Can a Game Make You Cry?

To the Editor: Warren Spector’s “Gaming at the Margins” continues to be essential reading. Part Four, “Breaking Out of the Best/Worst Trap” raises some very interesting points concerning the role of mainstream vs “marginal” work in creative fields. But then he offers this vision of the future:

“If we do all that, we might just find ourselves appealing to a larger, more diverse audience than ever before. If we do all that, we just might succeed.”

With my game developer hat on, it seems to me that this epitomizes the problem. Speaking for myself, I don’t want to appeal to ever larger and more diverse audiences. That’s what the mainstream does. I see the way out of the trap involving small independent studios making games which appeal to smaller, less diverse audiences.

With my consumer hat on… it’s the same story. Whether it’s music, film, food or games I don’t share the tastes of the mainstream. But if someone wants to start making games just for me, they’ll certainly get more of my custom. (Currently I buy only two or three games each year.)

Like many people with similar views, my hopes for the near future are currently pinned on Greg Costikyan’s Manifesto Games. If all goes according to plan, that could easily become a flagship for the kind of innovation that we need to complement the mainstream staples.

Of course niche markets have to mean lower budgets but that need not be a bad thing. I don’t think innovative games need teams of twenty artists any more than innovative films need large production crews. At least not if we’re serious about the emphasis being on gameplay and narrative.

-Dom Camus

To the Editor: Just wanted to thank you for your wonderful magazine.

I stumbled (>Firefox PlugIn Stumble) over it today and couldn’t stop reading in it. In my opinion your design concept is the best approach ever that I’ve seen for a Web-Magazine with the feeling of a “real” magazine.

Keep up the great work!

-Bernhard from Germany

From The Lounge: [Re: “WAL*MART Rules” by Allen Varney] Good article, Allen.

The dream of infinite shelf space, while solving some problems, has its own issues. When there are thousands of titles to choose from online, getting found becomes difficult. Marketing (viral or otherwise) becomes much more important. Sure, user recommendations and various social networks can help, but it’s still going to be difficult. Small developers will be able to create original titles without retail oversight (if they can afford the development budget on their own), but they’re going to have to find ways to make people aware of their games.

Still, I look forward to seeing digital distribution become more popular – it should result in more titles, more originality, and better rewards for small developers.

-Steve Peterson

From The Lounge: [Re: “Friction Costs” by Jason Della Rocca] Great article and there is lots to do but one thing I’d really like to get clear. Game development is not software development, it is Entertainment. 70% of most teams are artists. Our job is not to follow a functional spec, our job is to create entertainment.

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Those parts of the process that are software development may benefit from software development practices but trying to shoehorn a process that is fundamentally not software development into a software development style is bound to fail.

Do you think Spielberg follows SCRUM and Pair Directing as he makes his movies? I doubt it. To me, games are about a game director (and his team) expressing themselves through games to make entertainment similar to a movie director. All entertainment works this way, music, movies, books and games. Creative processes like movies IMO would never work through some formulaic system.

It’s precisely that creative process which makes making games fun and enjoyable. Convert it to software development and it will turn into just a boring job where I punch in from 9 to 5 and fulfill the functional specs on my scrum goal list. Yuck.


From The Lounge: [Re: “Friction Costs” by Jason Della Rocca] Oh gimme a break George, you’re expressing one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve heard from some people in the game development community 🙂 Sure, go ahead and look down on professional engineering practices as somehow not applicable to game development. Such an artiste…

I will grant you that having a formal “process” does not guarantee quality. For example being rated CMMI5 doesn’t mean you make good products, it just means you passed a test. However, having a disciplined mindset when you approach your development, having decent processes in place, and then adhering to those processes is a big help. Next you’re going to say that you’re too busy coding to worry about creating a requirements document.

First off, the lack of any formalized development practices are probably the biggest failure of the industry… and I’m not talking about using a CM tool, which obviously most developers have mastered. That’s not really rocket science. I’m talking about stepping up a notch where people actually use better project management skills in all areas of game development, not just software. WTF else would we be hearing about games suddenly switching from 3rd person to an FPS perspective in midstream? Or shipping without multiplayer support. Uhhh, that’s not really a software issue, it’s a failure to identify key UI or technology requirements, track risks, and mitigate them early.

But that’s OK, I get the same attitude from our systems engineers. They don’t “get” the whole define-how-your-system[game] -works-before-you-write-the-code part. What’s their product? Oh yeah, a Word document. Doesn’t have to be logically consistent, or god forbid actually execute. If you could, it would delete its own source out of embarrassment and then core dump.

-“CMMI5 and Hacking Away”

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