Tom Chatfield's GameHorizons

Tom Chatfield's GameHorizons
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

May 9th 2011 at 7:30AM

The Fun Inc. author on why he's heading to the industry conference in Gateshead

This June author and video game theorist Tom Chatfield is set to speak at the Gamehorizon Conference in Gateshead, UK.


His session will look at the way game designers must not only consider game mechanics, but also 'toy mechanics' in pursuit of making their games more engaging.

Here Develop catches up with Chatfield to find out about his plans for the conference.

What will make your GameHorizon Conference talk distinct? What do you hope to address?
Like many people, I've watched the huge growth of interest in "gamification" over the last few years with some awe and trepidation. There are amazing lessons to be learned from games in this field - lessons that I've tried my best to pin down and quantify - but there are also dangers. And one of these dangers seems to be not so much about the indiscriminate use of game mechanics as it does about the neglect even among the best game-makers of the other side of the coin:
the creation of video games as places where freely playful, self-delighting experiences happen.
Whether it's the jumping mechanics of Mario, the physics of Portal or the crazy creative world-construction of Minecraft, I love games that can feel like 'toys' as much as they feel like goal-driven progressions. And I worry that between badges, rewards, achievements, level progressions and upgrades, many new games - from triple-A experiences to indie gems - are pouring their energies into these kind of mechanics at the expense of the harder-to-quantify business of freely playful behaviour. Many of the worlds are simply insufficiently fun places to be and to explore, when you're not pursuing a particular aim. And so my aim is to put down some concrete ideas around 'toy mechanics' just as people have been doing for 'game mechanics', and assert this other side of the equation as firmly as I can.

What new games industry developments excite you most today?
I guess that the combination of mobile, tablet and social continues to reach new audiences - and I suspect that this broadening of audience is more important than any one aspect of game design, or technological innovation. Between Kinect and 3DS, we have had some huge recent leaps being made in interfaces too - and these definitely haven't reached their full potential. But it's the new audiences that excite me. Core gamers may complain, and the world of digital play is certainly being diluted - but gaming is finally becoming something that almost everyone under 40 does at least a little - and often does for free, or for nearly no cost. This is what's really hot, like it or not: not triple-A gaming, but low-cost, dilute electronic play by massive new audiences.

What are you currently working on?
I'm finishing off work as a writer/designer on a new game for Channel 4 Education being developed by Preloaded, about death and philosophy; working with Google on a currently under-wraps project for them; working on ideas for a couple of new books, looking in general at the role technology plays in people's lives; and writing fiction - I did a science fiction short story for a mobile app launched at SXSW by sixtostart, and enjoyed the process so much that I'm finding it hard to stop thinking of new ideas for stories.


What do you think the biggest change will be in the games industry in the next 2 years?
I think that the sheer number of people playing games either within browsers or as apps is a huge challenge, because the growth of this sector shows just how much growth is still to come in the non-core sector of the games industry, and how profoundly digital distribution can still change the landscape of play. Cheap or free gaming with a nimble, smart business model seems ideally placed to take advantage of trends in tech ownership and living habits in a way that much of the traditional industry simply isn't.

Which speaker are you most looking forward to hearing speak at the GameHorizon Conference?
Having just heard that Jesse Schell will be speaking - and having recently re-read his book on the Art of Game Design for about the fourth time - I can't wait to see him in the flesh. I've watched the videos, and been at a conference where he gave a remote keynote, but never seen him live or met him - he's such a powerfully energetic thinker, it should be rather brilliant.

What is your favourite game from the last 12 months?
I'm a total geek, but it probably has to be Minecraft, if I'm allowed that one with the timing of the beta release being end 2010. Back in May 2010, I did also hugely enjoy Red Dead Redemption - just a wonderful exercise in world-building. I haven't played it yet, but Portal 2 seems likely to take up a lot of my time the moment it comes out, too.

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The GameHorizon Conference is taking place from June 28th to 29th, and takes place at The Sage, Gateshead, in northern England. It brings together a number of high profile industry speakers, including Ian Livingstone, Louis Castle, Develop columnist Rick Gibson, Ana Kronschabl and Heiko Hubertz.

For information on attending, visit the event's official website.