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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 10:00 GMT
Game creators look to the future
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Screenshot from Guitar Hero III, Red Octane
Games aimed at casual players have been big in 2007
The developers of some of the world's most popular video games are in San Francisco this week to discuss the future of the industry.

They will look back on one of their most successful years and discuss tackling the challenges ahead.

Jamil Moledina, director of the Game Developers' Conference said: "We had an incredible banner year in 2007 with games like Bioshock, Halo 3 and Uncharted.

In the US the industry's revenues grew 43%, with software sales up a third on the previous year.

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Moledina said: "It's often dangerous to make predictions about the future but the industry has taken on a sense of casualisation."

In this sense casual games are those that people can play and complete in minutes rather than hours and are aimed at children, women and older people. Many of the titles prepared for Nintendo's Wii are casual games.

He added: "There's definitely an increasing interest in approaching that larger audience of media consumers."

New markets

Traditionally the games industry has concentrated on its core audience. Titles like Halo 3, which pulled in the biggest ever earnings for an entertainment release in a single day, showed that the hard core gamer remained a potent market.

Dot.Life graphic, BBC
How on earth will the games industry surpass last year's commercial and critical high?
Darren Waters, technology editor BBC News website

"But the success of the Wii, RockBand, Guitar Hero and casual games point to new areas of growth," added Mr Moledina.

For instance, he said, Guitar Hero games made more than $820m at retail, a record for any single franchise in any one year.

Mr Moledina added: "The Wii has re-proven the point that five to 95 year olds like playing games."

Veteran game designer Sid Meier will speak at the conference to shed light on "the key things you need to capture the interest of the public at large".

"We have Facebook here talking about how they have managed to get so many eyeballs playing games in such a short space of time," he said.

Developers and publishers were looking at this area very closely, he added.

But, he said, these new developments would not change everything. "Not all games are going to be casual. There's still going to be a huge market for the core base which drives everything."

One of the games aimed squarely at the core audience in 2008 is Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which will be demoed at the week-long conference.

Gaining control

The event will also feature talk about the future of the human computer interface.

"Game worlds are a fairly complex universe, however the controllers we have are often a bit intimidating," said Mr Moledina.

Emotiv systems will be showing off its latest headset that uses sensors to detect brain waves to allow gamers to control characters and objects in a game world.

Nokia N81, Nokia
Mobile gaming is starting to be taken seriously
Israeli firm 3DV will be demonstrating its camera technology that can detect depth of movement.

Gamers can swing an imaginary golf club or interact with a 3D world just by using their hands and arms and without the need for a controller.

"A lot of people experiment with different ways to get into the game; to convert a fairly complex way that humans think and behave and have that map in a natural way to a complex game world," explained Mr Moledina.

The conference also features a strong mobile gaming element.

"We are seeing more and more big game companies take the space seriously. The sea change is that traditional game developers are less snarky about mobile and casual than they were because of the power of phones today."

Microsoft's head of Live services, John Schappert, will give one of the conference's keynotes, where he is expected to unveil new features for the Xbox Live service.

"Microsoft hasn't delivered a keynote for two years so it will be interesting to see what they have for us," said Mr Moledina.

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