Like many, I enjoy making games, but I have often questioned if it is worth my time. At some point, like the rest of us I will die and its important to me that my time spent on earth was about something more than just chasing money or fooling around with trifles. This is a question I have struggled with for years. Why do I make games? Why should I run a company that makes games? Is making games important, does it solve any real problems?
If the only thing one cares about in regards to their work is money, work on Wall street. The industry of money exists without the distraction of a product or service in the buying, selling and trading of value. If a more altruistic purpose calls you forth, there are plenty of NGOs and non-profits mobilizing around civilization’s greatest needs and challenges.
So the question remains unanswered, why make games? I think many of us begin making games because we enjoy playing them. If you’re a longtime player and just starting design and development, it can be frustrating at first. It takes a lot of time and patience to learn the languages, tools and engines — but for many there is a new delight that is discovered in that process.
Myths and Legends have shaped cultures for thousands of years. The pantheons of the Greeks and Norse are perhaps the most frequently explored in western schools and literature. It is hard to ignore what are in essence the new American pantheons that have taken shape in comic books, movies and games over the last several decades.
The lines of fans that camp out to be the first to see the next Star Wars, Marvel movie or Potter book are in a way a reflection of the masses that gathered at the Athenian temples in Greece or totems of the Norse. It is no surprise then that Thor is one of the main Avengers in the Marvel universe and even Hercules has a spot on the roster. These are intimate experiences that tell us something about the type of person we want to be, or life we want to live and its shared between people on a worldwide scale.
Games are no exception. In fact, the most valuable media franchise ever made is Pokemon. A well made game becomes a magnet that attracts millions and spreads ideas as they are played, watched, read and consumed. Like movies or books, game producers are in a position to mass effect the culture and experience of an international audience.
Making games is making culture which gives the individuals and companies behind these projects a conduit and a responsibility to shape the global culture for generations.
Understanding the Universe
I have gained a much deeper understanding about our world because of the experiences I have had creating games. The near endless series of “if, then else” that live behind-the-scenes of a game begin to make the creator draw parallels between the rules and logic that shape a game and the rules and logic that set our universe in motion.
The standard model asserts that there are four fundamental forces at work in the universe. The strong force, the weak force, electromagnetism and gravity. As a result of these forces, our entire universe is in essence set in motion. At a high level, this bears resemblance to the systems that are made by a game designer to create a dynamic and unfolding experience for the player. Take for instance the legendary “Conway’s game of life”.
Cellular automata demonstrates how a few simple rules (or forces) can bring about complex change over time in a closed system. Perhaps we live in one of these closed systems and are the result of the ongoing drama of a few simple rules.
The basic rules of a cellular automata and their similarities to the forces in our universe are just one example of many. Creating worlds in game engines opens a cornucopia of curiosities and understanding about the reality in which we exist.
Self awareness, consciousness and learning have been key themes in the exploration of the human condition since the preliterate and perhaps the neolithic.
Studying and understanding ourselves and the unique human capability to be aware of itself and choose its path through life is a paradoxical pursuit. The human brain applying its processes of understanding on itself creates a sort of recursive, hyper subjective process that is perhaps best described in Hofstatder’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (read more).
The scientist and the subject of the experiment are the same, which is perhaps the reason why the nature of consciousness has eluded us for millennia. There is perhaps no better example of how a game production can help people understand consciousness than the story of AlphaGo, an AI that learned not just logic, but intuition.
Demis Hassabis is the project’s creator and has roots as a game designer working with the likes of Peter Molyneux. Hassabis later earned his PhD in cognitive neuroscience and then founded DeepMind, the company behind AlphaGo.
There is, of course, a long history of AIs playing games like Chess and defeating masters. What is unique about AlphaGo is that it was created to excel at the Chinese game Go, which is a game that relies much more on intuition than logic. The entire project helped to answer questions around what intuition is and whether or not it can be replicated in a machine.
Not only has this project helped humans understand themselves better, it has lead to a number of additional projects that will have a large, positive impact on various industries and human society.
A Worthy Purpose
By this point, there should be no doubt that game development is a worthy purpose. Games and the process of developing them brings shape to our shared culture, helps us understand the universe we live in and ourselves. In many cases, game development produces new technology that is leveraged by different industries to improves lives and solve problems around the world.
About the Author
Tobias Batton is a 15 year digital product & marketing executive that has founded 3 companies and sold 2. Tobias Batton currently leads the game publisher Ex Populus (expopulus.com). Prior to that, Batton was responsible for over 150 million app installs delivered to top mobile game publishers with his Signal Zero publishing and loyalty platform. In 2012, He was hired by the Emerge Digital Group to build a mobile division for the organization which helped Emerge be named America’s 8th fastest growing company in the USA (Inc. 500). Prior to that Batton was tapped to build the real time event tracking system and temporal search engine Live Matrix, which was adopted by Facebook to help build Facebook Live.
Batton was also a founding team member of IGN’s Indie Open House which helped indy game developers create and release their games for desktop and console. Batton also founded Resistor where a variety of popular web and mobile games were published including the widely played Clan Wars and the cultural phenomenon iGirl. Batton’s first company which helped independent filmmakers publish their films digitally was launched in 2006 and acquired in 2008.
He was responsible for millions of R&D dollars building a loss prevention platform for digital advertising while managing several millions in quarterly marketing budgets. As a result, over 150MM installs were driven to top mobile game publishers while simultaneously preventing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loss for ad technology companies that represent billions in annual market share. He has led the development of a mobile SSP, built a mobile promotional platform with 60MM+ users and was a part of the launch of thousands of games and apps. Because of his work promoting games, he was featured on Fox Business Risk and Reward. He has guest lectured doctoral candidates from Stanford, MIT and INSEAD on the above topics. He is intimately familiar with mobile devices, information theory, Shannon entropy, device fingerprinting and a variety of other related concepts.
Batton has designed and published several best selling mobile and social games. This led to his published game design framework “Variable Dopamine- Wavelength Mapping Theory” — a system based on Dopamine spikes in the brain, applied directly to an overlap of both Maslow’s pyramid and Pavlov’s trigger-based framework — has been featured at numerous conferences and articles, including Forbes. He has been profiled by Forbes, Fox Business Network, the New York Times, WIRED, IGN, Cnet and VentureBeat.