACST (Adelaide time) here).

“The genesis of VR and AR, it had a really strong basis in video games, in how we deliver a story and a narrative and a context and visuals that are much more realistic,” Curry says.

Those tools are often later adopted elsewhere, such as in research or in film.

“A lot of film is using things like the Unreal Engine – a game engine – to bring the CGI [computer generated imagery] in film alive.”

The games sector draws on a huge range of skills and disciplines: from programmers with technical skills to game designers who conceptualise the game and understand the players’ psychology. There are writers, artists, animators, musicians and audio professionals. Game testers undertake quality assurance, testing the game play and finding bugs before release. Community teams engage with the audience, the players.

Curry says he has come across some surprising roles in the industry too.

“One that really surprised me were companies using anthropologists in their businesses. Anthropologists understand people, understand how different categories of people react differently to gameplay and to narrative and story design.”

He says there are also people working as game ethicists, looking at ethical implications, analysing dilemmas within a game.

Read more Cosmos video games coverage:

Next level: the climate-changing potential embedded in the immersive world of video games

Life on Mars: Exploring the Red Planet up close and personal

High score: Video game play linked to better cognitive performance

Curry has been involved with the industry for around three decades and has seen the significant changes and technological developments over that time. 

He describes three critical shifts.

“Probably one of the most significant ones was the advent of mobile phones and tablets, as a new medium for gaming. And that really democratised the industry,” he says.

The shift away from relying on console and personal computers to access games opened up the industry for more players, but also more developers, he says.

The advent of mobile and iPad game development – led by the launch of Apple’s App Store in 2008 – meant “pretty much anybody could join the industry”, Curry says.

“If you had to do some coding, and you had a great idea, it was easy to bring products to market, particularly in the early days when it wasn’t such a crowded market.”

Curry says graphics – design, programming and hardware – has made huge advances.

From a game like Pong released more than 50 years ago, to “now it’s almost impossible to tell sometimes between what’s graphics, and what’s real film, real life”, Curry says.

“That’s got to do with graphic design, 3D graphics [programming], advanced lighting and shading, and hardware capabilities.”

Online gaming and cross-platform integration, allowing people to play together regardless of console or hardware has also made the pastime much more of a place to connect, rather than a solo event.

“We saw this real connection, the power of a game to connect people across the globe. I think we really saw the power of that during COVID where people were using games, to entertain, to educate, and to connect.”

In Australia, the access to games is now almost universal, Curry says. 

“It doesn’t matter where you are – it can be a television, a phone, a fridge, your car (if you have a Tesla) the access to playing games is ubiquitous, they’re everywhere.”

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