Develop speaks to John Lunn, Senior Global Director, PayPal and Braintree Developer Network, about games for social change

John Lunn talks about the crossover between games and startups

It was an anomaly, according to John Lunn, Senior Global Director, PayPal and Braintree Developer Network that no games were made at the inaugural BattleHack Sydney.

There is traditionally a mixture of apps and games on display at Battlehack in other cities, which perhaps points to the disconnect between startup and indie game development culture here. We sat down with John to get his thoughts on games being used to help shape local cultures.

Would you say the Sydney crowd today were people who might have done game development before, or were they mostly out of the tech start-up scene?

I tried to do game development once, but I didn’t get very far. I think game development is something that you need to dedicate yourself to and start early.

The languages that you use tend to be a bit harder than the web-based languages; the skillset is different. Some of the people who came along today are students – they’re managing to produce something for the first time – I think they’d struggle a little bit if they were trying to do this with C.

Game developers tend not to look at things the same way as start-ups do. Rather than finding a problem and figuring out a product which brings about a solution as in start-up culture, game developers’ one problem which needs fixing tends to be ‘No one has played my awesome game yet.’

It’s also a timeline thing. If you’re a game developer, you’re thinking years; if you’re a web developer you’re thinking hours.

I’m involved with a number of start-ups, and a lot them are working on (admittedly simple) graphic engines for gaming that don’t require knowledge of vectors and all that stuff to get up and running.

When that happens and it becomes a little more accessible for those less versed in game development, those cultulres will open up and embrace each other. The guys who do really well in one area will show those who perhaps don’t understand it fully, and then you’ll see those cultures starting to mix together.

Is there a genuine middle-ground to be had, or are we more likely to see two distinct disciplines which borrow elements from one another as needed?

I think there has to be! The way games are bought and sold at the moment is probably not sustainable. The days of going to buy an Xbox game in the shop, playing it for a bit then selling it to someone else are going to go away. It’s already happened with music, it’s happening with video and it’s going to happen to games.

The end of these days is so so close that I think buying specific hardware for it is going to go away soon too. That actually fits in quite well to what people are doing with crowdfunding – people are creating new internet-based cultures. A lot of new business models are based on people not really wanting to own things any more, but use them. I think if you bring gaming into those new methods, you’ll come up with some really interesting business models.

Taking crowdfunding models out of the equation for a second, could game developers benefit from exposure to business models which they might otherwise not think of by pushing into the start-up scene?

There’s the monetisation problem of games which I think still needs to be solved. Games are very very expensive to make and a lot of people just aren’t willing to pay the high price tag, so there needs to be other ways to monetise.

There’s a whole range of things like freemium which games have been doing for a while but which is in a way too intrusive. You’ll pay for that upgrade when you get there, but as with all virtual goods, I feel like its peaked a little bit. Facebook kind of killed it.

The whole idea of paying for virtual goods is still new and I don’t think it’s been fully exploited yet. The marketplace has probably made it uneconomical for games to make their revenue from it, but there are ways around it. When Steambox and other open source models get here, that’ll change it. It’ll have a big marketplace and will open things up a little bit – I’m actually quite excited about that.

Was Sydney an anomaly amongst BattleHacks for not having any games be produced?

Yeah, it was, there’s usually at least a couple of games at each one. I remember at one CharityHack in London (which was the predecessor to BattleHack), we had one team build PayPal into the Quake Engine, so that every bullet you shot it’d donate money to the charity of your choice.

But I think it’s just quite hard to build a game in 24 hours – it’s much easier to build a web site or a mobile site – but there’s definitely something there in mixing charity and gaming together. People buying virtual items in games is a little bit past it, but there’s definitely something where what people are doing every single day can contribute to charity.

One of the major problems that charities actually have is getting the younger generations to interact and donate. It tends to be older people making donations – younger people are less keen to do it – so that charities need to adapt to what the younger generation is doing, and that’s playing games.

Do you think that might simply have to do with varying levels of disposable income?

I’m not sure it is, actually. It’s not actually measured in total money given, but frequency of donations.

It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s just that the mechanisms like filling out paper forms or getting attacked by chugger on the street isn’t really something you want to happen – you tend to run a mile. If you could get charities to interact with you in something that you do every day, you’re much more likely to make a donation.

Thank you for your time!

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