Balloon Boy games soar, exposing a subtle industry shift

Two new video games based on the misadventures of Falcon Heene – better known as Balloon Boy – have found large web audiences.

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Over the past couple days, developers have rolled out two video games based on the Balloon Boy debacle. The first, and most popular, is called the Balloon Boy Game, and it is distributed by the web start-up Heyzap. The second is Balloon Boy Adventure, and it's hosted on Newgrounds.com.

Both games are pretty straightforward. In the Balloon Boy Game, seen in the image at right, the user pilots young Falcon Heene across an urban cityscape. Falcon hangs haplessly onto the balloon; there is an option to shoot at seagulls, or grab free power-ups. In Balloon Boy Adventure, neither Falcon nor his father, Richard Heene are present – there's only that big tinfoil muffin of a balloon.

Anecdotally, the games are enjoying a good deal of success. Buzz is certainly high – the Balloon Boy game has received much blog coverage and the attention of a smattering of newspapers. But for tech junkies, the most interesting part about the Balloon Boy games is that they exist at all.

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A decade ago, game creation was an exacting process. It took months, and huge teams of designers, to build any sort of game. These days, it takes half a day, a workable idea, and a basic grasp of computer science to build your own desktop side-scroller. "We saw the incident happening on TV last week and decided to make a game," Jude Gomila, who helped create the game, told UPI. "It took us about six hours and we launched it out to our friends on Twitter."

As we wrote last year, in an article on next-generation gaming:

In recent months, user-generated content has become the focal point for video- and computer-game developers, just as Web 2.0 was the frontier for Web developers five years ago. Publishers are scrambling to move away from flat console programs, created from the top down, and embrace what former Sony Computer Entertainment head Phil Harrison has called empowerment “by audiences and dynamic content, built on open standards and powered by active communities.”

For that article, the Monitor interviewed Rob Kamphausen, the CEO of Fyrebug. Fyrebug operates a little like Heyzap, the company that distributes the Balloon Boy Game. Users cobble together a DIY creation; other users are invited to play it. If the game has a decent enough concept – as the Ballon Boy offerings did – there's an opportunity to build a real fan base.

“The MySpaces and the Facebooks were successful because they made it possible for everyone to have ownership of the Web,” Kamphausen told me. “People want the same thing with games. They want to make something to share and show around, and have that ‘pat on the back factor,’ even if the interface itself is very simple.”

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