The Obsolete Gamer Show: The Business of Gaming with William Volk

Gaming is serious business not only within the game, but in the real world as millions can be made and lost in the industry. Sometimes, it gets complicated and that’s when we turn to legendary game developer and CCO of Playscreen William Volk to school us in the ways of the business of gaming.

We talk with William Volk about the PC dominance in revenue over mobile and even console games and why gamers are willing to pay for DLC or episodic games, but not in mobile in app purchases.

We also talk about EA pulling out of E3 and how not only this convention but perhaps all gaming conventions may just not be worth it to triple A developers.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011: Technology pioneer worked in the early days of Atari

Steve Jobs

Mankind has lost one of the greatest inventors and visionaries of all time, as Apple has confirmed the death of Steve Jobs, the founder of the company.

Most famous for his role in pioneering the personal computer industry and reinventing technology with products such as the iPhone and the iPad, Jobs also had a role in the earliest days of the video game industry.

In 1974, an Atari receptionist came to video game pioneer Al Alcorn to tell him of a long haired young man in the lobby.

“We’ve got this kid in the lobby. He’s either got something or is a crackpot,” the receptionist told Alcorn.  After giving an interview where he’d exaggerated his electronics knowledge, an 18-year-old Jobs became Atari’s 40th employee, working for $5 an hour to tweak and finish an early handheld game called Touch Me.

Atari Touch Me

A short time later, Jobs invited his friend Steve Wozniak to show off a homemade version of Pong he’d developed, impressing Atari so much that he, too, was hired by the young video game company.

Jobs and Wozniak would later pair up to work on Atari’s 1976 release Breakout, the ball-and-paddle brick-breaking game that has been cloned a million times over, from 1987’s arcade hit Arkanoid to countless Flash-based clones on the internet today.  Offered a bonus by Atari if the number of chips that could be eliminated from the machine, Jobs offered to split the bonus with Wozniak, who worked for days on end to reduce the design to such a degree that Atari was unable to figure it out and had to redesign the circuit board over again.  Despite the fact that Wozniak did the work, Jobs took most of Atari’s bonus money for the project without Wozniak’s knowledge.

Jobs and Wozniak would then go on to form Apple Computer, the company that brought the computer into the home.  Almost ironically, the iPhone and iPad would become popular devices in the modern day for playing video games, putting his contributions to the industry at both the start and end of his historic career.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpVIufJ4qoU[/youtube]

Jobs was 56 years old.  “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives,” read the statement from Apple that confirmed the passing of Jobs on the evening of October 5.

 

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

Tomas Danko at studio
Tomas Danko Studio

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

What do you do for your job, where do you work, and what do you like the most about it?

My official title is VO Producer and I work in-house at Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) in Stockholm where we do the Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge franchises. I am part of the audio team (which makes us all Sound Designers according to the EA matrix), and my primary focus is everything that has to do with dialogue (VO means Voice Over).

Among other things I work with writers and game designers to develop a script/story, cast actors, record and direct dialogue, post edit and design/sound effect all dialogue not to mention all the work needed to implement it in the game (i.e. scripting, logic triggers, mixing and more).

I like almost all of it, although working for a week trying to beat a 500,000 cell Excel sheet into submission is not the most fun I can think of, even though it has to be done at times. I figure I love my job because it makes me do totally different things every month or so. Some examples: One week I record and direct actors in a studio in London, or outdoors in Stockholm. The next week I edit wave files. Third week I design radio filter effects, and then I create Boolean logic tree structures to do automatic triggering of sounds in the game. It never gets boring.

What was your first computer and how did you get it?

My first computer was a Casio PB-100. I used it to program a lot of small games and demos with it, and my math teacher in school had her son (he studied computers at the University) provide me with code problems to solve. My second computer was the Commodore Vic 20, and I guess the rest is history since it steered me onto the glorious path of Commodore computing.

What was the first video game you played?

My memory eludes me, but probably Pong if you exclude all the games I programmed myself on the PB-100 and Vic 20.

What is your favorite video game platform of all time?

It has to be the Commodore 64, of course!

What’s your favorite video game?

There were too many games taking too much time out of my youth to pick just one. However, I spent an awful lot of time playing Paradroid, Pirates, Kickstart, Bruce Lee, Exploding Fist and Rally Speedway among other games.

What’s your favorite story of the computer or video game industry? (could be yours or somebody else’s)

It has to be the little bug in Kickstart on the Commodore 64 where the head of the motor cycle driver sometimes flickered one line or two into the upper border if you managed to jump high enough. Someone (1001 Crew, IIRC) took a deeper look into it and the rest is demo scene history (fully opening the borders).

What do you prefer, the present or past, considering the state of the computer scene?

The past, obviously, as far as the scene. It will never be the same again. The present and future when it comes to making computer games. It is a lot more fun nowadays as opposed to when I did games on the Sega Megadrive and Sony Playstation.

What’s the most influential video game you have ever played, that changed your life?

Tomas Danko playing tabletop games.
Tomas Danko Dice

Kung-Fu Master.

When you were younger, who were the people you considered to be legends in the computer and video game field?

There are too many to mention them all. I’ll just say Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway and call it a day.

What is your favorite old school gaming studio/developer?

It probably needs to be Andrew Braybrook (Hewson Consultants Ltd, Renegade Software).

What music inspired you to follow your career?

Jean-Michel Jarre besides all the ancient heroes making music on the Commodore 64. On the whole, I figure computer music had a more profound impression on my aural aesthetics than anything else.

What do you think the future for gaming will be?

It seems to take a couple of parrallel paths at the moment.
More platforms are moving towards as well as further developing movement based gaming such as the precursor Wii console.
A lot of gamers want to be entertained in a dumbed down way, halfway point and click and get through the experiences of a game without having to work too hard or think too much about it. Hence a lot of “shooting gallery” single player campaigns where everything runs in a linear and tubular fashion.

Finally, and this is the nice part as far as I’m concerned, some people are working hard to push the narrative aspects of gaming further in order to get on par with the Hollywood movie industry in regards to telling a story and giving the player an emotional experience as well. Merging the knowledge and methodologies created and perfected by Hollywood with the non-linear and interactive core mechanics found in games, to give the player a brand new experience in the future. This is where the frontier lies in gaming, as far as I’m concerned.

Do you prefer games that are personalized single player experience or games with a lot of interaction with other people?

I like both, to be honest. From a developer’s point of view, I find the single player campaign to be the most fun and challenging to work on. But some of the most rewarding gaming moments in recent time for me tend to be the in-house multi play tests when working on various Battlefield titles.

What projects are you involved with that you are willing to share with us? (not top secret ones!)

We just released Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and I did some VO and sound design on it. At the moment I’m working as VO Producer on the multi player component of Medal of Honor, other than that I’m working on another Battlefield franchise title and that’s all I can share at the moment.

What advice do you have for somebody that wants to be involved in the video game industry?

Start working with some friends on a small game and release it for free or work with making mods for Unreal engine games. Look into the iPhone platform and business model, and make your own career. Try and get an intern position at a studio.

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I thank Tomas for taking the time to answer us and help us get to know better his gaming and computing past, as well as his contribution to the computer and gaming industry.