So I play video games. Still play video games for that matter. When I think of whom to blame for this development, I can’t think of anybody else but my uncle. Even before I ever held a Nintendo GameBoy, I got to play on his Atari every time me and my family were visiting for some occasion.
So my first contact with video games has likely been Donkey Kong. In Donkey Kong, you play Mario, a plumber – now probably the most famous plumber on earth – and you try to rescue a princess out of the hands of a giant ape, who has kidnapped her. Why a plumber rescues a princess from a monkey is actually beyond me, but I certainly didn’t think about premise of the game at the time.
It went downhill from there. We all had GameBoys in school and there was 1 iconic game that came with the handheld console – Tetris. Tetris taught an entire generation how to organize things. I cannot even fathom what impact that game must have had on the tidiness of me and my peers. No wonder kids these days have attention disorder – they never went through the socialization of playing hundreds of hours of Tetris.
I never had another Nintendo game system after that. In the war between Sega and Nintendo, I bet on Sega. Don’t ask me why, maybe I liked the black color of the console better than the ugly grey of the Nintendos. Later I (or rather my parents, who are we kidding) upgraded to the first PlayStation. To this day I have fond memories of playing NBA Jam against a good friend. What you need to know about NBA Jam is that this way a highly unrealistic 2-on-2 basketball game, allowing violent pushes on defense, and if 1 player would score 3 hoops in a row he would be „on fire“, making him superfast and allowing insane dunks (including frontflips on the way to the basket etc) from pretty much the center of the court.
Eventually PCs entered the scene and things became a little more difficult – back in the day things weren’t as plug and play as they are today. You would have to setup games, and if you wanted to play with friends in a local-network, it would often take hours until all PCs were synced and everybody was ready to play Doom. And we played Doom, a lot. Doom was a milestone in terms of graphics when it launched, and I remember seeing it for the first time and literally being awestruck. Looking at where computer graphics are today you wonder why – illustrating how far technology has come in just a few years.
Whether games are beneficial to young people or not has been – and is – a matter of lengthy debate. Some say it trains persistence, logical reasoning, reflexes. Others say it instills violence and keeps kids away from the outdoors. The outdoor portion is certainly true, however I feel that my parents always made sure that I balanced my screen exposure with sufficient outside activities and sport. It certainly trained my English and gave me a decent understanding of technology.
Back then, one still had to understand the inner workings of a computer and with just an MS-DOS prompt to get things done, you actually had to learn to speak to a computer, rather than just using a mouse (or your fingers) to just click on icons.
It was the dawn of the internet, but dial-up speeds were still slow. Imagine waiting for minutes to just download 1 picture.
For me, gaming was a PC thing for quite some time, until business school. An X-Box was abused for co-op shooter games during the 2nd year of b-school and when I moved to Boston and had my own place, I eventually got a Playstation (I think it was the PS3 at the time).
These days, gaming is a side hobby. Many games require significant time to play through, time that I don’t have. Red Dead Redemption 2 for example, one of the best games of 2018, took me 5 months to play through – I started in November and finished last week – its a cheap hobby nowadays given the little time available for it.
Partly to blame is the insane complexity of a title such as RdR2. I think the game has around 300 different species in its open-world setting. All of these you could potentially (1) study, (2) kill, (3) skin and (4) track. What the f***? The world map is huge and as a player one has to ride from every place A to place B – not fast travel in this one, my friend. You have to constantly feed, shave, and maintain your avatar as well as feed, groom and get to know your horse. You can prepare hunted food together with any one of the trillion spices and herbs you can collect in the countryside. I have never hated and loved a game as much at the same time.
Today, gaming is an occasional past time as this illustrates. It lets me unwind, be completely focused on one task and think of nothing else. I often prefer gaming over watching a TV show. The best games these days are equal in story-telling to some of the best movies, and you get to play through the story, rather than just witness it. The production value of games has skyrocketed. The dialogue in games such as Red Dead Redemption, God of War, The Witcher or Grand Theft Auto rivals that of some of the best TV shows out there.
The business & reputation of video games
Video games used to have a reputation as being for nerds. Maybe they still do. However they are now also a force to be reckoned with and have become a big business. Gaming revenues are now bigger than those of all Hollywood movies combined. Production cost of games are often in the 3-digit millions.
Games now come in all form and sizes. Who hasn’t seen a manager on a plane play a mobile game on her phone? Farmville, anyone? And yes, women make up an increasingly bigger portion of gamers.
And while you were sleeping, an entire sub-culture of e-sports has blossomed out of nowhere:
2 years ago, a headhunter approached me for a position at Riot Games. I wasn’t so aware of it at the the time, but Riot produces one of the most successful and most played free-to-play PC games of all times: League of Legends (LoL). At its peak, 70-100 million people played LoL per month. LoL is a 5-against-5 MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game.
How much money can you earn with a game that is free to download, I hear you asking?
How about $2.1b in 2017, at its peak?
There is a lot of money in this business. The winning team of the LoL world championships takes home $1 million. And yes, that’s 5 pimply 18-year olds making $200k on one tournament. The championships were watched live(!) by 60million people worldwide in 2017. I am pretty sure that rivals some of the biggest sports events in the world.
There is a reason Amazon invested $800m in Twitch, a streaming service, a couple of years ago. The same way influencers on Instagram with a lot of followers can make a killing, famous streamers on Twitch can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by just playing games and commenting on them.
Even sports teams such as Schalke 04 are now investing in e-sports and have their own teams competing in official games leagues such those of LoL and new titles like Fortnite (where did that come from?), etc. etc.
A future with video games
While to me video games (or at least a select portion of them) are a form of art, we will have to make sure that the addictive qualities that many of them have – modern free-to-play games are structured like slot machines – don’t lead our youth to spend the majority of their lives indoors and hooked in front of screens – or rather increasingly using VR headsets – in a Ready Player One scenario (a great book and now a movie):