Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Toward the Future of Game Design

Erin Hoffman | 18 Apr 2008 17:00
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I think, ultimately, that game designers will always be judged on their merit - inasmuch as any person applying for a job is judged on merit, as opposed to politics, personal connections or the whim (or desperation) of the interviewer. Someone with a specialization in game systems will not be precluded from practicing world-building if she shows competency in the storytelling and liberal arts involved in building imaginary societies. But there is no question that this issue of concentration is a concern. It is perhaps a reflection of the overall problem in studying game design: Because it incorporates so many disciplines, it usually takes years for a person to develop competency levels in all of the components, and then she only begins to engage creatively with those competencies. This is largely what leads to the industry's current practice of finding game designers from within, promoting out of pools of veterans in other disciplines and people who have damned the torpedoes and set about designing their own games in defiance of suggestion otherwise. But the concentration question will only continue to be a greater point of contention in the future as the industry continues to specialize.

Finally, Michael John weighs in from a unique transitional standpoint: After years as a design director and independent game design consultant, he now finds himself in the role of creative director, tasked primarily with instructing game designers at EA. Teaching game design, he says, involves its own structure of game design itself: When do you introduce new challenges? How do you keep them interested? How do you present material in a coherent, progressive fashion? With all of these new challenges and his role as an impromptu game design teacher for actual game designers, he's thought a lot about what gives a person "the right stuff."

"I got a liberal arts education in school. Nobody from my college left with 'marketable' skills in any field. That was the whole point. For me, that was the right choice because I have curiosity and interest across many disciplines. I do think that today however it's appropriate to have games as an area of study within the liberal arts. When I was in college I did a self-designed minor in jazz music. I could certainly see someone in a liberal arts school doing a similar thing with games today.

So as a believer in liberal education, especially for a 'soft' skill like game design, I don't really recommend anything except to learn critical thinking. Liberal education is all about learning the most skillful and clever way to ask the question 'why?' and I still believe that is perhaps the most core capability to being an advanced game designer.

Here's one thing, though - it's time to start teaching game history. Yes, that means that I am old enough that there is history. When I start to talk about Richard Bartle and his four player types, and I get blank stares of 'Who's Richard Bartle?' - well, we have a problem. Everyone should play Donkey Kong, Pac Man, should compare Space Invaders to Galaga, and should know that the average play of a coin-op game in the $0.25 era was 90 seconds. None of this is time consuming, but I think it's important if designers hope to share a common language."
- Michael John, Creative Director, Electronic Arts; Owner, Method Games

I'd like to thank Richard, Marc, and MJ for taking the time to contribute to Inside Job today, and, as they are already doing, to the future of game design.

All of these perspectives demonstrate the challenges and loose consensus points involved in learning and then practicing game design. Because learning itself is so deeply tied in with what games do, the resonance between instruction and game development itself is very strong. Not only does the field of game studies today give a glimpse of what we will see in game development's future, but the academic institution itself - for its exploratory freedom, its research budget and its analytical focus - can lend us a new perspective to the way we look at and make games.

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