In the second keynote at this year’s Montreal Game Summit, independent game designer Jonathan Blow warned that game designers “lack discernment” and are only producing the videogame equivalent of a McDonald’s meal.
“Scheduled rewards” in games were a major part of this trend, he said, claiming that story progress, achievements, collectibles and other tokens of advancement were poor substitutes for “genuine enjoyment” in contemporary videogames. He used MMOGs as an example, saying their “constant fake rewards” keep players hooked and asking, “Would players still play our games if we removed these scheduled rewards?” He also added that “rewards can be like food, nutritionally beneficial, or like drugs, artificial,” and said the videogame industry “pushes drugs” because it doesn’t understand food.
He compared criticism leveled at McDonald’s and tobacco companies to the way the videogame industry treats players, suggesting that with the current standards of design, “We don’t intend to harm players but we might do so.”
“In pursuing ever more players the games industry exploits them in an unethical way,” he said. “We don’t see it as unethical, though, because we refuse to stop and think about what we are doing. We don’t have a sense to be ashamed.”
Blow, who has previously written for Game Developer Magazine, is also the host of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at the annual Game Developers Conference. His 2006 game Braid won the Game Design Award at the 2006 Independent Games Festival.