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More than a century after Eastman's simple roll cameras, today's computer culture values a similar strain of creative populism. Websites and software provide tools that promise to "democratize" the creative process.
Cheaper, more powerful hardware and inexpensive, easy-to-use software have made professional video editing and DVD production available to everyone. No-investment on-demand printing have made CD and t-shirt manufacturing a snap. Blogs and one-off book printing services have made written publication easy.
Following this trend (and its commercial success) are several nascent attempts to do for video games what the Brownie did for photography. Big players like Microsoft (Popfly Game Creator), and EA (Sims Carnival) have gotten into the game-maker game, as have start-ups like Metaplace, Gamebrix, PlayCrafter, and Mockingbird.
Microsoft's Popfly service
Each of these products offers users a slightly different way to simplify game creation. Sims Carnival offers three methods: a wizard, an image customizer, and a downloadable visual-scripting tool. PlayCrafter relies on physics, Gamebrix on behaviors, Mockingbird on goals. Popfly uses templates.
As platforms, each tool relies on the formal properties of different sorts of games. Some differences are obvious: Sims Carnival's Wizard and Swapper tools let people create games very easily by changing variables and uploading new art, while PlayCrafter automates physical interactions.
Formal distinctions are a common way of simplifying the creation of games. Long before Sims Carnival and its brethren, desktop game creation software used genre conventions as the formal model for add-assets-and-script type tools: GameMaker fashions tile-based action/arcade games; Adventure Game Studio makes graphical adventures; RPGMaker outputs role-playing games.
Adventure Game Studio
A focus on formal constraints like character statistics or genre distinctions like moving from screen to screen makes sense from a tool developer's perspective: different sorts of games require different kinds of programmatic infrastructures.
But from the lay creator's perspective, genre is a less useful starting point than topic. "I want to make a game about my cat" is a different sentiment than "I want to make a graphical adventure game." Photography doesn't make such a distinction; a camera can just as easily take a landscape as a portrait.