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EA Montreal Exec Decries "Dumbing Down" Games

| 8 Dec 2009 15:22
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Army of Two Executive Producer Reid Schneider says it's not necessary to "dumb down" hardcore games to make them more accessible for new gamers but notes that sometimes developers do need to take extra steps to accommodate Europeans.

The "gamer demographic" is growing in leaps and bounds but the vast majority of that growth is coming by way of the so-called "casual gamer" who isn't necessarily interested in sinking hours at a time into a focused interactive experience. Attracting new players to that sort of high-intensity gaming is a big challenge for a lot of studios, which sometimes unfortunately results in the "dumbing down" of new releases that alienates the old-timers but also fails to attract a new audience. But Reid Schneider, executive producer at EA Montreal, says that's the wrong approach to take.

"The market is expanding with more casual players coming up, so we're starting to see a decline in terms of hardcore sales based on NPD data. So as developers, how do we think about making games that our customers want?" he said in an interview with GamesIndustry.

"If we want to continue to be successful and take mindshare away from other forms of media then it's really incumbent on us to make products that are more accessible," he continued. "That's doesn't mean dumbing something down because that's not the right way to do it, but how do you make accessibility that really resonates with customers, brings people into the fold, but not at the cost of dumbing things down? We have an amazing opportunity to make something of this medium, it's interactive and you can almost touch it, but we should continue to make intelligent and meaningful games that are experiences for people that they can't get from other forms of media."

Schneider also acknowledged that the increasingly international nature of the industry can force "tonal" restrictions on games as well. Talking about the 2008 release Army of Two, he said, "We had this whole market in the US that thought the tone was cool, but in Europe everyone thought it was ridiculous and tasteless and a bunch of frat guys running around."

"It's really important for us tonally to appeal to the European audience because with the core audience in that territory, the game really turned them off so deeply that they couldn't get to the game underneath," he said. "In a movie you're distanced from those characters and you're watching them, but in a game you are those characters and if they say something you find bothersome it rips you right out of the experience."

I find Schneider's comments particularly interesting because of my own appreciation for European games: They reflect a distinct sensibility toward videogaming that you just don't see in most mainstream American releases. It doesn't often translate into major sales breakthroughs on this side of the pond but it is a refreshing change of pace and, for the aforementioned hardcore crowd, often a superior experience. Kudos to Schneider for wanting to broaden his audience without serving up crap every day, but I worry a bit about the bland homogeneity that can result from trying to please everyone. It's probably a good way to make money, but is it a good way to make games?

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