App Store Creates New Market for Art Games

Written by: Alexandra Paskulin

Indie game developers are gaining exposure and popularity for unconventional style games through the Apple and Android App Stores, giving a new audience to the art games movement.

The rise of game apps such as “Vanitas” by Tale of Tales, “Osmos” by Hemisphere Games, and “Kometen” by Erik Svedäng are giving momentum to a movement in videogames subject-pioneer Michaël Samyn calls “notgames”.

Ceci n'est pas une raquette below a Wii controller
Image from The Art History of Games, last year’s symposium of art game movement leaders and commissioners of “Vanitas”

Tale of Tales co-creator Michaël Samyn started the Notgames Initiative in 2010 to support  “what’s moving and enchanting and fascinating in software applications, videogames and procedural arts, beyond the amusement offered by obeying rules and receiving rewards.” Samyn’s efforts represent a growing interest in untraditional videogames that focus on fluid meaning, player input and immersion in rich environments. The gameplay of art games often includes exploring, examining and reflecting. The idea is that the player determines the “rules”, thereby defining their own experience. In an article for The Escapist, Samyn emphasizes the need for intentional meaning in game creation, unlike modern games that are dominated by game mechanics and efficient production. Samyn argues that by appealing to notgamers, notgames actually have a wider market potential than traditional games consumed by “the crammed and fiercely competitive niche of gamers”. In the year since Samyn’s article, it seems that the App platform is finally giving art games exposure to a mass audience.

Apple recently proclaimed Hemisphere Games’ “Osmos” the 2010 iPad Game of the Year. In “Osmos” (a play on osmosis and cosmos), the notgamer acts as Mote, a single celled organism travelling the environment, absorbing smaller motes or being absorbed by larger motes (resulting in a game over). “Osmos” appeals to notgamers with beautiful graphics, soothing movements and atmospheric music, a far cry from the rigorous strategy and mechanics of traditional gaming.

Cell-like spheres interact in "Osmos"
“Relax,” Hemisphere Game’s “Osmos” says, “the wise player taps less often.” The meditative spirit of “Osmos” permeates the movement of art games.

Available for both iPhone and Android, “Vanitas” by Tale of Tales (Michaël Saymn and Auriea Harvey) exemplifies the spirit of notgames. Described by its producers as “A meditative experience. A spiritual toy. A reminder of the preciousness of life.” “Vanitas” has no rules and no objective; the experience of the game is determined by the player. In “Vanitas”, the notgamer opens a wooden box to reveal a varying combination of objects. Samyn and Harvey encourage the notgamer to interact with the objects and “create pleasant arrangements that inspire and enchant.”

On January 18th, Notgames announced the upcoming release of Woolly Robot’s “Flight of the Fireflies” on January 31st and, in the second quarter of 2012, Ghostwheel Games’ “Alien Worlds Explorer”, both for iPad.