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Google game designer details promising paths for games for change

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Developers who want to make games that are catalysts for social change should look to mobile development, neuroscience and "blue oceans" as possible paths, according to Google's chief game designer Noah Falstein.

Speaking at the Games for Change Festival in New York, Falstein said as technology evolves and gaming fads come and go, developers should observe the direction the world is going in to find ways to maximize the impact of their games. He offered the audience what he described as "promising ingredients" for games for change — directions he believes are worth exploring.

The first was embracing online functionality and mobile devices. Falstein said more than five billion people will be getting smartphones and going online in the near future, and many people who currently have feature phones will soon be upgrading. Developers who make games for that audience will have an incredible amount of power. "If you make tools that can run on low-end systems, you're going to reach millions of people who will be coming online in the next few years," he said.

Being able to reach players is half the challenge, so if developers can make games that potentially billions of people can access, then that can maximize their opportunity to bring about change.

Falstein also pointed to neuroscience and psychology as an area where games can make an impact, and where specialists in the field are looking to games as part of their research. "We're going to see a lot more of that two-way street where we can help [neuroscientists and psychologists] and they can help us," he said.

Developers should also look for blue oceans — areas that have not yet been tapped. "Often, new technology can be an opening in a mountain range," he said. "Sometimes it's a fad. Sometimes it opens a whole new continent." Falstein said developers shouldn't be afraid to develop for niches, and it's important to look for untapped markets.

Lastly, developers need to be agile and iterative, fail fast and keep going, and "don't bet against the internet."

"If you can combine all these different things and take the strengths of the best of what's come before and the best of what's coming in the future, I think we can make some amazing games for change," he said.