Gearbox CEO Learned Game Design From His Magician Days

| 21 Sep 2012 11:04

"If you follow my line of logic," former stage magician Randy Pitchford promises, "there will be a pay-off."

"I'm an entertainer at heart," Gearbox Software President Randy Pitchford claims. The former stage magician and Magic Castle alumnus went on to admit that game developers and magicians have some things in common. Chief among them is the need to get into the audience's head and find out what makes them tick, because without that insight neither the magician nor the developer will be able to get the audience to buy into the smoke-and-mirrors that leads up to the explosive conclusion. "Just come with me," as Pitchford describes the effect, "trust me, come along with where I'm going to lead you, and if you follow my line of logic, if you come along with me, there will be a pay-off, there will be a reward."

But there is one significant difference. A stage magician performs in front of a live audience, and - as anyone who performs live can testify - the buzz of immediate feedback keeps the show going. There's nothing worse than an audience that sits on its hands, silent and unresponsive; that kills a performance stone dead. But in game development years can go by before you see a result, and in that time the developer will be making any number of design decisions which - because they never get audience feedback - go essentially untested until release day. The audience is effectively sitting on its hands, and the developer has to put on a show without knowing if they approve, disapprove or don't care.

"By the time you get the feedback finally," Pitchford says, "you've forgotten all your decisions. That [lack of feedback] loop is really dangerous." It means the developer can't adjust significantly to take the audience into account until near the end of the process, so that even if the developer could remember what happened when, and why, there's not much to be done about it.

"Doing things isn't just about trying really hard," Pitchford admits. "It's about throwing things out there and being judged." The guy who acquired and shipped Duke Nukem Forever knows that better than anyone; but he points out that, even with a high profile failure, there's something to be salvaged from the wreckage. "Everyone turned their heads. You had to watch ... I would have given some part of my body to get that kind of attention on Borderlands 1."

Source: Eurogamer

Image: All About Magicians

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