I had the privilege of spending last week working at San Diego Comic-Con with Microsoft. Its Games Studios wanted presenters to talk about the future of game design, and for some reason they wanted one of those people to be me. This was all in an effort to promote the upcoming game development software Project Spark, which opens up video game design to more than just computer scientists. It makes it so kids, adults, parents, teachers and students can all jump into complex game development in a very easy-to-use and easy-to-understand way.
Throughout the four-day event I spoke one-on-one with a wide range of people. The interactions that stood out the most though were kids and their parents. Project Spark requires some coding and development in order to create video games. Something that shouldn’t sound too appetizing to a 6-year-old. But every time I demonstrated a simple line of code, (WHEN: A is pressed DO: jump) which made the video game character jump up and down every time I hit the A button on a controller, little eyes lit up.
Coding, development and gaming are becoming the playthings of the next generation of communicators. Every parent I talked with told me about how they had their kid messing around with Scratch or Hopscotch (programming languages geared towards kids). They spoke about fun mini-sites their kids were developing and online resources they were playing around with. Now gaming is joining the open-source movement.
As I was walking through how you can make your own video game, kids were picking it up almost instantly (watch a 5-year-old explain game design). That’s in part because gaming is already everywhere around them. Points, levels, rewards, online competition, Club Penguin. These are staples of the 21st Century Playground. As gamification seeps more into our everyday lives, it moves closer and closer to the focal point of a communications strategy.
So what is my recommendation?
Think of communications like a gamer. Think about why the original Super Mario Brothers was so captivating in its 8-bit glory. It’s the challenge, the points, the score, the progression. And it’s all of these things wrapped up together in a story (sometimes a very loose interpretation of the term) that makes you feel accomplished.
Gaming is no longer a fad, a platform for kids or a purely entertainment outlet. As future-leaning communicators, we should embrace gaming and gamification and understand how big of an impact it will have on our industry.
From my experience, the best way to embrace is to understand. Try making a game. It’s much easier than you think. Understand the architecture of gamification. There are a number of free tools to get you started:
- Project Spark is free and currently available only on Windows 8 and Xbox One. That is my software of choice, because it’s simple to get you started and has very advanced layers when you’re ready to play with code and mechanics.
- Scratch may seem geared towards kids, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned a lot from it myself. And it’s free, brought to you by MIT.
- Sploder is a free online tool that is dead simple to make your own quick 2D game. It’s a bit limited, but great for people who want to dabble without getting into any sort of coding.
- Game Maker Studio has a free version that is limited in what you can create, but great if you just want to poke around to see what gaming is all about.
So there is my big challenge to you: make a video game.