With the every growing ease for independent games distribution, we are seeing more accessibility to a larger selection of games than every before. Platforms like Steam (PC) , Xbox Live and PlayStation Networks (Console), and the huge boom of phone application stores, it is nearly impossible to find a spot other than the middle of the ocean where a variety of games cannot be purchased and browsed. However, is this entirely a good thing?
The issue this week on LSB stems from three interviews with developers and their statements on creativity in the industry. The interviews are with Jon Hare (Sensible Soccer, Mega lo Mania, Cannon Fodder), Jenova Chen (Co-Founder of thatgamecompany, makers of Flower), and Al Alcorn (Co-Founder of Atari and programmer for Pong).
What They (Hare, Chen, Alcorn) Said.
Beginning, Hare says, “I believe that as a commercial industry [the game industry] became more ‘mature’ – i.e. bloated with far too much middle management all wanting their own slice of the pie and shareholders demanding never-ending short-term success – around 1995. However, I feel that creatively, from a software design point of view, it went from being a very powerful, innovative industry to a creatively weaker, me-too industry at about the same time.” Hare later goes on to say, “From my point of view, commercially, [the games industry] has gone backwards because I am making less money, because the middle managers and their bean-counting overlords have largely disempowered the creative intellectual property generators from having sufficient influence and power within the industry.” Chen sees another trending problem within online development, stating, “When people design online games, they often do lazy work. They bring an existing single-player game — an RPG, an RTS, a fighting game, a shooter — and duct tape on some online technology. They say, “okay, there’s multiple players, now do something cool. Here, play a kid’s game like Capture the Flag.” That’s the level of design.”
Alcorn encourages us to look back saying, “If you look at our games – the earlier games – they were all really wildly different,” “We tried all kinds of things. It was a great time to experiment. Now, the money is so big, we’re afraid to take risks. We took a lot of risks and we had a lot of fun doing it.” Dean Takahashi of Games Beat writes, “With 200-person teams, it’s too risky to try to experiment. Alcorn says that when you have a big team, you have to know what you’re doing and you have to play it safe. That eliminates a lot of experimentation. Still, Alcorn says that if developers focus on creating a new kind of game, they might get lucky.” Chen thinks the issue is more about the lack of social relevance in most games explaining, “If you really wanted to stimulate a social activity, you need to re-think it from the ground up. What is the skill they’re supposed to acquire? Accuracy? Or is it the ability to convince others? If the skill is social, it’ll be very relevant and useful. People still play poker. Why? Because the skill of deception is useful for real life. Look at online games. How many skills are based on social elements? Most games are based on grinding, accuracy, physical dexterity. They are not social games. They’re just old games with online features.”
Hare has hope though. When he was asked about the upswing of Indie development he gave a resounding, “Thank God for that. Sequels and license tie-ins will be the death of the industry. The business people who make the really big decisions would happily abandon this industry for another one once they have sucked the life out of it. There are many, many ways to make money out of games and I prefer the route that rewards great, new, innovative games and a limited amount of their sequels and conversions onto other systems. So all power to the indies and the truly great classic games, no matter what size budgets there are behind them – all power to great games.”
What Comments Said
Tren wrote about Hare’s interview stating, “It’s sad when great games are lost in the crowd of games/apps that honestly should never have been put in the app store to begin with. And until something is done to change how that is structured it will always be the case, very unfortunate.” M dW writes, “Not to be blunt, but the games today bear no real innovation. Ok we have Wii now, which is poorly implemented, graphics are horrible, and games are unimaginative. 3DKinect might be a nice idea, I’m waiting for a good game to use it. But i think we now live in a time to see games used as a tool in many areas such as eduction, sports, marketing, social living and many more i think.” This same notion was found interesting and similarly put, “It was really interesting to read his perspective on social interaction in gaming, and the way many online modes are a result of laziness. It’s true that I’m sick of seeing Capture the Flag in every online multiplayer game… Make up a new game.. something more relevant!!”
Marty Howe writes, “How many more muscle bound, Caucasian space marine heroes with big guns can you endure? We are treating the audience like they are truly dumb. If we can engineer mature, sophisticated games with inventive and innovative gameplay – we’ll actually make audiences smarter. Audience expectations will rise, and they’ll demand more from a gaming experience. People will then look back at zombies, space marines and ninjas and shake their heads in disbelief that that type of subject matter actually entertained them for X number of years. That’s the path to mature the industry, I think.” Yet Chris Kaitila thinks we already have what people want stating, “..check out the Indie Game scene – you will find everything you are looking for.“
With the invention of better distribution methods I believe we are seeing a lot more titles yearly than we have in the past. With this comes some concern and praise. On one hand it is amazing to see more independent developers taking risks and having the ability to share those products with a larger audience. Multi-million dollar projects may have the ability to reach a market, but they lack the freedom to truly innovate due to the concern of greater losses.
On the other hand, we have a huge amount of independent and large budget games being pushed out all the time. While as a gamer I have always loved to see more games out, my concern is an over saturation that will deter innovation. Hare brought up a great point in his interview about the apps market becoming a mess so much that many titles that deserve recognition get lost in the fray. Independent developers are finding it easier to share their games, but with the massive market ready to grab up the $25 or less price tags, we are starting to see independent development share trends with multi billion dollar projects. The difference here is just the gravity of money being tossed around.
I don’t think we are in a bad spot yet, but I do think that the industry should be concerned about losing the incentive to innovate. A power that once drove creative development and gamers to the cash register.