The Revolutionaries

The Revolutionaries
Gaming at the Margins, Part 3

Warren Spector | 4 Apr 2006 12:02
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Along those lines, I have a fantasy that involves a game development world that's a bit more like the movies, where there aren't a lot of 200 or 300 person film studios waiting around for their next project to start. Instead, there are lots of producers, in tiny six person offices. The people there create and nurture properties until they have one around which they can build a "package" to take to a studio. Only then do they build the team to make the movie.

Maybe Wideload Games is onto something, and there's a game development future that includes many independent shops of anywhere from a dozen people to, say, 50 - production people, designers, programmers, artists. Those people would create concepts, shop them to funding and/or publishing partners and then form the core that shepherds the concepts to completion. These shops would have a consistent, on- staff, creative core, and a leads group to prototype and prove concepts, pipelines and so on. Those same folks could then coordinate and lead the efforts of outside resources who would generate the assets necessary to complete the game.

Maybe that really is a fantasy, but I'd rather see five independent studios of 50 people than one, monolithic, development studio any day. And it would take advantage of outsourcing in a way that could benefit everyone.

It's the Content, Stupid!
The last crossroads we face is a content crossroad. Let me get this out of way: I'm sick to death of the constraints we impose on ourselves when it comes to gameplay, game genres, visual and thematic approaches - the whole content shebang.

The Situation
The range of content we explore is so narrow, it's kind of scary. But there's more to content woes than that. The amount of content we generate in any given year is just overwhelming. Look at E3. It's getting bigger, louder, more crowded and, unless you're blind, deaf and dumb, way more depressing every year.

Most of the product (and I use the word "product" purposefully here) consists of sequels and licenses. That in itself isn't a bad thing at all, as I said in my design keynote at GDC a few years back. Personally, I still hope to work on a licensed game before I hang up my development shingle and move on to whatever comes next. What is a bad thing is the quality of those sequels and licensed products. The processes that lead to a proposal being greenlit by a publisher seem driven less by any kind of creative spark than by mandated release dates, insufficient budgets and licensors/IP-owners whose demands reveal little knowledge of what makes our medium special.

And, worse, to my mind, even the "original" product is pathetically "me too." It's hard for me to get worked up even about new IP projects (with apologies to Will Wright, Nintendo's first-party developers and a handful of others).

Creatively, I see some real challenges ahead. For us to say we've fully plumbed the depths of game design would be insane. We've barely scratched the surface of what games can and should be.

The Choice
Once again, we can just continue on our merry way, hoping no one notices that, past the glitzy graphics, past the pounding soundtrack, past the supposed opportunity to "live the movie," there's just not much going on that's new, different or uniquely "game-like."

I've been told by people in positions of authority at more than one publisher - people who ought to know better - that "GTA clones are making money hand over fist. All we have to do is keep making them until players tell us to stop."

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