University of Bayreuth, Press Release 011/2022 - 26 January 2022

"Gold-rush atmosphere in the games market"

When the toy fair "Spielwarenmesse" begins on 2 February, not only will the event be conducted online, but more and more people will be actively playing online. Prof. Dr. Jochen Koubek, Professor of Digital Media and responsible for the "Computer Game Science" degree programme, and Dr. Felix Raczkowski, Research Associate at the Digital and Audiovisual Media research group, at the University of Bayreuth explain the latest trends and social issues associated with computer games in this interview. 

What are the innovations on the games market currently? 

Koubek: Currently, the big topic is blockchain games, which enable entirely new forms of trade in virtual goods because proof of ownership is possible without any elaborate solutions from individual developers. The gold rush mood stems from the hope that people who are already willing to spend thousands of hours playing for virtual hats, clothes, and items with no monetary value outside the game world will be even more committed if they can resell their collection. Blockchain integration is currently controversial among both developers and players, but is being pushed hard by publishers. At the moment, it is unclear whether the publishers' desire to enable brisk trading of blockchain-based digital objects in their games will come to fruition.

How are the trends of sustainability and climate change - to which the International Toy Fair is devoting a separate section - finding their way into games development? 

Raczkowski: Blockchain technology has a terrible ecological footprint; the annual energy consumption of the Bitcoin network alone is comparable to that of countries like Sweden or Malaysia. If this becomes a real trend in computer games, this energy demand is likely to increase massively. Blockchain technology is very controversial in the industry, not least because of these ecological considerations. In addition, the resources needed for hardware products (consoles, graphics cards, etc.) are also a problem, and it is hardly possible at the moment to sustainably produce them in the quantities demanded by the industry and under acceptable working conditions. Finally, in the context of sustainability, the persistently difficult working conditions in the computer games industry itself also deserves to be mentioned, where excessive overtime ("crunch") and discrimination against minorities are still the order of the day. But in the games industry, structures such as trade unions are gradually becoming established, especially internationally, which offer a chance to enforce more sustainable working conditions. As far as the content itself is concerned, we are observing an increasing number of games and projects that deal with environmental issues and make a contribution, for example, to climate change communication.

The University of Bayreuth was the first university in Germany to offer a degree programme in "Computer Game Science". What developments have there been there? 

Koubek: Of course, we adapt our content to current issues. In the coming semester, for example, we will encourage our students to deal with social issues in their games, whereby they are free to choose which one. The course is always fully booked out. And job prospects continue to be excellent, because the games industry is desperately looking for qualified people - not least because of the booming demand during the pandemic.

Money is apparently plentiful: Microsoft is buying Activision-Blizzard ("Call of Duty") for US$ 70 billion, and Take Two Interactive ("Grand Theft Auto") is taking over the games provider Zynga ("Farmville") for US$12 billion. What are the consequences for the games market?

Raczkowski: To what extent the deals you mentioned are related to the pandemic, I am not in a position to judge. We are currently observing a consolidation that has been going on in other sectors of the media and entertainment industry for many decades and has left five major studios for film productions and three major labels in music production worldwide. The consequences for the games market will be similar to those in other media industries: On the one hand, concentration on a few major projects and franchises according to a proven pattern for the mass market, and on the other hand, a distinct indie scene in which there are always exciting discoveries to be made. Another consequence of consolidation will be the further concentration on a few platforms and services, which in the games industry means either hardware in the form of consoles or services such as online stores. This context plays an important role in all major takeovers, since it is not least a matter of creating new, attractive content for one's own platforms and thus winning over new players.

Speaking of "players": Doctors, parents, and teachers complain that the lockdown has virtually "forced" children and adolescents in front of the box, the consequences being a lack of exercise, more aggression, and less ability to behave socially. Do you agree with this criticism? 

Koubek: My observation is that children and young people who were able to play online with their friends during the contact restriction and prohibition period maintained their social and communicative meeting places as well as was politically and medically possible. There are fantastic games and online offerings for groups in which problems are managed cooperatively, and strategies for solutions and action are negotiated. In the lockdown phases of the pandemic, digital multiplayer games were able to facilitate precisely those social contacts that would otherwise have been problematic. In particular, Nintendo's harmless and child-friendly Animal Crossing was particularly popular during the first wave of the coronavirus, as it allowed social gatherings in the virtual homes of players. While we cannot judge the increase in mental health problems, we must caution against blaming the consequences of an exceptional and ongoing crisis situation like the coronavirus pandemic solely or mainly on a medium.

Prof. Dr. Jochen Koubek

Prof. Dr. Jochen KoubekApplied Media Studies / Digital Media

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-4603

Portraitbild von Anja Maria Meister

Anja-Maria Meister

PR Spokesperson University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-5300