Game Plan: The Insider's Guide to Breaking In and Succeeding in the Computer and Video Game Business

Game Plan: The Insider's Guide to Breaking In and Succeeding in the Computer and Video Game Business

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The $20 billion computer and video gaming business is the fastest-growing entertainment medium in the world---on track to surpass both the movie and record businesses. More than 200 million computer and video games are sold to the 140 million gamers in America every year.

Game Plan: The Insiders Guide to Breaking In and Succeeding in the Computer and Video Game Business is the first book that clearly explains how to get a foot in the door to this incredibly dynamic and exciting field.

This essential guide includes everything job seekers need to know about:

-How the computer and video game business really works
-How to break into the industry
-How to get your dream game made
-The many different jobs in the field
-Surviving and thriving in the marketplace

Three top game veterans provide all the information readers need to begin their search: Alan Gershenfeld, former senior vice-president of Activision Studios, Mark Loparco, one of the industry's top edutainment producers, and Cecilia Barajas, an acclaimed game producer/ director and a design consultant on hundreds of games.

Game Plan also features expert advice by top gamemakers from such leading game publishers and developers as Electronic Arts, Activision, Microsoft, Midway, LucasArts, and THQ.

No matter what your background or job qualifications are, Game Plan will help you to decide which area of the video and computer game business appeals to you the most, and how to attain your goals of working in the industry.

For anyone who's ever dreamed of one day making a game, or is simply curious if this is the field to go into---this book is a must-read.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429974271
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 357 KB

About the Author

Alan Gershenfeld is a full-time writer/producer for the interactive entertainment industry and former Senior Vice President of Activision.

Mark Loparco is an interactive designer, producer and programmer and former Senior Producer at Disney Interactive.

Cecilia Barajas is a software consultant who has worked on hundreds of games, providing creative and production guidance in addition to game design.

Alan Gershenfeld is a full-time writer/producer for the interactive entertainment industry and former Senior Vice President of Activision.

Mark Loparco is an interactive designer, producer and programmer, and former Senior Producer at Disney Interactive.
Cecilia Barajas is a software consultant who has worked on hundreds of computer and video games, providing creative and production guidance in addition to game design.

Read an Excerpt



Before launching into the specifics of how to break into the games business or get your dream game project off the ground, it is important to understand the basics of how the business works and who does what in the game development process. This chapter will walk you through the following two sections — each of which contain essential knowledge for anyone wishing to make games for a living:

The Platforms: An overview of the machines on which games are played and how video games, computer games, coin-operated games and handheld games are really four different, but overlapping businesses.

The Players: A description of the types of companies that make up each of these businesses.


The first concept that anyone interested in games must understand is that of "platforms." Platform is the term the industry uses to describe the actual machines, or hardware, and associated operating system software, upon which games are played. The games business is really four overlapping businesses broken down by the following four major categories of gaming platforms:

• Video game consoles

• Personal computers

• Coin-operated arcade machines

• Handheld gaming devices

Although we will continue to refer to all four businesses collectively as "entertainment software" or just plain "games," it is important to understand how each of these businesses is both similar and different from the others, and how these distinctions continue to evolve and blur with each new platform introduction.


Probably the most important and certainly the most popular gaming devices in the world are the video game consoles. Video game consoles are single-purpose computers, connected to your television, designed from the ground up to enable the playing of interactive games. Video game consoles are also referred to simply as "consoles." Past consoles include Nintendo's SNES and NES, Sega's Dreamcast, Saturn, Genesis and SegaCD, Atari's Jaguar and 2600 along with the short-lived 3DO and Phillip's CDi. As of the writing of this book, the main consoles are Sony's "Playstation 2," Nintendo's "GameCube" and Microsoft's "Xbox."

Video game consoles have come a long way since the first major console game and machine, Atari's home version of Pong, was released. That machine was hard-wired to play only one game, Pong, and featured extremely limited processing power and memory. Since the release of the first Atari home machine, every few years a new generation of video game consoles has emerged with more power and new features.

These consoles usually cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars, when they are first introduced, to less than a hundred dollars at the end of the platform's typical four- to five-year life cycle. They are usually played in the living room or family room, about three to four feet from the television, with a six- or eight-button joypad (and other peripherals) connected to the game machine. Unlike personal computers, consoles are used exclusively to play games. They are designed and engineered to provide the best gaming experience possible. Perhaps this is the reason why the demand for game consoles has exploded over the past decade.

Although technically video game consoles are becoming as powerful as personal computers, the gaming experience on a console is quite different from that on a PC. Playing a game with a joypad three or four feet from a television is a fundamentally different experience than playing a game with a keyboard and mouse one or two feet from a computer. This may be why certain gaming genres that involve complex interfaces (such as strategy games) have made a poor showing on the console and why more "twitch" oriented genres from the early Mario and Crash Bandicoot to the sports games (Madden Football) and fighting games (such as Soul Caliber) have done better on the consoles.

The newest generation of machines offer even faster processing power and all have the capability of Internet connectivity.

The following is an overview of the key features of the current crop of video game consoles:

Although video game consoles are sometimes referred to as "set-top boxes," that term usually refers to multipurpose boxes which sit on your television and enable not only games, but also the playing of music and movies and the offering of Internet access. Early attempts at a multipurpose box have not been successful (Phillip's CDi machine being the most recent example) because it is very difficult to make a competitive game machine which also works well for general applications. Of course, there are also lots of other complications revolving around technology, standards, government regulations and corporate turf battles that have hindered the successful launch of a set-top box.

Many people believe the most likely companies to succeed with a multipurpose set-top box are the game companies — because, in many ways, it is more difficult to make a great game machine than it is to make a machine that can play movies, music or simply connect to the Internet. In fact, some people believe the Playstation 2 may be the first step towards a Sony set-top box and that the Xbox might be serving the same strategic purpose for Microsoft.


Microsoft's original mission statement promised a computer in every home and on every desk in the workplace. To a great extent, it has succeeded in its mission. From virtually zero personal computers (PCs) in the 1960s, PCs are now ubiquitous. Although there are many more PCs than video game consoles, not all PCs are used to play games. This may surprise hardcore PC gamers, but the PC gaming business is actually much smaller than the video game business.

While not all PCs are being used to play games, the quest for better computer games is the single most important force in computer chip development and adoption. As Intel would be the first to admit, it is computer gamers' thirst for better graphics, faster frame rates and better multiplayer capabilities that not only drives chip enhancements but actually drives sales.

There are many reasons why the PC gaming market has not been as successful as the video game market. PCs are considerably more expensive than video game consoles and PCs are multipurpose machines which have not been designed from the ground up to optimize the game playing experience.

PC game software is still notoriously difficult to install; there is a lack of standardization of peripherals (e.g., 3D accelerators, joysticks, sound cards, etc.); the keyboard and mouse are awkward input devices for many gaming genres; it is difficult to play games with more than one person at the same computer and there is much less quality control on PC games — meaning that you are more likely to find problems or bugs in PC games. Also, PCs are often located at work or in the home office, environments that can be less conducive to playing games than the living room or family room, where most video game consoles are located.

On the other hand, there are certain advantages to playing games on the PC. Technically, high-end PCs still have more processing power than the current crop of consoles (although this may change with the next generation of machines). PCs currently offer more memory than the consoles (although this too is changing). For certain genres, the keyboard and mouse are actually more effective input devices (e.g., complicated simulations) and, until the Sega Dreamcast, PCs were the only way to experience the visceral thrill of online gaming.

Although the PC gaming market is still smaller than the video game market, it is a substantial business that has been growing steadily. The emergence of sub-$1000 PCs along with a new generation of very simple mass market games have also created a new generation of customers in the world of PC games.

As with video game consoles, there are multiple PC gaming platforms. The most common, of course, is the traditional PC running the Microsoft Windows operating system. The Macintosh, though a favorite of the creative community, is a distant second. In fact, most game publishers these days release Macintosh versions of only their biggest hits because the installed base is just not large enough to justify the costs of any other Mac releases. Much to the dismay of diehard Mac users, many game retailers no longer even support a dedicated Mac gaming section in their stores. Previous PC platforms that were popular in the gaming community include the Amiga, Commodore 64 and TRS-80.


Coin-operated video game machines, also referred to as "arcade" machines and sometimes as coin-ops, are usually found in arcades. They are typically freestanding gaming machines operated by inserting coins for a set period of time or number of games. There are currently millions of arcade machines in the United States. These arcades are usually full of preteens and teens who are looking for a fun place to hang out away from home, and also often offer nondigital entertainment (air hockey, pool, etc.).

Many of the best-selling video games debut first in the arcades, before they appear on video game consoles, PCs or handhelds. These games are usually targeted toward the teenage market, are predominantly action oriented and often involve multiple players. State-of-the-art arcade gaming machines usually feature more powerful processors and more memory than the traditional home video game machines and often feature specialized hardware, such as an actual driver's seat for racing games or skis for a skiing simulation.

Although many of the arcades throughout the country have fallen into disrepair, a new generation of digital entertainment centers have emerged that feature state-ofthe-art arcade gaming machines as well as incredible "location-based" digital experiences that compare with what you might find at a theme park or in Las Vegas.


Handheld gaming devices (a.k.a. handhelds) are smaller, portable, less powerful video game consoles that do not need to be connected to a television or power source. There is nothing better for delivering a highly portable, addictive game experience than a handheld game device. Made popular by the Nintendo Gameboy, handheld devices are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and popular. The beauty of the Gameboy is that you can stuff it in your back pocket or toss it in your purse. The handheld can transform a long airplane trip into a fun experience.

The handheld market has been ruled by Nintendo. This has been both a blessing and a curse. On the upside, the Nintendo Gameboy platforms have standardized the handheld market and provided some excellent gaming experiences. In fact, Nintendo claims to have sold an astounding 100 million Gameboys since the platform was first introduced. The main problem has been that Nintendo's steep licensing fees make the profit margin very slim for third-party developers and publishers. This discourages a lot of new Gameboy development. While the handheld business hasn't experienced the boom that either the video game console or PC segments have, it still constitutes a very substantial business.

Handheld gaming devices have a much smaller screen, much less processing power and a very limited input mechanism. However, they make up for these deficiencies by being very portable, self-contained and battery operated. The primary audience for the handhelds is kids under the age of fifteen — and the vast majority of games sold for handhelds are based on popular movie or toy licenses or major Nintendo brands such as Mario or Pokemon. Because of the technical constraints, the graphics on handhelds are much more rudimentary and the gameplay tends to be much simpler than on video game consoles and PCs. That said, many of the games are incredibly addictive and one can learn a lot about the power of good game design by studying the best handheld games.


Games are also becoming a key feature on many of the new cellular phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants). Like the games developed for the handhelds, many of these games are very simple and are designed for the specific input devices of each platform. Because of the popularity of games on these portable devices, many new companies are springing up with the sole focus of designing games for these portable platforms.


Now that you have a basic understanding of the machines upon which games are played, let's turn to the companies responsible for making and releasing the games played on these machines. Clearly it is essential for anyone serious about a career in games to understand who finances, develops, markets, distributes and sells the games that you play. Although there are many different models for how games come to market, they all involve some combination of developers, publishers, distributors and retailers. The following section explains what each of these players does as well as how they all interact with each other.


Developers are the people who design, program and actually make the games. In the early days of game development, games could be created by one or two people working out of their home. Today development teams for epic games like those in the Final Fantasy series can run into the hundreds. The typical size of today's development teams is usually somewhere between a dozen to a few dozen people.

The core skill set of a typical development team is programming, art, design and project management. Some developers also have people on staff who are responsible for such specialized crafts as sound design, music scoring or motion capture, but these functions are often out-sourced to independent contractors or companies that specialize in that particular craft.

What distinguishes developers from publishers is that developers are typically not responsible for anything but making the actual game. This means that they are not responsible for the game's financing, quality assurance testing, customer support, marketing or distribution. Although there are some very successful developers, such as id software (creators of Doom and Quake), who have made enough money to be able to finance their own games and have enough clout to have strong input into how their games are marketed, they are the exception and not the norm. And, even id partners with a traditional publisher to handle quality assurance testing, customer support, marketing and distribution.

There are a few developers who bypass all of the traditional publishing and distribution channels by self-financing their games and then marketing and distributing them directly to consumers on the Internet. Very few of these companies, however, have been able to survive with this model. For aspiring game-markers, the most important relationship to understand in the games business is the relationship between the developer and the publisher. This is a relationship that we will cover in great detail in later chapters.


Publishers finance, develop, market, package, manufacture, sell and often distribute games. In the early days of the games business, many developers tried to become publishers. It was easier then because games cost much less to develop and distribution channels were more open to newcomers. Developers like Activision, Broderbund and Interplay became major publishers in the 1980s when it was still common to make the transition from developer to publisher.

Today it is much, much more difficult for a developer to become a publisher. With high-end games costing millions of dollars to develop, the financing side is a huge barrier for most developers. More importantly, the infrastructure that a publisher needs to effectively market, distribute and sell games is enormous. At the same time, retailers who sell games to consumers have stopped allocating shelf space to smaller publishers who can't spend the necessary marketing dollars to drive high-volume sales.

Over the last decade, the cost of marketing games has dramatically increased. As games, especially console games, become mass market, they are advertised through very expensive channels such as television. A game that is produced for two million dollars might have as much as three or four million dollars poured into the marketing campaign. Once a company begins spending millions on marketing, it needs a lot of expertise — which means a lot of bodies. It needs people who can do the media buys (select TV shows, online sites or magazines in which the ads will appear), plan the creative (design the ads or hire and manage ad agencies to design the ads), conceive and execute public relations and promotion strategies and do all the complex financial modeling to determine how much to spend on a game and how to allocate these dollars.


Excerpted from "Game Plan"
by .
Copyright © 2003 Alan Gershenfeld, Mark Loparco, and Cecilia Barajas.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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