Christopher Kao is currently pursuing his MBA at University of Southern California (USC). Kao spent 10 years in the games industry working in development before deciding to returning to school to learn more about the business side. Kao is passionate about sharing his expertise about the video games industry, often lecturing and mentoring others who are just starting their careers. You can read more about this in Kao’s Q&A below.
How does your background in philosophy, politics and economics shape the way you look at games?
I like to look at games from an impact angle, and not just from a technically sound viewpoint. What's the purpose and what are the goals it's trying to achieve? Is this game a fun 5 minute diversion while I stand in line or is it trying to teach me something overall. Mario Bros has made a cultural impact far beyond just the TV screen. Games can come in so many different forms which is why I love studying the industry and looking at them from different angles.
How have you noticed the industry change during your time working?
Games have moved from niche to mainstream, with new audiences opening up and more segmentation between established audiences. The industry has become part of the normal entertainment and arts conversation now. We've also seen a lot more organization around it. What used to be the wild west has become a lot more structured and business orientated.
What motivated your pursuit of an MBA and how will it change the way you impact the industry?
The gaming industry is a unique combination between art, technology, and business. Without all three, it is difficult to make an impact. My MBA studies help advance my business knowledge and connections and combine with my previous background as a game designer.
Where can virtual reality technology make the biggest impact in the world?
VR, in it's current form, can actually make the largest impact in social experiences. While it will have its place in games, the strongest impact will be in "gamified" experiences. There's been amazing work on interactive non-fiction news stories and children's healthcare using VR. Making people live the news story or helping make kids feel better are amazing applications of VR.
What advice would you give to those looking to enter into the industry?
Play, read, and study everything! Don't just look at one type of game in one genre. Look at every one, in all genres, on all different types of platforms so you understand the industry on the whole. Also look at the purpose and intent of each game from a creative, technical, and business point of view.
What social games have had the greatest effect on your work as a designer?
I define social games in 2 different ways, one being games that people play together and the other are games that have a purpose of social impact. For playing together, I started on the four player couch co-op games with my friends such as GoldenEye and Halo. When Facebook games came about such as Farmville, this really opened up the gaming world to new audiences and new ways for people play together. In regards to society impact games like The Dragon, Cancer, and Nuclear War demonstrate that games can be used to convey deep meaning, as much as any documentary or book.
What game are you most excited to play in 2017?
Too many. I've got a lot in my backlog I need to play like Inside. For new releases I can't wait for Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Iron Marines, and Lady Layton.