Thursday, October 11, 2007

Textbook Review: Introduction to the Game Industry

This is part of the series on book reviews.

"Introduction to the Game Industry" (Michael Moore)

(No, this wasn't written by that Michael Moore. I think he's generally too busy making movies to do much game development. Not that there's anything wrong with a documentary filmmaker creating a video game.)

Now, with that out of the way...

From the title of this book, I would have assumed it would be looking at the past, present and future of the game industry (without getting into the gory details of actual game development). But it turns out this book is more like a "lite" version of Rabin's "Intro" tome... with a stronger focus on game design, production and business. There is some history of gaming, but it is more of a sidebar to the rest of the book.

The timing on this book's publication was unfortunate. It was finished in late 2006 and published in early 2007, at a transition point in the industry (with the upcoming release of the Wii and PS3 and downsizing of E3, among other things). This means that any modern examples in the book already appear dated, and the poor book hasn't even been out for a year yet.

Maybe I'm a stickler for details, but I was disappointed at the editing of the book. There were a number of embarrassing mistakes; in the first few chapters I saw a comment on the steady decline of the physical boardgame industry in the 1990's, without any mention of the Eurogame resurgence; "A game is a series of interesting decisions" was attributed to Sid Meiers; and the heroine of Tomb Raider is apparently named Laura Croft. These may be little things, but they're exactly the things that end a conversation between a student and some professionals. I could understand sloppiness from an author with no experience who just wanted to cash in on the whole games-in-education trend; I would expect better from an industry veteran who teaches at DigiPen.

Perhaps more dangerous is that in 2007, this textbook largely teaches that games are created through the Waterfall model. It does acknowledge rapid prototyping very briefly, but makes no mention of Agile development that was all the rage as of the time of printing (and still is, to my knowledge).

On the bright side, there are a variety of exercises at the end of each chapter that range from basic multiple-choice regurgitation of the chapter content to some nice design exercises and thought-provoking questions. Also, this book introduces a fairly complete set of industry jargon, which is important to a student who wants to hold a conversation with a professional; however, the terminology is scattered throughout the book and has no unifying quick-reference table or glossary as a reminder.

Students: If you're looking for a basic, high-level overview of game design or production with a little understanding of what those strange artists and programmers are doing (without having to actually learn art or programming), this book will give you a reasonable starting place. As you read, make sure to not take anything as gospel; this book has equal parts good and questionable advice. I'd recommend reading this only as a supplement to other texts, either to fill in some blanks or as a second opinion.

Instructors: Use of this book in the classroom has similar problems to Rabin's book: by covering all disciplines of game development it can't really fit in any of them. Added to the other problems above, I can't see this being useful as a textbook for any course. However, I would definitely recommend picking up an evaluation copy for yourself and taking a look at the end-of-chapter exercises for the chapters that apply to your classes; you may find a few good questions and activities for class discussions, exams and homeworks.

Professionals: As this book explains the game industry to the uninitiated, you are really not the target audience. If you're a programmer or artist who wants to know more about production or game design you might give those sections a read, but you're probably better off finding other books that go more in depth into those respective fields.

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