NEWS - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Video Games No Longer Just Child’s Play

Older Players, Global Popularity, Demand for New College Courses Reflect Game Industry That's Growing Up The stereotype of video games as a children's-only pursuit is as outdated as a classic Pong console. Sure, teens still play them, but the first wave of gamers that grew up playing video games in the 1970s and 80s has now reached adulthood - and many of these avid gamers have children of their own. As a result, millions of people today are playing, buying and even learning to create new games and other interactive entertainment products. Colleges around the country are responding to the gaming industry's need to create new products and fill jobs by offering game-related courses for credit. According to Mary Clarke-Miller, academic director for Game Art & Design at The Art Institute of California - San Francisco, "The growth in college programs related to game design reflects a growing need for trained talent in the interactive entertainment field. Educators are working together with the game industry to develop relevant programs to fill this need." According to the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), the average age of a game player is 28 years old, and 90 percent of all games are purchased by adults over the age of 18. And it's not just young men playing and buying games. The IDSA also reports 40 percent of game players are women who tend to choose role-playing and lifestyle titles. This broad base of game purchasers has helped to drive video game industry global sales to reach an estimated $31 billion in 2002, according to a report by Informa Media Group. In the United States alone, sales in 2002 were $10.3 billion according to UBS Warburg. In addition to the education community's keen response to this burgeoning industry, Wall Street is also keeping a close eye on its development; many game-related hardware and software companies are publicly traded. For example, in the United States, the launch of three new gaming systems fueled game sales to shoot up nearly 43 percent to $9.4 billion in 2001, reports market researcher NPD. For game art students, many of them game players since grade school, a steady rise in the sophistication level of games requires that "students must not only have a solid foundation in drawing skills, but also a strong understanding of acting and storytelling," says Christian Bradley, Chair of Game Art & Design at The Art Institute of California - San Diego. Bradley, who has worked for industry leaders such as Interplay, The Dreamers Guild Studios, and The Collective Studios, explains that in the early days of game production, design was driven by technical considerations, providing little more than rudimentary graphics, however "once those technical hurdles were overcome, graphics and game art started to play an ever-increasing role in game production." At The Illinois Institute of Art - Chicago, Media Arts & Animation instructor Ed Kerr, says "graphically, game art lagged beyond other entertainment forms such as television and film, however with current game technology, the artistic challenges for the artist, and student, approach those of more established media." Kerr also believes because rapidly-changing technology places constraints on the game art medium, game art creators must "ply their craft, communicating clearly and effectively within the limits of the game design." And, although the game art field as a career is growing, more graduates with game art degrees means increased competition for jobs. "Graduates should anticipate starting near the bottom - like most other fields - and working their way up," says Mark Meier, a game art instructor with The Art Institute of Phoenix, and a creator of PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games. "The best prospects for jobs may be smaller, or less established companies, where advancement can be quick," he adds. So with an industry exploding as quickly as gaming, is there any end in sight to its growth? "When we consider that currently only a small segment of the population is computer literate, the potential for increased growth, in the industry and the jobs needed to fill it, looks very promising," says Meier.

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