The freefall GPA and the countless hours of “one more turn” are partly the fault of David McDonough, a game developer and Lead Designer for Firaxis Games, the studio behind the immensely popular and addicting series that illegal substances barely beat as most addicting thing ever, “Civilization.”
McDonough obtained his Bachelor’s degree in 2006 from Trinity University in Studio Art. While getting his Master’s degree from the Savannah College of Art & Design, he fully transitioned to game design. The lecture he gave last week at (a very packed) Chapman Auditorium went into detail about the industry that he lives and breathes in and the Renaissance occurring within.
David McDonough cited various statistics in his lectures like 72 percent of households play games, 49 percent own a gaming console, how most gamers are middle age (30-ish) and that there are billions of dollars coming into the industry every year — some are even calling it recession-proof. Most mainstream media is focused on the blockbuster Triple-A games — “Call of Duty,” “Halo,” etc. — but these have very long development times and huge budgets with almost no room for diversity and experimentation — and lots of sequels. The transition from these Triple-A games to indie, amateur games is where the gaming Renaissance is occurring.
“Games are changing all the time now that there’s a gold rush of ideas and talents,” McDonough said. “The two guys spend their spare time coding, the student creating a simple app and the small team working in someone’s basement can all be legitimate game developers — they are the real Renaissance men.”
McDonough went on to say how the industry has changed in recent years.
“The game industry is very different than it was just five years ago,” McDonough said.
The deluge of new games, ideas and talents is the result of a perfect storm. Indie and amateur games can be made with a small budget in far less time than a triple-A and are agile — they can explore new ideas, experiment, respond to community, etc. The factors that helped create this young but growing aspect of the industry are plentiful, but the few that really made an impact were changes in technology, distribution and learning. Mobile gaming was the harbinger of this movement, the popularity of the DS and PSP and then, most importantly, the popularity of smartphones turned the industry inside out.
Everyone and their mothers were creating games for the App Store. Which leads to the next point: distribution. The internet really changed everything with the accessibility of software for developers and games for the user. The learning aspect — tutorials, wikis and documentations all over the internet — in addition to the other elements made game development accessible for anyone.
For those who have interest in working in the games industry, David McDonough has some advice.
“Games are an incredible medium to work in, and there’s a huge world of amazing stuff.” McDonough said. “The line between amateur and pro is blurring all the time, especially with all the great resources students and indies can get for free or very cheap. So for those who are interested in the industry, just go make something. Draw characters and places, design levels, code some systems, write a story and, again, just go make something.”
I encourage you all to check out Firaxis Games’ latest release, “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” and to read a full interview with David McDonough on the Trinitonian website, www.trinitonian.com.