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Game Devs Got Game

Michael Desmond, founding editor of Redmond Developer News and Desmond File blogger, is on vacation. Filling in for him this week is John Waters, contributing editor of RDN.

When you're focused on software development in and for the enterprise, it's easy to forget about game developers. That would be a mistake. In this day and age, when enhancing the "end user experience" has emerged as a genuine priority -- even (maybe especially) for biz apps -- enterprise developers could learn a lot from their gamer siblings.

Though he didn't address enterprise coders specifically, author, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil hit the nail on the head during his keynote at the 2008 Game Developers Conference, held last week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. "Games are the harbinger of everything," Kurzweil told attendees. He later added, "Games are really the cutting-edge of what's happening...Ultimately, they're going to be competitive with real reality."

It was easy to wonder about the future of reality strolling around the exhibit floor at GDC. It was a bit like walking through the set of The Fifth Element or a Moebius illustration. The event drew an estimated 15,000 artists, coders, writers, musicians, publishers and entrepreneurs. Cyberpunks mingled with suits, and the tragically hip rubbed elbows with the socially challenged.

Beyond the looking-for-the-next-blockbuster mentality of the eccentric-in-the-extreme show floor -- and its slight emphasis on hardware (OK, Nintendo, we get it; swinging around that Wii controller is good for you) -- the show featured hundreds of sessions for software developers. The programming track ranged from gamer-focused sessions like the full-day tutorial "Core Techniques and Algorithms in Shader Programming" to Ganesh Rao's more general one-hour session, "The Future of Programming for Multi-Core with the Intel Compilers."

Scott Ambler's session, "Jazzing Up Agile Software Development," was well-attended by game devs looking for ways to become more agile. Ambler is the father of agile modeling and current agile development practice leader in IBM's Methods Group. "Games are all about the end user experience," Ambler observed, "so they really know how to keep users engaged. That's where enterprise developers could probably take a page from game developer handbook."

One reason gamer innovations may tend to slip off the enterprise developer radar screen is the rumor that consoles are about to make the PC an irrelevant gaming platform. When you're building an in-house HR program or a CRM system that really has to scale, chances are you won't be looking to the Xbox for inspiration.

But don't you believe it, says a new advocacy group that popped up at the GDC. According to the PC Gaming Alliance, games on the desktop platform currently account for about 30 percent of the overall market, and that slice of the pie is actually growing. The group cites data from research firm DFC Intelligence, which characterizes PC gaming as "one of the fastest-growing segments of the interactive entertainment market." The group's founding membership roster includes Intel, AMD, Activision, Dell/Alienware, Acer/Gateway, Epic, Nvidia, Razer USA and even Microsoft.

The members of the PCG Alliance plan to collaborate on standards that will make it easier for consumers to understand what titles will play on which systems. They also plan to offer guidance and recommendations for developers, and to share market information among member companies.

But even if consoles manage to take over the gaming world, Kurzweil suggested that the constant, warp-speed evolution of gaming technology will touch most developers, whatever their market. "If you're programming a game or any type of information-based technology two or three years from now," he said, "the world's going to be completely different." --John Waters

Posted on 02/26/2008 at 1:15 PM

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