Ian Livingstone, the ultimate gamer, argues that too much has been said of the negative effects of computer games on children. Harshini Vakkalanka listens in

Over six and a half million units of the game Modern Warfare 3 were sold in the first few days of its release, grossing about 400 million dollars in the US and UK alone, more than what films like “Harry Potter” or “Avatar” collected, says Ian Livingstone. He is the co-author of the “Fighting Fantasy” series and life president at Eidos Technologies, the franchise behind the Tomb Raider and Hitman game series.

“The gaming industry in the world has never been better,” declares Ian, who was granted an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for “Services to the Computer Games Industry”, and a BAFTA award.

“It is an exciting time for the industry, the barriers to entry are diminishing, technologies like i-phones, Android phones, and Facebook are creating content for a global audience. The industry is generating a revenue of 50 billion dollars, which is likely to go up to 90 billion dollars by 2015. The industry generates more revenue than the box office, DVDs, books and music,” says Ian, who started taking gaming in the UK to the next level by distributing the iconic game Dungeons and Dragons in the UK through his start-up Games Workshop, along with Steve Jackson.

“We wanted to turn the passion of playing games to making games. We were pioneers of gaming in the UK. In the beginning we relied on word-of-mouth and soon we moved from a mail order service into our own retail space. We built on a hobby network of role-playing gamers and we extended that through our ‘Fighting Fantasy' series.” The series went on to sell over 16 million copies in 25 languages. Then he launched his own enterprise Domark and entered the computer gaming industry with Eureka. The company later merged into Eidos Interactive where he worked on the Tomb Raider game.

He was in Bangalore for an interactive session at the Asian Institute of Gaming and Animation, in partnership with the British Council.

“There are three parts involved in making a game — the design, art and animation, and technology. I think game design in its mechanics and replay is the reason why people play. The technology and graphics are also important. They realise the designer's dreams. Creating a game is a team process. It is important for a design to be original in its concept, look and feel and mechanics. It has to be elegant and simple enough for people to intuit while playing. At the same time, there has to be an increasing level of difficulty so they don't get bored. At the end of the day it's about having fun.”

As a Life President at Eidos, Ian judges and develops games and visits studios to guide them. He also represents the UK's gaming industry. He recently co-authored a report titled “Next Gen: transforming the UK into the world's leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries.”

“The key concept at the heart of game designing is computer science. While working on the report, we found that courses in game design institutes teach the philosophy of gaming rather than the skills required to create games. Schools are teaching children how to use software rather than teaching them how to make applications,” says Ian. He adds, “Our number one recommendation for the UK government is to have computer science in the national curriculum. I'm delighted that it's building momentum.”

When asked if this won't have a negative impact on the health of students, Ian observes that the industry is being criticised wrongly. “Nobody talks of the positive side of gaming and the social, cultural and economic growth it creates. Playing games promotes puzzle solving and problem-solving skills, helps people understand the consequence of choice, brings in intuitive learning, creates social engagement and dexterity. The negative impact is quite disproportionate. Only about three to five percent of games carry an 18-rating. Parents can make informed choices about the games they let their children play. Now there are motion-control games where people have to jump around and play, for exercise” he explains.

Ian is very positive about the gaming industry in India. “Historically, India is seen as an outsourcing hub. Lately, I've seen a rise in independent studios that are taking advantage of the global market. It's still relatively early, but I think India is going to do extremely well. The work here is as good as anywhere else in the world.”

Ian attributes a part of the gaming boom to the growth of digital technology. “The digital space is bringing forth new talent. Angry Birds was created in Finland and Moshi Monsters was created in the UK. Russia has also come out with some popular games. There are opportunities appearing everywhere in the world; talent can be found anywhere. Gaming has now become global and come to the living room. Multiplayer games and mobile devices have recreated the fun of board games online. They are all-inclusive,” quips Ian.

He has come up with a “5P” formula of “Perception, Pounds, People, Pipes and Property” for what the gaming industry in the UK needs to do better. “The government and the media needs to change the perception about gaming and make it positive. This should result in more investment in gaming. The industry needs skilled people. High-speed broadband pipes are necessary to upload and download content and the value of intellectual property needs to be strengthened.”