Tuesday, February 26

Developing Game Design: Counterpoint

GameSpot recently interviewed Will Wright, head of Maxis. The video interview is below.

At one point, just before the 5:00 marker, GameSpot asks Wright, "What do you wish you could change about the game industry?" Wright answers:
I think the game industry is starting to take the path of the television industry where its getting very risk adverse. Part of that is that development budgets are getting so incredibly expensive that it feels so risky to take a chance on something nobody has ever seen before. People today instead chase genres. You know whatever the best selling game was last year, everybody says we want World of Warcraft, or whatever it was, this year people want a better version of that.

If you actually go back historically and look at what the big games were every year, they were usually big games because they were well done, well-tuned and polished, etc. and they also had a certain amount of, kind of, novelty, relative to things that were preceeding them. So, chasing the last big thing, in some sense is, you know, while it might lower your downside, you're never going to capture your upside that made them a big hit in the first place.

So, I think that's probably the biggest danger right now, is that, because of the budgets, people tend towards that risk adverse, and it tends to kind of squash innovation. But occasionaly, I think we're starting to see now, the type of people that are playing games, the type of games that we're playing, we're starting to see things like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, the Wii, games that are really different than what preceeded them, and they're, for the most part, enjoying great success, which is, you know, in some sense feels like the second or third renaissance of gaming because of that.
You can see how this directly relates to yesterday's post. And I think I agree with Wright, too. Looking at games as a business, incremental development makes sense. Publishers want to make money on something thats a proven success. Looking at games as an artform, however, perhaps such reliance makes things stale. Hence, genres (again). But I think there is a balance. We can have the best of both worlds. We can innovate from the successful. There is always learning to be done. So when good game design comes around, like Portal, for example, we can observe the design. What makes the design good? Why do we like it? Then we need to stop. We need to sit out for a minute, reflect, reconsider, look at things from a new angle. Then we can use our various perspectives and knowledge and apply them to something new. The danger is relying too heavily on proven games, like a crutch. But if all we do is rely on this crutch then we'll never learn to walk without it. We need to be progressive to realize that, though this crutch is what taught us how to walk in one way, we will learn from it, and develop an entirely new and better way to walk.

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