The Games Industry is IT too

If I had had when I was young the computer games that my children have now, I too would have spent much of my waking hours playing them.

Being the sort of child who created my own mythical continent – complete with its own history, dynasties, castles and industrialisation – I would particularly have loved the strategy games available now.  The chance to construct a Roman City from scratch with irrigation, mines, factories, stores and forums would have kept me gaming long into the night.  (It still does, actually!)

As a devotee then, as now, of the historical “might have been”, I would have found the opportunity to re-fight the Battle of Cannae or Teutoberger Forest or Waterloo with hundreds of Artificial Intelligence (AI) figures, all well-disciplined and correctly uniformed, would have been – and still is – irresistable.  No need now to look up range tables, fire effect and morale tables, and to pray for good dice scores!   (And no excuse now for losing through “unlucky” dice throws either!)

As the kind of boy who re-fought the Normandy landings and the Battle of Arnhem with Airfix aircraft and tanks, and plastic miniatures, I would also have succumbed to the shoot-em-ups.  My schoolboy son now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of British Second World War small arms that would rival my father’s, who spent the War in the Ordnance Corps in Iraq and North-West Europe, supplying “Uncle Joe” Stalin and Monty respectively.   He is frighteningly well up on Axis and Soviet weoponry as well.

I am amazed at the obsessive care taken in the recreation of late 15th Century Venice in Assasin’s Creed 2, and the protagonist’s ability to swarm up the walls of Venetian churches and St Mark’s Cathedral – let alone the loving recreations of  some of Leonardo’s more devilish inventions.

I do confess, though, to being both squeamish and dubious about the all-too-copious amounts of blood and gore on display in many games. You could argue that this is, in fact, rather more realistic and true-to-life than simply removing your ‘dead’ warriors from the wargaming table.  (My wife once scandalised a group of miniature-figure wargaming friends by suggesting that if the carefully painted Napoleonic Old Guard were to be killed in action, the lovingly-painted figures should be really melted down….)

It is rather disappointing that the computer and video gaming industry is seen as not being properly part of the IT industry.  It is in fact a considerable British success story, with much of the sector based here or with UK sites.   Although figures about just how big the sector is are hard to get hold of, gaming is often said to rival the film industry globally.  The popular shoot-em-up Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 cost £100m to develop, for instance, and last year had revenues in the first 24 hours of £200m.  Total sales to date are £625m world-wide.

Just consider the brilliance of the IT work that goes into a game like the recently-released F1 2010.  Each race-track took a team of 8 people a year to build, using the CAD plans for each track when available.  During the race the grandstands gradually fill up with ever more animated (literally) spectators.  The sound of the cars is based on recorded sound from each real F1 car and it is coded so that the ear-spliiting noise of F1 bounces off buildings.  When you arrive to change your tyres all the pit crew for each team leap into action!

The cars themselves are the masterpieces. Constructed from original CAD designs supplied by the teams and taking 7 weeks to design, they handle like the originals (although, if you are like me, you may wish to turn this feature down!).  As the race weekend goes on, so the track gets better grip and the weather – as in the real thing – can change everything.  And so it goes on, up to and including the media interviews after the race.  All of this is tested by a 70-strong team of professionals in Southam in the Midlands.

Perhaps we should use the gaming industry more, as role models for both the creative use of advanced technology, and enterprise.  Then perhaps more UK school and university students would see IT as an exciting and smart career choice?  It’s not all supply chains and data-warehouses, it’s not just about legacy systems and upgrades, it’s fun as well!

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

3 Responses to The Games Industry is IT too

  1. Chris Monk says:

    I am a volunteer at The National Museum of Computing, based at Bletchley Park (of codebreaking fame). Looking at the developments in computing since Colossus, I am always struck by the sheer creativity and fun, that must have helped drive forwards some amazing leaps in computing technology in the UK. When students visit us I try to emphasise that computing is far from dull and offers a very wide range of options for young people today.

    Paul, if you get a chance to come see the museum, with a working rebuild of Colossus onwards then please do. I genuinely think the past can also play its part in inspiring the future! (www.tnmoc.org)

    • paulcoby says:

      I very much agree with you that understanding of the past shapes the future.
      But then again I would as an historian by training and continuing interest (by the way a future blog will be on my experiences in self-publishing a rather obscure work on the Roman Conquest of Northern Britain – another benefit of the Web Revolution!).
      For precisely this reason, we have near my desk at BA HQ at Heathrow a show case featuring some equipment from our IT heritage as an airline – punch cards etc, as well as our trophy cabinet of awards for ba.com and so forth. The one is the heritage that provides the foundation for the other.
      And in the BA Museum we have original BEACON, BOADICEA and BABS equipment from the 60s, 70s and 80s when the features still present at the heart of airline reservations, departure control and inventory systems were developed (as I am sure you know).
      So I am very much looking forward to visiting Bletchley and seeing the Colossus rebuild!

  2. Rob Price says:

    Paul, it’s refreshing to see someone such as yourself linkage the corporate IT world with the Games world. I’ve always had a fascination for both, in my case dating back to the early 80’s and the advent of arcade games like Space Invaders and their transition onto home computers such as the Tandy TRS-80 (which i used as a kid), the Commodore PET, VIC-20 etc. To compare those games with the immersive experiences of God of War 3, Assassin’s Creed 2, COD4:MW2 is incredible – from a graphical and gameplay perspective. The social interaction and expanse of World of Warcraft, Everquest and the just launched Lego Universe are really quite mind-blowing compared to the textual adventure games of only 30 years ago.

    But of course, what interest most is where the cross-over may be. About 2-3 years ago, i saw an amazing replication of the Bodleian Library. Just like any of the games we’ve talked about, it was fully immersive. You could walk anywhere, look at anything. It made me think how much better that would be as a visual interface to Document Management systems that we see time and time again in corporate structures. That instead of searching through directories, we could virtually walk up to the bookshelf and take the file off the shelf of the library.

    Not knowing the dynamics of HOW these games get built, i also find it amazing to compare the development of big corporate IT systems with what i perceive as greater agility and innvoation within the games market. Perhaps this is naivety on my part, but i’m intrigued to know how approaches differ.What roles (perhaps visual, marketing, user experience, ‘gameplay’) ought we to think about more in the corporate world? And what about those MMORPG games that i mentioned? What lessons from them? Surely something around collaboration, community, again innovation and problem solving.

    We believe that Corporate IT world is on the cusp of change… driven by the ubiquitous nature of web connectivity, driven by Gen Y, driven by our altered expectations, driven by Cloud, driven by commodity, driven by the need to collaborate etc… Convergence is happening in a number of areas, but few people talk of potential crossover between corporate and gaming. Nice to see something out there in the ether.

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