Burn baby burn

Those following the Burning Down the House thread will know that Matt Mihaly of Iron Realms has firm views on the state of the games industry and independent games developers.

By way of response the to GDC panel Matt has asked TN to host this open letter to panel participants Warren Spector, Greg Costikyan, and Brenda Laurel. So, here it is,,,

At this year’s GDC, a panel of people (Warren Spector, Greg Costikyan, Jason Della Rocca, Chris Hecker, and Brenda Laurel) held a “we hate the games industry” rant entitled “Burning Down The House.” Jason and Chris sounded sensible, Brenda waxed ridiculous, and I have issues with what Warren and Greg had to say. This is my response, for whatever it’s worth to you. Please note that as no official transcripts are available, I’ve used the Alice transcript  (http://crystaltips.typepad.com/wonderland/2005/03/burn_the_house_.html) for my quotes. If they’re incorrect, I apologize in advance.

I have a lot of respect for what Warren and Greg have accomplished in the past and hope that neither of them will take what follows as a personal insult. It’s intended as constructive criticism of their position, not an attack on them as people or game developers. Again, these guys are extremely accomplished. There’s no denying that. However, that doesn’t mean they’re right. My viewpoint is that they are talented people who are caught in the past, unwilling or unable to adapt to new realities.

 To put my views in context, let me briefly summarize where I’m coming from. I founded and run Iron Realms Entertainment. A more indie game developer would be hard to find. We self-publish. No relationships with any sort of games aggregate sites, no investment from anyone in the games community, etc. Plus, we make text MUDs/MMOS. Pretty darn niche. There aren’t too many genres less likely to reach a mass market than this one.

I started Iron Realms (formerly known as Achaea LLC) in 1996 as the sole full-time developer. I did everything, from design to coding to the pathetic “marketing” we did back then. We’ve now got four successful, profitable text MMOs and 10 full-time developers. I love what I do and I believe so does everybody that works with me. We don’t have to put up with crunch time, we don’t have to deal with anyone censoring our content, and we have complete creative control over what we do. We’ll never be as polished as Worlds of Warcraft is and we’ll never be awarded Game of the Year by major publications, but on the other hand, they’ll never approach the depth certain aspects of our games achieve, and they can’t even dream about the amount of design freedom we have.

 And yet, according to Warren and Greg, we and others like us apparently don’t exist at worst or are aberrations at best. That’s nonsense and I’m calling them on it.

 Warren Spector:

OK. I don’t feel very ranty actually. I tried to bail on this panel. But I have to say something so I want to say how this business is hopelessly broken. Haha. We’re doing pretty much everything wrong. This is at the root of much of what you’re gonna hear today. Games cost too much. They take too long to make. The whole concept of word of mouth, remember that? Holy cow it was nice.

 What is “too much?” Is the right amount defined by what they cost when you got into the industry? You sound remarkably like most MUD/MMO players, who consistently complain that the game was better when they started playing (regardless of when that time period was.) In fact, as I write this, one of our admins on Achaea just said, “Don't players ever get bored of talking about how much better things were when  they were newbies?”

And guess what? You’re free to make games that operate by word of mouth. Our single biggest source of customers, with a 200% advantage over the 2nd biggest source, is word of mouth. I am positive we are not unique. Are you going to make a game that sells 2 million copies this way? Probably not. But then, it’s not going to cost anything like a game that sells 2 million copies will either.

  “Wal-Mart drives development decisions now.

Wal-Mart drives development decisions from people who choose to make games to sell in Wal-Mart. No more, no less. If you want to make games that Wal-Mart will sell, be my guest. Lots of money to be made there, no doubt about it. Of course, many developers will have to censor themselves to even get a game on its shelves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with self-censorship, but let’s not pretend that the only way to support yourself while making games is to work on the AAA titles that Wal-Mart carries.

My first game cost me 273,000 dollars. My next one is BLAH millions. How many of you work on games that make money? 4 out of 5 games lose money, according to one pundit who may be lying, admittedly. Can we do any worse if we just trusted the creative folks entirely instead of the publishers?

 Sure, we can do a lot worse. The restaurant industry loses 90% of new restaurants according to restaurant industry people I’ve talked to. 80% would be a big improvement. The people starting those restaurants are a LOT like most startup game developers. They think that because they like food, they can run a restaurant.

 If you want to make a game that costs $273,000, why not go ahead and see what can be done on that amount? I think quite a bit can be done, particularly if it’s interesting games and not just eye and ear candy that is the appeal. Are you going to be on the cover of PC Gamer from a $273,000 game today? No. Are you going to make millions on a $273,000 game? No. But then, did you make millions from your $273k game way back when? I’m guessing not. Are you really concerned about games, or are you just pissed off that you’re not getting a bigger piece of the pie?

 We’re the only medium that lacks an alternate distribution system.

 I guess I wasn’t aware that I could make my own movie, head on down to Loews and get it shown in their cinemas, and then head on down to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video and have them carry my movies. I guess I didn’t know that I could film my own tv pilot and head down to NBC to have it aired. Silly me. What exactly is the alternative distribution system for a tv show or movies?

 Besides, we don’t lack alternative distribution systems. Downloadable or web games are clearly viable. They may not be viable for all kinds of games (obviously) but so what? A game based around cooking the perfect risotto isn’t viable either. Should we be bitching about that?

 Developers.. why should we get a huge return? We’re taking some of the risk, but the $10m, the marketing space, the retail space all belong to someone else. We have winner-take-all business that carries a lot of risk. So .. we have to find alternative sources of funding. Chris Crawford used to rant about how we need patrons.. I don’t care if it’s wealthy patrons, I don’t care what it IS, but it’s critical that we divorce funding from distribution.

Now you’re talking sense, Warren I can tell you that none of the funding we’ve gotten for our games over the years has come from anything related to distribution. The same is true of games like Three Rings’ Puzzle Pirates or the wildly successful Runescape, by Jagex.

We need alternative forms of distribution too. I’m not saying publishers suck, although I do believe that in many cases. [laughter] If the plane went down who would care about the marketing guys?

 You would care, because your games would sell jack without marketers. Most of your potential customers have never heard of you and don’t care who you are. They’re buying your game either because of the word of mouth you deride as no longer relevant or because the marketers have convinced them to.

If you want to make games with a $25 million budget, deal with the baggage that comes along with it. If you’re just interested in making interesting games, stop worrying about making $25 million games. When you go smaller, you lose a lot of that baggage.

Has everyone bought Bioware’s online modules? JUST BUY THEM, OK, even if you don’t have the original games! We HAVE to get games into gamers’ hands.

Weird. I guess I didn’t realize that when I purchased Halo 2 I wasn’t getting a game into my hands.

 So I’m not saying publishers are evil.. if we do all this and go direct to our consumers with games funded some OTHER way than EA or whoever.. we’ll keep more of the money.. we have to find someone to pay for it and find a buyer after. We need Sundances. Independent Film Channel. Equivalents of those. Just try to find some way of funding your stuff that doesn’t come from a publisher.

Finding ways to fund games isn’t the issue. What you seem to want to do is create Jerry Bruckenheimer movies without studio money. If you want to create games without a publisher, nothing is stopping you. Anybody can take an extra mortgage out, max out their credit cards, borrow from friends and family, etc. Hell, for our last 3 games all our investment money has come from inside the community of Iron Realms players. You wouldn’t believe how passionate some players are about seeing that the games they want to see made get made. Is that method going to get you $20 million? Hell no. But, it sounds to me like you want someone else to front the risk you want to introduce to the process via attempting unproven game designs that aren’t licensed and aren’t sequels. That’s a very laudable goal, of course, but it’s also risky, and investors with $20 million to spare are generally in the business of minimizing risk and maximizing returns…and rightly so.

The movies have this now: the studios don’t fund everything that happens out there. I’m not holding the movie business up as a model of great business practice, but you can get $ from a wide variety of sources.

Same with games. Developers have gotten money from governments, from angel investors, from VCs, from their own partners or employees, and so on.

At the very worst we need publishers to ask more than that one question: is this going to generate max profit. For most games this is NOT THE RIGHT QUESTION. Volkswagen owns rolls Royce….

Heh. Volkswagen owns Rolls Royce….and charges massive sums of money for the products. Are you advocating $1000 single-player games? Do you seriously believe that VW execs are sitting back thinking, “Hmm, shareholders and market be damned! Let’s just make a kick-ass car!” (Incidentally, I singled out single-player games because some players will spend way more than $1000 for MUDs/MMOs.)

You’re also kind of contradicting yourself. Earlier you talked about getting developers more money. Now you’re attacking that motivation when it’s a publisher trying to make more money.

Greg Costikyan:

The story of the past few decades is not about graphics and processing power, but startling innovation and industry.

What? You really believe that? Tell me the first thing that games market to people. I’ll tell you something. It’s not their AI or their design. I can’t say I’m happy about it either, but graphics and processing power have dominated the industry at least since the SNES/Genesis wars. Go google “screenshot.”

How often DO they perform human sacrifices at Nintendo?? My friends, we are FUCKED [laughter]. We are well and truly fucked. The bar in terms of graphics and glitz has been raised and raised until we can’t afford to do anything at all. 80 hour weeks until our jobs are all outsourced to Asia.


Huh. So what you’re saying to me then is that since we can’t afford to do anything at all, there will be no games available for any of the next gen consoles upon release? I have to say, I don’t get that. It seems to me that Sony, MS, and Nintendo are pretty sure to have at least SOME games in development. I can’t imagine they plan to release their consoles sans games.

And what is this talk of the bar being raised? What does that mean unless you’re just interested in making the big flashy games with huge budgets? Is the appeal there the fact that 15 year old boys everywhere will think of you as a God? Is it inconceivable that people might not need to work on the titles that get all the press attention? I’ve only met you once, but I don’t believe that fame and money is what motivates you. And if that’s true, why does it matter what the corporate giants are putting out? Why the need to compete with them?

You have choices too: work in a massive sweatshop publisher-run studio with thousands of others making the next racing game with the same gameplay as Pole Position. Or you can riot in the streets of redwood city! Choose another business model, development path, and you can choose to remember why you love games and make sure in a generation’s time there are still games to love. You can start today.

 Now you’re talking. I don’t actually have anything against publishers myself (they publish a lot of games I enjoy, and even more I don’t enjoy but can happily ignore), but right on. If developers don’t like dealing with publishers, or don’t like the terms a publisher is willing to give, then the developer needs to make a decision, as you say. There are so many development models, so many business models, so many ways to make games.

 Brenda Laurel:

Did you ever notice there’s no place for the earth on the bottom line?

Yeah, man, like, there’s no LOVE in the bottom line I dig your far out vibe.

 Games keep essential social myths in place. So we have tropes in our business. Criminals are cool. The commercial game business is a non-consensual relationship between middle aged men and young boys. It’s worse than the catholic church. These are guys who have really big tyres on their trucks … and we all know why! [laughter] So the fantasies of these guys position these boys as tiny little clones: so they force you to take your genius to create this .. this .. we can’t have that fellas.

 You’re basically crazy, right? Who put you on this panel anyway?

 we need heroes, but what kind of heroes are we making? Where’s Malcolm X, or Chavez? There hasn’t been a game about geopolitics that was worth a shit since Hidden Agenda!

 Oh my god. I’ll tell you where Malcolm X and Caesar Chavez are: THEY’RE HELPING OPPRESSED PEOPLE. What is wrong with you? Step out of your ivory tower and take a sniff of the world. It stinks. Who gives a shit about video games on the global scale of human suffering. Video games are played by the idle rich. People with things like access to clean water, reliable electricity and enough leisure time to sit around playing games. You know, things most people in the world lack.

 I have to tell you, Microsoft is the walking dead.

 Yeah yeah. They kick puppies and run child prostitution rings too. Grow up.

GIVE IT UP ABOUT DRM. GIVE IT UP ABOUT OWNERSHIP. Cleave to open source! A NEW ECONOMY IS COMING.

I had a dream once that little sentient fireflies were causing the static electric sparks in my bedsheets in the winter.

 
Conclusion

The problem isn’t the games industry. The problem is the way some people choose to look at it. If your focus is purely on money, go be an investment banker. If your focus is on fame, you better enjoy being worshipped largely by pimply teenagers. If, on the other hand, your focus is on making games that can give you a decent living and keep your creative desires sated, then why not go out on a limb and do something smaller and different? Why this obsession with AAA titles if you are truly interested in games? ‘Cause I hate to tell you this, but unless you’re Will Wright, a LOT of small developers are making games a hell of a lot more innovative than anything with a $20 million budget.

Anyway, please, just stop the whining. Stop telling people about how horrible the games industry is. Stop telling them that they can’t succeed without radical industry changes. It’s bunk and you should know better. Are you intentionally trying to discourage people from getting into the industry? Stop telling people that life in the games industry universally sucks. Maybe it sucks for you. It doesn’t suck for me and I don’t think it sucks for a lot of people. I don’t want the next generation of talent to listen to the pessimistic, self-defeating viewpoints you’re pushing.

Matt Mihaly


Comments on Burn baby burn:

Tankko says:

Ahhhh....Matt....you make text based muds? Isn't your rant a little like comparing book publishing to movie making? Both great forms of entertainment, but very different.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 5:09:52 PM | link

Pirate Cotton says:

His points stand though. There are alternatives.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 5:19:59 PM | link

Scott says:

Best rant ever. Well, this week.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 5:34:23 PM | link

mike says:

Crap. I thought this was the rant where they were complaining about how there were the very small scale folks and EA's 200-person teams but nothing in the middle, but I guess I saw it elsewhere. I think it's part of what Spector's getting at: his VW/Rolls Royce analogy doesn't quite work but his Sundance/IFC one does. There are channels for quasi-independent, smaller-budget movies that don't have analogues in the world of games.

For my part--and this is very much a matter of personal taste--I'd be happy to be able to make games with 1/10th the budget and more freedom, but not 1/100th the budget and infinite freedom. It's a choice we ought to be able to make but can't, and I sympathize with those people it irks to the point of ranting.

[fwiw, costikyan's posted a followup to his rant, which is just good form: after saying everything's all broken he offers a few suggestions for how to fix it.]

Posted Mar 17, 2005 6:24:58 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Matt wrote - Oh my god. I’ll tell you where Malcolm X and Caesar Chavez are: THEY’RE HELPING OPPRESSED PEOPLE. What is wrong with you? Step out of your ivory tower and take a sniff of the world. It stinks. Who gives a shit about video games on the global scale of human suffering. Video games are played by the idle rich. People with things like access to clean water, reliable electricity and enough leisure time to sit around playing games. You know, things most people in the world lack.

Just a minor point...

Once the 3rd world does get enough food, electricity, and CPU cycles, virtual worlds could have a significant impact on their populations. Virtual worlds allow for very inexpensive "travel", and the ability to meet people from other cultures in a social setting.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 6:30:02 PM | link

Abalieno says:

I agree with Lum.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 6:30:51 PM | link

Evangolis says:

Well, I can't really disagree with what Matt says, but somehow I do. And oddly enough, I disagree most with the last part, about games being a diversion of the rich, even though he is dead right, they are.

But much the same can be said about television as has been said about games on both sides of this discussion, yet television has provided me with moving, even life changing, moments. Games have never changed my life, and I don't recall being moved by them very often.

I look at that difference, and it seems to me that television is not a stronger medium than games, which leads me to an obvious conclusion. Matt may be right on his points, but there is still something wrong with games. This medium can be more, but I can't tell you how.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 6:38:29 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike wrote:

For my part--and this is very much a matter of personal taste--I'd be happy to be able to make games with 1/10th the budget and more freedom, but not 1/100th the budget and infinite freedom.

10% of the budget of what? 10% of the budget of a game 10 years ago? 10% of the budget of a game 10 years from now? Why let EA or Sony dictate how much you need to spend on a game? Setting your goals relative to an organization that's unrelated to you is foolish.

Focus on what you're doing. If your games sell 20,000 copies, they've sold 20,000 copies whether other games have sold 2 million or 20 million. Your level of success is unaffected by the success of others unless you're playing the ego game, which is a poor idea, in my opinion.

--matt

Posted Mar 17, 2005 7:14:30 PM | link

Mr. Falcon says:

And the idle rich can't be interested in the suffering of those less fortunate? Sure, it may be mostly spoiled trust-fund university students who forget all about it when they start having to pay property taxes and such, but there are lots of them. And on the far end of the scale, its not unheard of for people to give up that life to serve the greater good. I don't see any reason why video games can't encourage that.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 7:26:07 PM | link

Tess says:

I reckon if you looked at the failure ratio of little indies who are trying to bootstrap a company, it's a lot worse than 4 out of 5. Yeah, success stories *exist*, for certain, but I'm not sure I'd dismiss the problems described in the panel on the basis that a few folks have succeeded outside of the meat grinder.

The reason they're harping on the whole expectations and cost issue is because that's what's driving the current quality-of-life issues in the industry. Unfortunately, for many bootstrappers, the quality-of-life can be just as bad at the start. How many people actually make it to where Matt is? There sure as hell are lots of people *trying*.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 7:29:05 PM | link

PocketCalculator says:

You wouldn’t believe how passionate some players are about seeing that the games they want to see made get made.

After seeing how passionate our players are about seeing There succeed, this rings very true. If you build it, they will come..

%Pocket

Posted Mar 17, 2005 8:15:25 PM | link

Neil says:

Matt's rant makes me think about Terra Nova itself, especially how accessible it is as a forum for every kind of game developer and enthusiast (developer-wanna-be?).

Commenting on posts could have been disallowed, but instead we have an arena into which we can throw our own otherwise-unheard opinions and see if they get burned. You don't have to sit at the lunch table with Will Wright to debate over the craft of making games.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 9:20:42 PM | link

mike says:

I was thinking the size of game and tradeoff Spector was talking about: on the order of several million or a few dozen people for 1.5-2 years. The sort of game I'm working on now, give or take, a full-sized PS2/&c. game in which Shrek punches people.

So much depends on what kind of game you want to make, and your baseline standards of quality. Which (in my case at least) are set in reference to what else is out there. I've tried to go back to Street Fighter II after playing III, to say nothing of Virtua Fighter, and it suffers. Or Double Dragon after Devil May Cry.

I'd be willing to give up some of that--to make smaller levels or fewer of them, games that choose a single core mechanic and hit it really hard instead of choosing to simulate the entire state of California--in exchange for the ability to explore some new things. But I wouldn't give it all up: it's really nice working with a bunch of high-quality animators, for instance.

Does the market support that, though? Can you make a $500k game that'll sell 1/10th as much as a $5m game?

You can choose genres that are neglected (as the wargamers do) or genres that don't reward expensive content creation (as the puzzlers do) but at that point you and the GDC ranters are just talking past each other.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 10:05:01 PM | link

Tom Bloodgood says:

"But much the same can be said about television as has been said about games on both sides of this discussion, yet television has provided me with moving, even life changing, moments. Games have never changed my life, and I don't recall being moved by them very often." - Evangolis

How many times has television brought together two people watching it that lived in different households? Many MMORPG's bring together people for friendships, parties, romances, even marriages. XBOX Live connects people around the world with one another for fragfests.

As for a game moving you, it has been said elsewhere, games typically don't bring a person to sympathetic or empathetic tears, but fear, tension, and anger are not unheard of, depending on the game.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 10:57:11 PM | link

mike says:

Don't forget triumph and accomplishment! We've good emotions, too. :)

Posted Mar 17, 2005 11:16:00 PM | link

Evangolis says:

"fear, tension, and anger are not unheard of,"

But that's just poor interface design. Sorry, I can't pass up a straight line. ;-)

Seriously, those aren't really the best, or most difficult emotions to elicit. Games are interactive experiences, yet all we can elicit are fight or flight responses? That just isn't good enough. Games should do much more. 20 years ago a few scenes from an episode of Hill Street Blues completed a growing epiphany for me, and brought me into drug rehab. Games should be able to do that. TV is seldom high art. Games should have at least that standard.

Here is another thing games should be able to do. As part of this high end Western lifestyle, we have allowed our careers to drive apart our friendships and families. I think a combination of MMO and TV gameshow could do something to reverse that trend. What if the whole family could get togather in a virtual living room to participate in a common activity, a virtual Wheel of Fortune, say, without having to drive/fly several hours to do it? You are right, games don't bring people together, in life or at the watercooler. But they should.

There is nothing to be gained by calling people names, or alledging unsavory lusts, but games can do more. Games should do more.

Posted Mar 17, 2005 11:46:50 PM | link

chris klaus says:

I agree with Matt. Video gaming for the masses is only beginning and think there is incredible future in this industry. The movie industry has been around longer and you can see how the independants are making progress. There are 650 film festivals in the US, with big ones like Sundance, Toronto, Cannes having 350K+ people watching indie movies.

How many game festivals are there for independance? We need to start more. In Atlanta, Georgia, there's a fast growing movement. GaTech just had a symposium on GameWorlds this week (http://gameworlds.gatech.edu) and it was packed. SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) is doing another game conference in Atlanta this year. And the state of Georgia is about to offer a big tax incentive for game studios to build video games in Georgia. We are just a small part of the overall movement, but there is definitely alot of opportunity in this market.

I think we will continue to see this market grow and worse comes to worse, this is just one big SimGameIndustry, and it will be a fun challenge, regardless of score.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 12:11:02 AM | link

Dirk Scheuring says:

Matt>

Do you seriously believe that VW execs are sitting back thinking, “Hmm, shareholders and market be damned! Let’s just make a kick-ass car!”

They do. The result is the Bugatti Veyron, the fastest and most expensive production car ever. Only 1000 will be built, and VW management admits that they will never break even on it.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 3:06:39 AM | link

ccarella says:

For the AAA Designer crowd who wishes to come back to planet earth I invite you to the next Serious Games Summit. Come see some innovative approaches to make games that have a positive social impact, designed and developed on a shoe string budget. Perhaps if they would have come to GDC '05 on Monday and Tuesday, they would of never made this warcry that sounds like a major label musician who just signed there life away to the RIAA.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 10:04:45 AM | link

Evangolis says:

Hmmm, yeah, there are options beyond the AAA track for making games, but why should someome with a proven record of AAA success have to do Indie level projects if they want to be innovative or expressive? Bruce Springsteen gets to do Nebraska, James Cameron gets to make Aliens of the Deep, and Stephen Bochco gets to do NYPD Blue; why don't successful triple AAA game designers have similar freedoms? It is easy to point to the budget issues, I've done it myself, most others do as well, but are we expecting too little of this industry?

There is an quality independant games community, but why should the only reward for AAA success in this industry be sequalization? Once again, I think we can and should do better.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 10:42:06 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Tess wrote:

I reckon if you looked at the failure ratio of little indies who are trying to bootstrap a company, it's a lot worse than 4 out of 5. Yeah, success stories *exist*, for certain, but I'm not sure I'd dismiss the problems described in the panel on the basis that a few folks have succeeded outside of the meat grinder.

The reason they're harping on the whole expectations and cost issue is because that's what's driving the current quality-of-life issues in the industry. Unfortunately, for many bootstrappers, the quality-of-life can be just as bad at the start. How many people actually make it to where Matt is? There sure as hell are lots of people *trying*.

Most people will fail. That's just a truism in any competitive endeavour. And I mean, we're not really talking about developers here. We're talking about entrepreneurs. Do you expect being an entrepreneur should be easy? Developers are always free to take a job with a large company where they don't have to worry as much success or failure and just pick up a paycheck. I don't see a problem with most entrepreneurs failing anymore than I see a problem with most basketball players failing to make the pros. That's just life.

And really, my success isn't the point I don't think. I just used it as an example. You could be doing a lot less well than we do and still do fine.

--matt

Posted Mar 18, 2005 10:50:56 AM | link

bloo says:

How about a Burning House Challenge?

A bit of friendly competition between game developers with a strict budget of $273,000. What kind of game can you create with that in one year?

If you can scrounge up your own money, great. But if publishers, hardware and software manufacturers want to chip in with dollars or donated software and hardware, even better.

Suggested Conditions:
- Reasonable pay and hours for staff (unpaid interns not permitted),
- All equipment must be paid for from the budget, although anything donated to one development group must be donated to all participants,
- Office expenses except from the budget, and virtual groups are OK,
- You have to actually try to make a game with the money,
- A board of volunteers to oversee the rules are followed, and
- There doesn't have to be a winner.

-bloo

P.S. One more requirement: someone has to give me $273,000 so I can enter the challenge too.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 12:48:06 PM | link

Dave 'Fargo' Kosak says:

I was at the Burning Down the House panel, and I think it looks like the unofficial transcript misquotes Laurel in a few places. To Matt's point, she definitely wasn't saying "Malcolm X should be making games." She was making a point that games should have more positive role-models/activities. She mentioned portraying heroes like John Glenn or Richard Feynman (as opposed to always playing thugs or soldiers or sports stars.) I understand her point there and to some level agree, but much as I admire Richard Feynman I would be hard-pressed to come up with a good Feynman game. (It's a problem similar to the Emily Dickenson game design challenge, also held at GDC this year!)

Laurel's economic assessments ("Cling to open source!") were transcripted accurately, though, and I have to agree that she was talking cloud-talk.

I posted a summary of the panel for anyone who doesn't want to read a whole transcript:
http://www.gamespy.com/articles/596/596734p1.html

Posted Mar 18, 2005 3:17:10 PM | link

AFFA says:

I've said most of this already over on grimwell, but I enjoy the sound of my own fingers on the keyboard, so...

I can't find anything in Brenda Laurel's comments to agree with. I think I'm the only conservative ex-game designer in the world, so I'll just feign amusement and keep my mouth shut.

Games are "toys for the idle rich", but you could say the same for anything the third world can't afford. Computers have helped the third world in numerous ways, even if most people can't afford one. The same will probably be said of games one day.

In fact, games may be ever better than the old tools (narrative, mostly) for transferring some kinds of information. Such as explaining better farming practices. I can see many places where games could help the third world, which is not to say that anyone's used them this way yet...

I think the rest of the panel had some good points, but they didn't make them terribly well.

Point One: Games cost "too much."

No one can say what "too much" is. But a high barrier to entry ("AAA" titles costing $20M or more) is probably bad for the industry. Yes, independents exist. In fact, I predict that independent games will grow rather than shrink. They might even become more profitable, on average. But publishers will become even more risk-adverse with higher and higher costs, and I'd like to see games that are both creative and have high production value. I'd like to see designers with just a few successful titles get the chance to produce their Big Idea instead of churning out Another Clone VII. This is idealistic, I know.

There are some potential solutions to the increased costs. Once graphics slow down a bit, game developers won't have to completely start over from scratch with each game. Some code is already re-usable (MILES is a good example, as are the more generic engines which can last a year or three: NDL, Renderware, etc), and I can see more and more code being re-used this way. But art is the big expense, and the most obvious difference between "AAA" and "indie" games. When graphics tech reaches the photorealistic level, art resources might become re-usable, which could push down the costs of AAA games and allow some indie games to purchase better art without having to hire 40 artists for 2 years. There are problems of style, consistency, and some models/tools becomming too familiar (which can happen to actors as well), but I believe they are solvable.

Changes in game production can reduce costs. All the game companies I worked at wasted most of their employees time. Bad communication, long hours, poor management, non-existent code/assest ownership, etc. These all took their toll on both the schedule and the product. Everyone says "games aren't like (INSERT INDUSTRY HERE)," but they're still entertainment, they're still code, and we can learn from similar industries that have dealt with these problems successfully. I don't understand the reluctance of many developers to change their practices. Current practices "work," but that doens't mean they can't be vastly improved.

Another potential solution, which I've long advocated, is procedural content. I think Will Wright has the right idea, and his speech laid out the problems of development costs better than this panel. Procedural content is, in many ways, the hard solution. But I feel it has more potential.

Point Two: We need to separate money from distribution.

I strongly agree with this. but I can't see how to get there from here. Internet distribution is an option if you're big (Valve) and can fight a legal battle. Or if you're really small and have no retail presence. Or if your game is almost done, and you can talk a publisher into "just" a distribution deal. Otherwise, the publisher is going to be calling most of the shots. Having been in this situation myself, I'd prefer the development houses to be calling most of the shots (and retaining more IP rights and the financial ability to switch publishers).

Point Three: Unrelated...

I also thought Chris Hecker made a good point about how the next-generation hardware is great for graphics, but not so great for "sloppy" code. I don't know how true that is, but if so, it's just another sign that hardware designers aren't listening to (or even talking to) game designers and coders. I was hoping that the X-Box (which is easy to develop for, compared with most consoles) might reverse this trend, but apparently not.

Point Four: I agree with Lum.

It was a good rant.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 3:36:15 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Dave 'Fargo' Kosak: Laurel's economic assessments ("Cling to open source!") were transcripted accurately, though, and I have to agree that she was talking cloud-talk.

Actually, that appears to be one of her better points. DRM could kill all indies, even prevent them from accessing Direct-X libraries => pay hefty fee to MS or your program won't be certified as benign. I bet MS eventually will secure their vulnerable OS by granting themselves a new monopoly. They just don't dare to do it yet... Who knows, maybe all games eventually will be distributed through MSN.

And who can deny that Open Source will be critical as an infrastructure foundation for future MMO indie releases? Another point: indies can also collaborate by co-developing, cross-licensing and co-funding tools, libraries and frameworks under small-indie-only licenses if they can agree on a platform. *shrugs*

Posted Mar 18, 2005 4:01:34 PM | link

Tess says:

It seems to me that there are too many prima-donna game designers in this industry and not enough hard-nosed entrepreneurs who accept and understand their business realities.

I expect Matt's rant will have fallen on deaf ears, but one can always hope for a conversion or two. The rest will no doubt go on living in a bubble of grandiose pre-1999 self-delusion.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 5:03:38 PM | link

Anonymous Coward says:

I fail to see how an indepedent developer can reply to rants from professional developers. You're in a completely different ballpark.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 5:40:45 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Whoa.

I'm sure that will get more than a few responses, but let me be the first to say, whoa.

I think you may be confused on terms there, Anonymous Coward. "Independent" does not mean "hobbyist" or "non professional", it simply means "not associated with a big name company or publisher". Anyone who is getting paid to make games is "professional" whether they start their own studio or are signed with a big name company. There are many successful independent game developers out there (Three Rings, creators of Puzzle Pirates, for example), and other studios that started out as independent before getting bought by a larger company or signing a contract with a larger company (like Cryptic Studios, creators of City of Heroes).

Being an indie developer does not make a person any less professional or any less knowledgeable about the industry. There's a whole separate set of problems when you own your own company than when you work for a big corporation, but we're all still professional game developers. Matt and other indie developers like him are just as much a part of the professional game industry as Warren Spector or Greg Costikyan (and more, I would argue, than Brenda Laurel, but that's a different subject).

Please do not confuse independent game developers -- who invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money, who round up Venture Capitalist and other types of funding, and who try to make the best, most original games while fighting against the derivative stuff put out by the big studios -- with hobbyist game developers, who have a "day job", who don't invest their own money or round up other investors, and who often use level editors or other free tools created by professionals to create their games.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 6:08:25 PM | link

Scott says:

...yeah. Anyone who has to worry about making a payroll isn't a hobbyist any more. In fact independent developers probably are even more "professional" due to their having to make more from less.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 6:16:20 PM | link

Blake says:

It's a lot easier to comment on something already written (as I am doing) and take small silly little jabs at people. I don't know why or how you had this posted as an open letter, because it's a bunch of trash. If my friend wrote something, and then I just wrote unthoughful answers just so people could hear ME and what I had to say, because I think I'm THAT awesome; could I be as cool as you?? You've posted quite likely the BIGGEST flamebait I've ever seen. Congrats.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 6:27:07 PM | link

Peter says:

I don't develop games. I don't care to. My passions live elsewhere but I do love to play a good game. I have recently started to play Fallout 2 again, a game that pales in comparison graphically to games of today (I believe it's seven years old). I'm certainly not unique. There are many individuals out there like me (who knows how many). A game can be great even without outdated graphics. It would seem that graphics and physics underly a good portion of the game developer rants and responses.

I believe there is an upper bound at how good a game can look before increase in what is visually differentiable by a human is outpaced by the effort to make that increase. Probably something similar to (x, log(x)) where x is effort.

It's all about expectations. The market is wide open and there's plenty of room for developers to create games for niche markets and make a living off of it.

As an aside, this is healthy discussion for a fledgling industry.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 6:48:38 PM | link

Someone Else says:

To: Samantha LeCraft

I don't think "Anonymous Coward's" response was, in any way, meant to imply that "Independent" meant "Hobbyist". I actually agreed with "Anonymous Coward's" response for this reason: The ranters (e.g. Warren and Greg) were complaining about the corporate way of doing things, and the constraints that are placed on them by the corporation. Matt's response is often "but that's not true". The problem is that Matt can't really talk about the frustrations of working under a corporation, can he? Matt makes a valid point that you don't have to work under corporate constraints if you go independent, but that does not invalidate the point that there are plenty of frustrations working for the corporation. I don't think your complaint that independent != hobbyist is valid because "Anonymous Coward" never said independent = hobbyist -- that's what you read into it.

Posted Mar 18, 2005 7:11:49 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

"Someone Else". Right. Listen, most of us here are professionals, but even if you aren't, please respect the integrity of this community and have the decency to post with your real name, or at least pick one screenname and stick with it. And have a real email address to go along with it. Honestly, I couldn't care less who you are, but its disrespectful to post the way you have been.

"Anonymous Coward" 's implication (and one that you uphold, surprise surprise) was that Matt isn't a professional game developer because he's independent. Nothing could be further from the truth, and few things could be more insulting.

If you are paid to make games you are a professional game developer. Period. It doesn't matter if its your own name on the letter head or EA's logo, you're a professional as long as you get paid to make games.

Matt's point in all this is that people who work for big companies complain that their way to make games is broken, and yet they completely ignore any other method of making games. If you don't like making sequels, don't like retailers dictating development decisions, and don't want to deal with publishers, go independent and self-publish. Problem solved.

As further proof that the panelists are willfully ignoring the independent side of game development, Warren Spector says: "We’re the only medium that lacks an alternate distribution system." I'm sure that all the indies who self-publish on the web would be surprised to hear that. Boxes on shelves are only one form of distribution. You can't complain that there's a problem and then ignore the solutions that have already been proven to work.

And how do you know that Matt doesn't know what he's talking about? There are a lot of independent developers who only go indie after years and years of working for big corporations. I don't know Matt well enough to know if he's one of those, but if he's seen both sides of professional game development, both corporate and independent, wouldn't he be in a perfect position to point out the failings of the panelists' arguments? Even if he's only ever been an independent game developer, what's wrong with pointing out that there are other ways of doing things, besides how corporations do things?

Posted Mar 18, 2005 8:16:56 PM | link

Kripto says:

For the most part I agree with your assesment about the rants of the developers. What I disagee with is you're general attitude. Game developers who have been in the industry for a while have seen the industry change. Not necessarily for the better. Back in the old days, games were more fun! Look at the re-releases of the Activision stuff. We don't always need a very high res environment to blow eachother up in. We don't need billions of polygons to have fun, and we don't need multi-thousand dollar systems to play the games to have fun, but that is what the gaming industry wants us to believe. I still like games like nethack for a reason.
Its easy to get caught up in the game spin the companies like to throw. I've been drooling over a PSP since I've heard about it. Will I get it? Probably not. Why? Because its way too expensive, there are few games for it and they are way too expensive. So have fun bashing on eachother for getting the word out about how things are, Im going to continue to enjoy my old but fun and simple games. They are just games after all..

Posted Mar 18, 2005 8:16:56 PM | link

Exitium says:

I hate to say it but Matt, you are out of touch with reality.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 1:20:18 AM | link

Aaron Pulkka says:

I can understand not wanting to go as far as Brenda here, but to ignore the basic thrust of the panel is not wise either.

The game industry has been going through a growth and consolidation phase, that is now leading to some changes are that clearly not developer (or consumer) friendly. Sure, we can all hide in our garages and pretend it isn't happening, or someone can sound the alarm.

I am not sure if this is an aside, or cuts right to the heart of the matter, but take a close look at XNA and think about the impact it may have on the independents that do choose to buck the system. True, Nintendo started it by making the FamiCom a closed system. Anyone could make cartridges for the Atari 2600 and this led to some problems. The solution Nintendo chose, in order to prevent games from being made that they thought might reflect poorly on their brand AND to ensure that they received revenue from every single game made for their platform, was to close it up. If you wanted to develop for Nintendo, you had to more than ask permission, you had to prove yourself and sell yourself.

Fast forward to 2005 and we have multiple closed gaming platforms, all built on the Nintendo model, but anyone can just run off and build stuff for the PC, right? For now that's true... but take a close look at XNA and the tools that surround it (sticky seeming, aren't they?), think about DRM, XBox Live! Micro-payments, Longhorn (filesystem in a database, anyone?) and give some thought to the implications of all the concern about 'security'.

Who decides the budgets for games? Who decides what gets released? For the consoles, the hardware vendors do, in conjunction with the distributors (with some of the publishers playing a dual role). On the PC, it is an open field with lots of alternative distribution models (albeit relatively tiny channels, they unarguably exist), for now. Sure, some security warnings may pop-up when 'unsigned' code or code signed by an 'unknown' vendor is run, for now, but it is really hard to imagine that a switch can be flipped to simply reject 'unauthorized' code, especially in a Longhorn/XNA world. The XBOX and the PC are merging. Where will our alternatives be in the future? Seems odd to me that people skirt around this issue. Seems odd that people talk about alternative distribution channels, as if they don't exist. Maybe they are sounding the horn as a warning that these channels may be closed up too. Then what do independents do?

I realize a MUD coder may not care. Your MUDs probably run on Linux or FreeBSD and people access them with a terminal client. But for people that do enjoy making games that require more than telnet, there may be trouble ahead (for the record, I have nothing against MUDs -- in my past, I spent a substantial amount of my time playing and programming in them). Its natural for people to want their work to reach as wide an audience as possible you would expect that this would be getting easier with the advancements in technology, but it seems that it may be getting harder instead.

Telling those that sound the alarm to stop whining may not be the higher ground. Remember, this talk was billed as an over-the-top grousing session. This was supposed to stir things up and initiate discussion. Seeing as this made it onto Gamasutra and your letter hit Slashdot, I would say it is off to a good start.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 2:58:15 AM | link

Wagner James Au says:

> Who gives a shit about video games on the
> global scale of human suffering. Video games
> are played by the idle rich.

Sorry, this is just wrong. While it's narrowly true that regions without electricity do not have video games (obviously), that actually covers only a small part of the world's poor. Video games are certainly pervasive in the developing nations, and in underdeveloped nations, too. To take but one example, I've been to Cambodia, one of the poorer nations in Asia, and yes, they play videogames there. Or why not another: in Saddam's Iraq, where nearly all but the government and party elite and family members connected to them made subsistence wages, still, the people played videogames.

Why do poor people play video games, despite all that human suffering around them? Well, partly *because* of all that human suffering around them:

http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2004/01/20/baghdad_gamer/

That the PS2 is openly sold at all is actually another benefit of the war's aftermath, for under U.N. sanctions, units of the Sony console were apparently classified "dual use" devices which Saddam's scientists might bundle up to create a supercomputer, for use in long-range missile guidance. But Zeyad says the PS2 was still available under the dictator's regime, despite that interdiction: "They were smuggled through Jordan and Turkey. Most of these came from Southeast Asia and the United Arab Emirates."

Despite postwar price drops, he continues, "Computers and consoles are not affordable for the majority of Iraqis, and that is why there are so many Internet, LAN, and console cafes opening all over Iraq for people who can't afford them." For as he recently wrote on Healing Iraq, "Iraqis are hardcore gamers. Almost every neighborhood in Baghdad has what you might call a 'videogame cafe' with several consoles where people can play for about a dollar an hour ... . We have a special gamers' district at Bab Al-Sharj at the heart of the city, where you can find hundreds of videogame vendors."

Posted Mar 19, 2005 3:51:22 AM | link

Exitium says:

Market realities: It's a lot easier said than done. Let's see you come up with a few bilion dollars to get the ball rolling. Until then, game development will always be tied to Wal-mart retail policies. It's funny how a nameless MUD developer can try to lecture industry veterans and real game developers like Warren Spector on the nature of game development and market realities when the reality is that this MUD developer has never seen more than a few hundred dollars of game sales in his entire life.

It's like having to listen to Billy Bob the Trailer Park Landlord give Donald Trump a lesson on land development and market realities. Give me a break, please.

Startup costs for indie game development might be low to nil, but the end results usually aren't very pretty, and they certainly can't contend with any real game. It's similar to making movies - while you can get a good indie movie every now and then, most indie directors can't afford to hire real talent or pay for the production costs required in a real blockbuster movie with good visuals and sound effects. The exception to this would be Richard Linklater, of course, but for every Richard Linklater there are a thousand or so Polonia Brothers ( http://www.somethingawful.com/articles.php?a=447 ).

It's not the same with music development - any indie musician can just as easily create an album that trumps a big name album in both style and talent. The only thing he'll likely fall short on would be sales, due to lack of marketing.

Quote:
>>And yet, according to Warren and Greg, we and others
>>like us apparently don’t exist at worst or are
>>aberrations at best. That’s nonsense and I’m calling
>>them on it.

In the world of game development, Mark's development company is relatively meaningless, along with all 200 of his subscribers. I'd like to know how many kids and their parents, teenagers or adults would take one of his text-based games over a title like Spore, Dragon Age, Quake 4, or Grand Theft Auto 4. I doubt that even a tenth of that number would pick one of his text-based games over Geneforge. At least Jeff doesn't speak out of turn and understands market realities better than this schmuck who claims that nil-production cost game development is a viable alternative to the mass market. It's like he's saying that Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman would be successful as a pay-to-read blog publishers if they opted out of publishing actual books. It sounds like somebody needs a wake up call.

Quote:
>>And guess what? You’re free to make games that
>>operate by word of mouth. Our single biggest source
>>of customers, with a 200% advantage over the 2nd
>>biggest source, is word of mouth. I am positive we
>>are not unique. Are you going to make a game that
>>sells 2 million copies this way? Probably not. But
>>then, it’s not going to cost anything like a game
>>that sells 2 million copies will either.

Much good "word of mouth" advertising did for Beyond Good & Evil, a triple A title with triple A ratings that completely failed to make a mark in the market due to one simple fact: Ubisoft didn't advertise it. You might ask, "Where's the proof?": Ubisoft didn't advertise the game as part of an experiment to see if good games could sell on word of mouth basis alone. The experiment wasn't a 'failure' per se. On the contrary, the experiment proved that it impossible to make a profit with a triple A title with a few million dollar budget that is only advertised through word of mouth.

It's rather amusing that this idiot tries to compare the small amount of profit he makes through his text-based MMO sales to the amount of profit a triple A, million dollar budget title would make on the open market. Unlike him, I'm quite positive that profits made from word of mouth based advertising are unique to nil-development cost titles like text-based MMOs. What's to lose when you don't spend a single cent on game development? It stands to reason.

Quote:
>>Wal-Mart drives development decisions from people
>>who choose to make games to sell in Wal-Mart. No
>>more, no less. If you want to make games that
>>Wal-Mart will sell, be my guest. Lots of money to be
>>made there, no doubt about it. Of course, many
>>developers will have to censor themselves to even
>>get a game on its shelves. There’s nothing
>>inherently wrong with self-censorship, but let’s not
>>pretend that the only way to support yourself while
>>making games is to work on the AAA titles that
>>Wal-Mart carries.

Why not? Wal-Mart is easily the single biggest source of revenue when it comes to game sales. If a game fails to sit on the shelves at Wal-mart, the chance of it being a good seller is much, much lower. I do not think that anyone is 'pretending' that the only way to support themselves while making games is to work on AAA titles that Wal-Mart carries. On the contrary, it is reality that forces itself on game development. It might be profitable for some shmuck like Mr. Mark here to work on text-based MMOs, but without big budgets, games like Half Life 2, GTA3, The Sims and yes, even Fallout would have never been made possible. As VD stated in his rebuttal, "Well, anything else costs a lot of money and is IMPOSSIBLE for an independent studio without publisher's paying for development. There is nothing wrong with trying to make a game that doesn't look like ass."

Quote:
>>Sure, we can do a lot worse. The restaurant industry
>>loses 90% of new restaurants according to restaurant
>>industry people I’ve talked to. 80% would be a big
>>improvement. The people starting those restaurants
>>are a LOT like most startup game developers. They
>>think that because they like food, they can run a
>>restaurant.

That sounds like a bullshit statistic you just pulled out of your ass to support your flimsy argument. In my two years of being in the restaurant/hotel management college, not once did I hear of such a ridiculous statistic. The restaurant business is very different from the game development industry based on one simple fact: supply and demand. So long as people have money and they need to eat, restaurants will be around. You can't eat 2 day old food, much less 2 year old food. In game development, on the other hand, gamers can survive on 5 year old titles that haven't gone stale. And now for a real statistic: restaurants make up to 700% in profits when you count everything including the costs of transport, service, overhead (electricity and gas bills), and materials. Game developers, including game publishers, don't make anywhere as much profit. People who operate restaurants can afford to take in losses because millions of dollars in investment don't hang over their heads like a Sword of Damocles. Screw up the menu for a couple of weeks and you might find yourself losing ten thousand dollars. Screw up a game, and you just lost 3 million dollars and any chance of finding future contract work with publishers.

Quote:
>>I’m guessing not. Are you really concerned about
>>games, or are you just pissed off that you’re not
>>getting a bigger piece of the pie?

Reality: games cost money to make. What's the point of directing an ad hominem argument at Warren Spector?

Quote:
>>Besides, we don’t lack alternative distribution
>>systems. Downloadable or web games are clearly
>>viable. They may not be viable for all kinds of
>>games (obviously) but so what? A game based around
>>cooking the perfect risotto isn’t viable either.
>>Should we be bitching about that?

As Saint Proverbius pointed out to me earlier in a thread at the RPG Codex (www.rpgcodex.com) : not too many people, even those on broadband, are willing to download 3 gigabytes of content when they can easily walk down to their closest EB Games or Wal-mart and grab a copy off the shelves for the same price.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 4:11:09 AM | link

Brask Mumei says:

About restaurant failure rates:
http://www.restaurantowner.com/public/302.cfm

I'd point out that the 90% rule seems to be a well established myth. Thus, it seems rather inappropriate to claim that he invented the statistic purely for this argument.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Mar 19, 2005 4:44:34 AM | link

Paul Edmondson says:

Matt, it's all well and good to discuss the noble efforts of "independent" game makers with respect to the "terrors" of the industry, but I think a major point is being missed here. Games did not make their headway into the household with "garage" developers. The ubiquitous presence of video games came through corporate support and investment, companies willing to invest in publishing, and companies willing to sell.

You cannot power an industry on word-of-mouth, and it is silly to think that ego or greed is the only reason that one would want to distribute their game far and wide using more traditional channels. If I have a good idea, I want to share it and have people see it. If I have more experimental, risky, and off-the-wall game concepts to try out, it'd be nice to have a solid financial footing to be able to afford to lure good people to work with me and develop those.

Talent is a limited resource. If I can't provide incentives for those people to work with me, I'm severely limiting the scope of what I can produce. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that bigger is necessarily better. I'm just saying that without the right money, bigger (and maybe better) isn't an option. Never mind the polish, an ultra-small independent developer could not provide the infrastructure necessary to power a game like World of Warcraft.

There are good high-budget games out there, just like there are good high-budget movies out there. And contrary to what various blogs and rants might suggest, creativity is still alive and well in many of the big houses.

Sure, there is a niche for independents as there is is film, books, and any other creative industry. But, like it or not, it is the corporate powerhouse players that feed the growth of the gaming world. You can't decry their criticisms of their part of the industry just because they don't have to be part of their industry. You're responding to a discussion by corporate gamemakers, for corporate gamemakers, about the corporate gamemaking industry.

Warren and Greg are not ignoring you and are not ignorant of your presence, they are just addressing a different audience. They are talking to professional career-minded developers who have graduated beyond the Silicon Valley garage business model. People who are not willing to "take an extra mortgage out, max out their credit cards, borrow from friends and family" to make a game, but rather want to work like mature adults doing something they love in any other industry.

Your problem is not so much with what they said, but rather that you think that the independent side of the game industry is better than the corporate side. That's fine, you're entitled to your opinion.

But they weren't talking to you.

They are trying to fix their problems, which as you have so eloquently explained, are not problems you have in your part of the industry. So perhaps you should take some of your own advice, and quit whining.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 5:13:46 AM | link

Alfred Norris says:

I love this rebuttal. Matt speaks with authority, not necessarily because of the size of his MUDs, but because he embodies the thesis of this article: No one is holding a gun to your head to make a boring, but AAA-, Wal-mart-ready title - Each game dev personally has to make a decision as to if they want more money or to stay true to creativity and make less money. You want more money? ok well then dont scream when you're making the next Zelda clone.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 8:15:07 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Neil> Matt's rant makes me think about Terra Nova itself, especially how accessible it is as a forum for every kind of game developer and enthusiast (developer-wanna-be?). Commenting on posts could have been disallowed, but instead we have an arena into which we can throw our own otherwise-unheard opinions.

Thanks for the compliment (although we shouldn't ignore forums like MUD-Dev as having the same function).

Terra Nova has been offered commercialization in the past, but we said no. One of the reasons we could say is that we're primarily academics. Academics have a thing called 'academic freedom.' It often drives state legislators nuts, but the gist of it is this: I continue to get paid a decent, living wage, no matter what I say or do, until the day I die. It helps us from being bought by anybody.

And this, I believe, opens up another distribution channel for games: Academia. It's actually starting to happen, too; witness the Serious Games movement. Now, things like that still have the flavor of purchase; instead of making games for 25 million Rambo-wannabes, you're making games that help Professor Jones teach biochemistry or the Pentagon reshape Iraq. It's still not games for games' sake.

But it will be. As places like SMU, ITU-Copenhagen, Wisconsin, Carnegie-Mellon, USC, and yes, my own program at Indiana, get going on game development curricula, you'll start to see PhD-level game-concept work. And it will not get marketed by word of mouth; the academic publishing and distribution system will kick in. Do you have any idea how many 'ordinary' 'uneducated' people actually play a scholarly role out there in the world? Millions. Just look at this blog. The universities make things, but there's a huge community of people who follow what we do and participate in it. In fact, without the effective donation of millions of dollars and hours from followers, partners, voters, students, and well-wishers, universities couldn't happen. A University is a vast community of interest. When it makes games, the games will spread through that community and from there out into the world. Like a beacon in a dark world - waxing heroic here - your local campus shines a light to others, who then carry it further.

And the critical difference from commercial distribution models, is in the incentives of the prime movers. I really don't care about money - not because I'm zen - NO! - but because I just don't have to. So if / when I generate games from our program at IU, you'll know that making money was not the point. And, having fun was not the point (although of course to be any good, it's got to be fun too). No, the point would have been to make games that are interesting at the very most sophisticated level of human experience.

Wait just a little while and those mid-level indie projects will become viable through the academic channel. Making it happen is the job of a growing group of people - me, of course, but also folks like Ben Sawyer and Henry Jenkins and Jim Gee and Espen Aarseth and many others. Our job now is to convince the foundations, the agencies, the philanthropists, and especially the voters, whose taxes support so much of what we do, that games matter. When we do, the donors and legislatures will help us develop that third distribution model.

There's a lot of work to do. Many politicians are coming after games with knives in their teeth. Most parents are really frightened of them. The commercial sector would love to feed this tension, because it drives sales. We need to short-circuit that. We need to get game research centers up and running around the world, centers that demonstrate the technology independent of this cooked-up social and political heat.

Think of that every time you post here. We don't have to moderate this site because the quality of commentary is that damn good, and keeping it that way is up to you. In my effort to persuade senior admins and managers to support game research, I always mention Terra Nova as a place where they can see very high-level discussions of games and their impact. That means that every time you post here, you're helping prepare the world for a new era of game design that, I believe, is just around the corner.

You're helping us more than you probably realize. Thanks.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 10:08:41 AM | link

AFFA says:

Begin Snarky Comment Mode

Exitium said:
It's like he's saying that Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman would be successful as a pay-to-read blog publishers if they opted out of publishing actual books.

Yeah, kind of like how Instapundit doesn't make enough from ads to renew his IP address every other year. Or how Red vs. Blue can't get enough subscriptions to pay for the downloads. Or how Homestar Runner's mechandise sales aren't nearly high enough to let them quit their day jobs.

Unlike him, I'm quite positive that profits made from word of mouth based advertising are unique to nil-development cost titles like text-based MMOs.

Yeah, kind of like how Puzzle Pirates, Second Life, and Eve have been losing all their subscribers to games with more advertising...

End Snarky Comment Mode

No, an independent game company couldn't make WoW. But that doesn't mean they can't make a profit. More importantly, it doens't mean they're not making important contributions to the industry and to gamers. There are examples of small companies proving themselves with a few lower quality titles and getting venture capital for a AAA game (Mythic). Very cheap games can make alot of money (Deer Hunter, Bejewelled, etc). I can meet your examples and raise you one. It's just anecdotes.

Yes, it's kind of silly for an independent game developer to say that big studio's problems are irrelevant because independent games exist. But it's equally silly to whine about big studio problems... and then go back to work for a big studio. Rants can be entertaining, but I'm more interested in solutions these days.

I'm not worried about Microsoft. If they go too far with DRM and "security" (which will not affect my main security problem: the users), then they'll lose market share faster. Linux is almost user-friendly these days. And Macs are almost real computers now.

Okay, End Snarky Comment Mode for real this time.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 12:35:04 PM | link

Julian Oliver says:

Focus on what you're doing. If your games sell 20,000 copies, they've sold 20,000 copies whether other games have sold 2 million or 20 million. Your level of success is unaffected by the success of others unless you're playing the ego game, which is a poor idea, in my opinion.

Matt, I challenge you to find a Publisher (or IP Lawyer, Distributor, Bank Manager) that will look twice at your brilliant game design unless you can guarantee alot more than 20,000 sales these days. Not to mention software licenses cost a ton in themselves, under the banner of it's value as IP. Sure you can write an engine yourself, but it'll take you years and cost you your mortgage.

In this way the success of others does determine your own; it's called a market; an environment where the means of production and distribution (cost) is heavily influenced by third-party companies keen to make money from the big boys.

Finally publishers buy into game development projects by taking a share of IP, in this way small development teams end up not even owning what they make unless they can afford to publish it themselves. Open-source software for PC titles alleviates the load on development capital needed to get going (try that for a console title however), but that's only half the problem. No matter how good your game is, if it doesn't reach people they won't be able to find this out. It's not impossible of course, but defintely harder; as it stands now I doubt we'll hear too many stories like that of Prince of Persia (1989) in future, a game developed by father and son on a shoestring budget.

Of course there's always text-based games, they're much cheaper to make and distribute. Obvious to you of course, that's your niche.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 2:51:27 PM | link

yph says:

10% of the budget of what? 10% of the budget of a game 10 years ago? 10% of the budget of a game 10 years from now? Why let EA or Sony dictate how much you need to spend on a game? Setting your goals relative to an organization that's unrelated to you is foolish.

Well, don't forget that a huge portion of the games industry is in fact quite related to one of those organizations. And I believe this is talking past Mike's point entirely, which is that you have projects on both ends of the spectrum but what we need is stuff in the middle -- we need more than just the huge games and the quirky, eccentric (aka unpolished and low production quality) indies. I realize there are lots of games in that middle ground, but sometimes it feels like those kinds of projects are getting squeezed out.

Focus on what you're doing. If your games sell 20,000 copies, they've sold 20,000 copies whether other games have sold 2 million or 20 million. Your level of success is unaffected by the success of others unless you're playing the ego game, which is a poor idea, in my opinion.

I realize that you're telling us that it's perfectly possible to make games without them, and I agree with that. I used to work for Activision, and now work at an independent game company, so I definitely see the differences and the choices (although my personal route from one to the other was anything but direct). I agree that individual developers do have this choice, and that it's not as bleak as they made it sound.

But it's a little unfair to say that all gamemakers as a whole can ignore the big guys. That's denying the very real fact that, without EA and Sony and Activision and, yes, Wal-Mart, the games industry would be a hell of a lot smaller and less mature than it is now. My success is affected by theirs in a very real way.

When the game I'm working on (MMORPG set in a mythologically infused Roman Republic) comes out, it'll go up against World of Warcraft and EverQuest II and Guild Wars and all the rest. We don't need to sell as many boxes or have as many subscribers since our budget is lower, and I am not going to measure my success against theirs because I just don't have to. But it would be naive to say that I am not affected by their games and their success. The effect is both good (they are attracting more people to MMOs, and because of that more people will look at our game than would have otherwise) and bad (they've set certain expectations -- "raised the bar" -- on the kinds of features people want to see, because why play a game without those features when you can have them in this other game?), so I'm not complaining on the whole; I'm just saying that you can't deny it.

The problem isn’t the games industry. The problem is the way some people choose to look at it.

Those people are part of the games industry, so yes, the problem is part of the games industry.

Why this obsession with AAA titles if you are truly interested in games?

Because AAA titles are games too. This statement is showing that part of the industry the same disrespect you accused them of showing you.

I think Matt's rant is quite good, and there are some strong points, but I also agree with the posters that say it's pretty much a separate issue. Small developers exist, some of them are even making great games, and any individual working in the industry does have the choice to work for one if they like. That doesn't change the fact that the other end of the industry could use a little fixing, and that it exerts a very real influence on the small guys, like it or not.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 3:08:55 PM | link

Exitium says:

>>Yeah, kind of like how Instapundit doesn't make enough
>>from ads to renew his IP address every other year. Or
>>how Red vs. Blue can't get enough subscriptions to pay
>>for the downloads. Or how Homestar Runner's mechandise
>>sales aren't nearly high enough to let them quit their >>day jobs.
Oh, I'm sure a lot of them make enough money to cover their webistes, or even profits, but these people are few and far apart. If you'll bother to look up the history of Penny Arcade you'll learn that even when they were the most popular independent comic on the internet, they had trouble making ends meet inspite of their donation and merchandise-based profits.

It was only after they met this one businessman who used their talent to branch out into other fields of graphic design and launch an aggressive advertising campaign that they started to make a real profit. The first thing he did was to scrap their donation system I'm sure Homestarrunner operates on a similar advertisement-based system of generating revenue, or they'd be in as much trouble as PennyArcade was during the beginning, so it's really unfair to compare them with those websites that operate on word of mouth for advertising and donations and worthless merchanding for profits.

Anyway, the point is that I doubt the authors I mentioned would have even a hundredth of as much money that they have right now if they opted to go with a pay-for Blog system rather than mass market publishing.

It just doesn't work very well, considering that the internet itself is severely limited to people who own computers or have access to computers, and a lot of people with access to computers wouldn't necessarily have access to the internet, or even care about the blogs in question. Like Wal-mart and EB Games, mass market book publishers have a much wider reach than some website on the internet. They are established domains. The internet is still too young for alternative distribution systems, like downloading a game from STEAM, to actually work effectively on a massive basis. The company's bandwidth might not be a problem but the customers themselves may not own the bandwidth capable of downloading the game, credit cards to pay for the game especially if they're underaged, or even the time or patience to download 3 gigabytes worth of data on a 1Mbit broadband line.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 3:20:49 PM | link

radon says:

Sure, we can do a lot worse. The restaurant industry loses 90% of new restaurants according to restaurant industry people I’ve talked to. 80% would be a big improvement. The people starting those restaurants are a LOT like most startup game developers. They think that because they like food, they can run a restaurant.

-In response to this part of your rant, your full of shit. A lot of those little devs are just good and some are just bad. All of them are under some big name publisher too, so they are stuck with the simple fact that their games will not sell. With such an influx of games every year it is difficult for some of them to go above teh rest because of marketing campgains by companies like EA. They have to loose money. A publisher can only handle to produce around 10 games a year, 3 of those games will flop, 5 will break even, and 2 of them will be the hits for the year that pay for the 3 flops and have extra money for next years 10 games. Thats how they generate revenue. If we didnt have so many devs we wouldnt have a diversity of games and we would only get the super mainstream games that are total crap. Next time please think out your response to something like that.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 3:41:32 PM | link

David Kaye says:

Market realities: It's a lot easier said than done. Let's see you come up with a few bilion dollars to get the ball rolling. Until then, game development will always be tied to Wal-mart retail policies. It's funny how a nameless MUD developer can try to lecture industry veterans and real game developers like Warren Spector on the nature of game development and market realities when the reality is that this MUD developer has never seen more than a few hundred dollars of game sales in his entire life.

I don't know where you got such an intimate understanding of Iron Realms' finances, but if you think we can afford to employ ten full time developers on 'a few hundred dollars of game sales', I'd LOVE to know where you get your developers from.

Startup costs for indie game development might be low to nil, but the end results usually aren't very pretty, and they certainly can't contend with any real game.

'Real game' according to who? Newsflash: if someone buys a game and pays for it, that makes it a 'real game', whether it's Half Life 2, Achaea or Bejeweled. Same difference.

Some of those games cost millions to make, some cost a LOT less. If you want to make Half Life 2, accept that the money is going to have to come from somewhere, and is inevitably going to come with strings attached. If you're not happy about that, make something cheaper.

In the world of game development, Mark's development company is relatively meaningless, along with all 200 of his subscribers. I'd like to know how many kids and their parents, teenagers or adults would take one of his text-based games over a title like Spore, Dragon Age, Quake 4, or Grand Theft Auto 4.

Are you wilfully missing the point, or are you actually this stupid?

Matt is quite explicit about the fact that WE ARE NOT COMPETING with multimillion dollar AAA titles. We could not, even if we wanted to. You apparently assume that this means we can't run a profitable business with thousands of players.

You're wrong.

It's rather amusing that this idiot tries to compare the small amount of profit he makes through his text-based MMO sales to the amount of profit a triple A, million dollar budget title would make on the open market.

Again, you might want to stop making assumptions about how much money we make.

Anyway, let me spell it out for you one more time. If you want to make expensive titles, and you don't have millions of dollars sloshing around from cashing in your Microsoft stock options, you CAN make cheaper games. Thanks to the relative maturity of the Internet, you can even get those games into the hands of thousands of people relatively cheaply. This represents an enormous opportunity, if you know how to take advantage of it.

If you want to make a AAA title and you're not Gabe Newell, you're going to have to take someone's money. If you do that, you're going to cede a good chunk of creative control. You pays your money, you takes your choice, so to speak.

There are plenty of examples of people doing great on their own in the games business and elsewhere. Take Introversion, developers of Uplink and the upcoming Darwinia.

They made Uplink as 3 guys in their bedrooms, printed up the manuals and CDs themselves, and shipped them out as orders came in. Not as glam as the E3 booth babe route, but guess what? They made money, they built a fan following and now they can afford to do something a little bigger.

It's hard work being successful, and the hard fact of things is that failure is more likely than success. Take the risk, and you enjoy the rewards if you can make it work. If you fail, suck it up and try again. Or take a job, and don't bitch about not being allowed spend someone else's money the way you want to.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 5:15:25 PM | link

yph says:

David: I agree with most of what you said, especially about independent companies being able to make "real games" which are successful and profitable, but one small nitpick:

There are plenty of examples of people doing great on their own in the games business and elsewhere. Take Introversion, developers of Uplink and the upcoming Darwinia.

Introversion had the following quotes in this March's issue of GD Magazine: "I don't think you can do games like this anymore." And: "It's been more effort than we'd have really been happy with, if we knew about it at the start."

So even one of the success stories of indy games seem to think that they're getting squeezed a bit...

Posted Mar 19, 2005 6:23:33 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Julian Oliver wrote:

Matt, I challenge you to find a Publisher (or IP Lawyer, Distributor, Bank Manager) that will look twice at your brilliant game design unless you can guarantee alot more than 20,000 sales these days.

Any IP lawyer in the world will look at you twice. Just pay them what they want. Same with a bank manager, or a distributor. Don't have the money and can't come up with it? Get a job.

Sure you can write an engine yourself, but it'll take you years and cost you your mortgage.

Yeah, I guess I missed that part where you should be permitted to risk other people's money, but aren't willing to risk your time or money. Actually, that's called a job, and that's what you do when you don't want to take risk on yourself. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. A job is usually more secure than starting your own thing. You can be pretty sure there's going to be money to pay the mortgage at the end of the month.

The same people who are saying it's not possible now will find reasons, 3 years from now, for why they didn't make it but others who started now did. Just watch.

--matt

Posted Mar 19, 2005 6:37:50 PM | link

Exitium says:

>>Matt is quite explicit about the fact that WE ARE
>>NOT COMPETING with multimillion dollar AAA titles.
>>We could not, even if we wanted to. You apparently
>>assume that this means we can't run a profitable
>>business with thousands of players.
Matt apparently assumes that for a game to be an AAA title exempts it from being in any way innovative or true to the designer's intent. The mere existence of Will Wright's games, and Peter Molyneux's games to a lesser degree (though B&W was horribly drab) certainly goes to disprove this fallacious belief.

Oh, I'm sure you manage to run a profitable business (though it begs the question on whether the profit is a mere dollar) but your games can't contend with any of those in the big league, as you have stated, nor would most people even indulge the thought of playing them. Like every subculture I'm sure you take great pride in that small niche, an even smaller piece of which you happen to own.

>>Anyway, let me spell it out for you one more time. If
>>you want to make expensive titles, and you don't have
>>millions of dollars sloshing around from cashing in
>>your Microsoft stock options, you CAN make cheaper
>>games. Thanks to the relative maturity of the
>>Internet, you can even get those games into the hands
>>of thousands of people relatively cheaply. This
>>represents an enormous opportunity, if you know how to
>>take advantage of it.
No shit? I was never arguing against that point. But if you were a big game developer like Warren Spector and you could make games with big budgets, why wouldn't you? The whole point of Warren's rant, in case you misunderstood it, was that making games with big budgets usually came with too many strings attached - ones that hindered creativity and innovation. Would you deny that to be the case? Like many others, I hardly see your shoestring budget text games as a worthy alternative. All things considered, most gamers aren't content with playing, text-based games created on a shoestring budget and yearn for greater things.

As far as market realities go, it is the customers that drive the demand, and it is up to game developers to provide the supply. It's simple economics, really. I hope I don't have to spell that out for you any more than I already have.

>>If you want to make a AAA title and you're not Gabe
>>Newell, you're going to have to take someone's
>>money. If you do that, you're going to cede a good
>>chunk of creative control. You pays your money, you
>>takes your choice, so to speak.

Just what did you think Warren Spector's rant was about?

Posted Mar 19, 2005 7:15:14 PM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

I said most of what I wanted to say in the previous thread. But, I guess the way to get real attention is to send an open letter to an academic (*cough*) blog.

Anyway, I do have a few new thoughts.

Matt, when you say one thing and everyone else says the opposite it should give you pause. Most of us ranting about the games industry like this have seen things you have not; we've worked for large companies and seen things that make us upset. Most of us aren't just saying, "OMG, live is unfair and whatnot!" We see serious, fundamental problems with the industry and we're raising the alarm so that we can mobilize people to do something about it. Sure, perhaps it'd be nice to see more doing than ranting, but first things first.

Yes, being an indie game developer is an option. Hey, I'm doing it and doing a reasonable job of it, even if I'm not living the high life quite yet. But, I still think it's unreasonable to expect people to go through what I have had to go through in order to have a reasonable chance of actually making a game. You know what I'm talking about Matt; back in the day you offered me a job with a salary of little more than half what I was making at 3DO. I declined in favor of a job making three times what you offered. Perhaps your background make it a bit easier for you than it is for other people, but you can't deny that the road is perhaps a bit too hard in order to really encourage real change.

Yeah, you have yours and maybe I'll have my own proud success story in a few more years. We can strain ourselves as we pat ourselves on the back, but this isn't how the industry grows. This isn't how we continue to allow games to become a larger part of culture while trying to keep them innovative and fun. This isn't how we recognize and reward those that have blazed the paths we're following to make our living. This isn't the way we ensure the survival of the industry by stopping it from "eating its own young" as a colleague of mine says.

In the end, it's about the games. It's about allowing people to make games that push the envelope instead of having to tolerate endless sequels and clones. That next generation of talent you're so worried about is more likely to burn out from having to "pay their dues" than to avoid the industry because some people ranted at the GDC or post online. I want the next generation to make games. Sure, maybe I'm not going to profit as much when other people are able to make games to compete with mine, but the gamer side of me will be happier for a change; actually able to play games that bring back the sense of wonder that got me into this industry in the first place.

Remember, change doesn't happen because people accept the status quo.

Have fun,

Posted Mar 19, 2005 8:51:46 PM | link

Aaron Pulkka says:

> As far as market realities go, it is the customers that
> drive the demand, and it is up to game developers to
> provide the supply. It's simple economics, really.

Sorry to interject here, since I realize this was not your main point, but it is not that simple. Really. For the most part, the distributors / marketers / publishers are driving demand, not the consumers.

Saying that consumers drive demand is a gross over simplification. Sure, the consumers have an effect, but it is up to the distribution channel to decide how to interpret that effect and what I heard from the GDC rant is that at least some developers don't think they are interpreting it correctly.

Publishers keep pushing out slightly better crap than last year and people keep buying it, because it is indeed slightly better and they are choosing between the offerings on the shelf that the distributors choose to provide. Consumers drive demand? Sort of, except that there is a complex feedback loop setup with distribution that drives the demand through marketing, then decides what worked based on end-consumer sales. Not as simple as 'consumer demands -> developer creates -> distributor provides'.

In some cases titles break through and capture a market share in spite of poor marketing and lackluster distribution (like Katamari Damacy), simply because they are great games. But don't you think it would have sold a lot better with a big marketing campaign or maybe if it was even on the shelves of most stores? What do you think the distributors are going to do with the knowledge that it was a more popular game than they expected? I smell sequel, but that is missing the point.

Remember in the early 80s when nearly every arcade game Atari rolled out had a different set of controls and defined a new genre? That was a time of innovation and growth. The innovation faded, the games became commoditized and sequelized, and the arcades dried up.

Are we heading for a repeat in the home market? Probably not, because the market has already grown to a substantial enough size that it can feed off itself for a while rather than die (read: more layoffs, consolidation, a few surprise breakthrough hits that lead to a short burst of knock-offs and growth -- then repeat). For the game industry to actually grow, capture new audiences that currently don't play games, and provide opportunities for those that wish to make games (and have a talent for it) to actually make a decent living at it -- the current model isn't going to work. Everyone going off to make indie startups isn't going to work in the long run either, as it doesn't make it any easier for the consumer demand to find the supply. But maybe those that splinter off and go indie will be happier in the short run, and there is something to be said for that :)

Posted Mar 20, 2005 3:38:19 AM | link

Josh says:

Alice's write-up is quite good, but it does miss the bit where Warren Spector discussed indie games. He basically said that we have two models for making games: one for those that take < $200k and one for those that take > $10M (I'm not sure of the exact numbers he said). His point, as I recall it, was that there is lots of room in-between. By implication, these would be games that wouldn't be as polished graphically, but would have more freedom to experiment since the stakes would be lower. There would be more room for variety and more room for failure, without the limitations of the indie scene. He didn't spend a lot of time on this point, so it was easy to miss, but I think Warren's speech live was better than he has been given credit for.

Posted Mar 20, 2005 5:25:48 AM | link

Gavan Woolery says:

Matt...you bring up some good points, as I think Warrren does also. What I think you should take in to account is that the industry does not have to be black and white. It doesnt have to be seperated by people who make very little but make good games versus people who make a lot but sell their soul in the process. I think in the VERY near future (I'm speaking within this decade), we will see an indy game with a ridiculously low budget that will blow away commercial competition and earn millions. Once this happens (and it will...it is only a matter of probability and lots of monkey indy game developers pounding on keyboards randomly), then something dramatic might happen to the commercial industry. They might just realize it doesn't take millions to create a hit game.

Why are indy games doing so poorly? Because MOST OF THEM SUCK, or there is an equivalent commercial alternative with more polish. If an indy game is to succeed, as I mentioned in a post in my previous thread on your last topic, it needs to be:

-GENUINELY ORIGINAL
AND
-FUN

Yeah, sure, Gish is pretty damn original. But its not really that fun...in fact, it is kind of tedious. A lot of the indy games that are fun (and there are quite a few), really are not original.

I think there might be a solution that would really help independent game development. Centralization. If there is one page that lists all the indy games, gives info on them, sells them perhaps, and provides honest reviews of them, people might know where to look for something original and uncorrupted by the commercial industry. Just a thought...

Posted Mar 20, 2005 2:49:05 PM | link

Julian Oliver says:

Matt Mihaly wrote:


The same people who are saying it's not possible now will find reasons, 3 years from now, for why they didn't make it but others who started now did. Just watch.

From what I read here, no one is saying it's impossible so much as relatively harder; and this is in itself a valid basis for investigation into alleviating (largely economic) impediments to game development.

As a matter of fact I specialise in training game-development students in the use of free and open-source software - as alternatives to proprietary, restrictively licensed tools - and I'm confident FOSS will have alot to offer the indie scene. However, there is still much work to be done in developing alternative means of distrubtion (no, we can't expect people to download gb's of game.), legal protection and a safe investors market for smaller projects. People want to make games. That some say it's difficult ought to be heard with open ears, not shrugged off as a lazy deferral.

Of course you'd suggest the indie developer should just get a haircut and work for a few years first to meet these costs. Doing what? Working as a Patent Lawyer or Real estate agent? My solution was to seek arts funding, something I've been doing successfully in collaboration and in solo practice for close to 10 years, but these projects have no market ambition - as such they will not be as culturally transformative as titles widely distributed in a mass market. This however is a trade-off many have chosen in their quests of charting new applications for the medium.

However with ambitious designs and cultural agendas come higher development costs, floated over longer stretches of development time. Alternative content delivery mechanisms like that of the web suit java, flash and text based games but not those that seek to extend upon existing platforms like consoles or larger PC games; in fact the former is nearly innaccessible to emerging developers without paying costly license fees (a legal right to develop for a platform).

Sure, in your idealised sense, there is of course no excuse, and there will certainly be exceptions to the widely reported experience of small teams that the conditions for producing and distributing an innovative game are becoming increasingly difficult. This however should not found a basis for ignoring what they are telling us; rather it should be the beginning of a strategic consolidation of strengths and the directed development of new pathways into the market. In short, a constructive conversation.

Posted Mar 20, 2005 6:30:51 PM | link

Michael Hartman says:

Congratulations Exitium. You were such an insufferable, uneducated, clueless ass in your post you forced me to join in on this already huge discussion.

> Exitium babbled:
>
> It's funny how a nameless MUD developer can
> try to lecture industry veterans and real
> game developers like Warren Spector on the
> nature of game development and market realities
> when the reality is that this MUD developer has
> never seen more than a few hundred dollars of
> game sales in his entire life.

Do you know what is even funnier?

There are "nameless MUD developers" who make more money PERSONALLY that a huge percentage of game developers working for these mega-billion dollar companies.

If the issue is just MONEY, what really matters at the end of the day? How much money your game made, or how much money YOU made?

For me, when the question is money, I care about *MY* income, not my GAME'S income.


> Exitium sputtered:
>
> It's like having to listen to Billy Bob
> the Trailer Park Landlord give Donald Trump
> a lesson on land development and market
> realities. Give me a break, please.

Actually, its more like the owner of a successful, fine dining local restaurant who makes $500,000 a year lecturing the manager of a McDonalds on how to run a restaurant.

Sure, McDonalds makes a lot more money, and maybe even that one McDonalds, but the guy who owns the successful "niche" local restaurant probably makes a lot more money personally.


> Exitium gurgled:
>
> It's rather amusing that this idiot tries
> to compare the small amount of profit he
> makes through his text-based MMO sales to
> the amount of profit a triple A, million
> dollar budget title would make on the open market.

My god...... You are so clueless it is actually getting PAINFUL to read your tripe.

Do you realize that in niche markets (like text MUDs), many customers are often willing to happily spend over $1,000 per person?

How many subscribers to World of Warcraft would spend that?

If the question is one of PROFIT and RETURN ON INVESTMENT, the indie games very often crush big budget games.


> Exitium drooled:
>
> It might be profitable for some shmuck like
> Mr. Mark here to work on text-based MMOs

Are you not even smart enough to get his name right?

Incidentally, can you please name the successful games you've created?

Since you apparently feel like you determine who is a "schmuck" or not, you must have a lot of credentials.


> Exitium spewed:
>
> But if you were a big game developer like
> Warren Spector and you could make games
> with big budgets, why wouldn't you?

How can one person be the sole owner of so much stupidity.

Why?

Maybe because you wan't to make a game the big companies don't want to make?

Maybe because you want to OWN your game, your code, your design, your license, and everything else?

Maybe because you want to do things YOUR way?

Maybe because you don't want to have to dumb your game down for a TEEN rating so it can be sold at Wal-Mart?

Did you even think about this topic before you spewed out your multitude of moronic, uneducated posts?

Posted Mar 21, 2005 9:45:07 AM | link

Michael Hartman says:

> Gavan Woolery wrote:
>
> What I think you should take in to account
> is that the industry does not have to be black
> and white. It doesnt have to be seperated by
> people who make very little but make good games
> versus people who make a lot but sell their
> soul in the process.

What I think a lot of people really need to take into account is that the PERSONAL PROFIT from indie games can often be equal to or greater than what these people are making by working for huge companies.

> Gavan Woolery wrote:
>
> Why are indy games doing so poorly? Because MOST OF THEM SUCK

You made a two mistakes there.

First, indy games AREN'T doing poorly. You just don't play them and apparently don't know much about them.

Second, they don't suck. Some of them are awesome. It seems to me that about an equal percentage of big budget games suck.

Posted Mar 21, 2005 9:47:41 AM | link

Scott says:

So, unsurprisingly, it sounds like people in this thread want everything.

They want the design innovation that is fostered by small independent shops. They want the polish and graphic presentation that comes from spending millions of dollars and years of development. Oh, and they want stuff like the games they're used to. But different, please.

Unsurprisingly, most people in this thread seem disappointed with the state of the gaming industry. I would also hazard a guess they're not too happy with capitalism and their parents made them stay in their room too much as children.

Matt's original thesis was that he read the GDC rant transcript and said, quite reasonably, "Um, I'm personally aware that innovation is possible." Now, if you want EA or Vivendi or Ubi to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on your pet design theory? That may be a touch more difficult. And it should be. The market doesn't work that way. Complaining that it doesn't may be personally fulfilling, but it doesn't do a whole lot towards changing things.

Meanwhile, in the MMO space in particular, there's plenty of innovation going on. Yet the most popular MMO in the Western hemisphere is one that has a derivative design and millions of dollars in polish. In related news, Britney Spears sold more records than Mission of Burma. Cry more?

Posted Mar 21, 2005 11:12:47 AM | link

Reid says:

I'm rather surprised at the number of people who didn't understand what Brenda was getting at. I suppose it was rather heady, but that doesn't mean she didn't have an important point. As Fargo said, she wants to see games that teach us about who we are and some of you scoffed at that, thinking that Games are just for fun, for rich people who have nothing to do.

You can't be further from the truth. Games are for everyone, they should be for everyone and accessible by all, rich, poor, atheltic and disabled. We haven't reached the potential of what games can teach us, but one day they'll teach us things about ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies and our inner demons that we never knew before.

Games are important to helping shape an individual's mind and eventually society as a whole. As a developer, my goal is to leave a legacy, influence and inspire people with MY creations. I could achieve my goal via the indie route but it's not likely. If I want to inspire millions I need the publishers to support my vision. I think those on the Rant Panel may be in the same boat. They have grand visions of what they want to accomplish in games yet the realities of the industry in its current state create immense walls that block their paths. For what they want to do, I agree with them.

-Reid

Posted Mar 21, 2005 1:02:27 PM | link

Gavan Woolery says:

To Michael Hartman

You are completely right -- no Im not being sarcastic.

To tell the truth, Im not sure why I wrote that, being an indy developer myself. There are a lot of good independent titles out there...I think I got caught up in my general rage and just needed to shout something.

What I really wanted to get off my mind was:
Most indy games I see don't take the agility of being an independent developer to something truly awesome with their game...a lot of indy developers just make less polished commercial games. I think there are a lot of good indy games out there, don't get me wrong, I just think there should be a LOT more innovation, given an indy developer doesnt have to operate under the constraints of their investors ideas. Just a thought, take it for what its worth.

Posted Mar 22, 2005 12:25:48 AM | link

Xilren says:

>Reid said...
>As a developer, my goal is to leave a legacy, influence and inspire people with MY creations.

Just have to ask, is that your PRIMARY goal? I would hope not, else your high minded mission will probably get stuck inside an unfun, preachy game system and thus make little to no impact.

Games are first and foremost about one and only thing: amusement, or entertainment if you like. Can entertainment also inform, educate and shape opinions? Absolutely. But all too often in other forms of artistic expression the artists (be it books, movies, tv, music) who are trying primarily to do something other than entertain, gives creations very few can appreciate.

So, as long as you make fun games, preach on brother!

Xilren

Posted Mar 25, 2005 12:10:03 PM | link

Sam says:

It seems to me that a lot of nay-sayers have missed the point of the response. I thought that Matt was fairly explicit in saying that he is not in any way belittling the achievements of the developers on the panel or the validity of their chosen system of development - he was just saying that if you DO chose to work under that system, then don't complain about the inherent limitations of the system. The point is that griping over how restrictive the top-level commercial games industry is because it doesn't allow a developer full creative scope seems a trifle hypocritical, and is also sophistry. Obviously, there ARE avenues that a developer can pursue if they have a wonderful idea but can't get the corporate funding - they just won't make you millions of dollars. Of course, it's all about the game, isn't it? Riiiigghhht...

On another note, I personally find the idea of using computer games for the betterment of mankind in third-world conditions fairly amusing. It's all well and good to theorise about the uses games might have - if the third-world was not, in fact the third-world and had enough money to support a technology infrastructure that encouraged leisure time gaming. If you are truly that passionate about it, then start now and do some aid work. Then, one day, you might see your dreams come true and video games helping the needy in some obscure and abstract way.

Posted Mar 26, 2005 12:23:42 AM | link

Jim S. says:

I think everyone is still talking past each other. The reason Matt felt compelled to post his letter was, IMO, that people complaining about their part in the industry were refusing to acknowledge his (Matt's) part as a legitimate option, even though he saw it as an alternative that would negate their complaints.

I really wanted to go on a rant of my own about Exitium, but Michael beat me to it. I don't even particularly like Achaea, but those comments had me furious as well. Thanks for getting my blood pressure back into a healthy range, Michael.

Maybe some people have forgotten (or are painfully ignorant of the fact) that in the not so distant past, MMOGs were *all* MUDs. Anyone that looks down on MUDs needs to explain to Richard how they haven't actually been a forefather of modern gaming.

MUDs relate well to the indie gaming industry as a whole. You could point to MUDs like Achaea as "success" stories and one of the hundreds that close or never fully open as "failures". However, the genre itself is wide open. Anyone with the skill to make a game and write code can do so. The "success" of the game, aka playerbase size, is determined by the game's quality and how well the game's name gets around.

If you make a quality MUD, spread the word about it, and maintain it, it will be successful. It would take quite a while to reach the levels of Achaea (much less the entire span of Iron Realms), but with time and effort it would happen. With the medium of the internet available, how does this not apply to the rest of the gaming industry?

I think in part it is because, until the graphical MMOG era, graphical games were "throwaways". This meaning that you bought a game, played it till it got boring, and then tossed it. MMOGs are striving for a lot more longevity than the games before. Doesn't this factor of a longer lifespan actually play to the indies' favor? It gives them time to continually build a playerbase (if they maintain the content), improve on basically everything, and spread the name.

Posted Mar 26, 2005 12:31:48 AM | link

Darniaq says:

MMOGs are striving for a lot more longevity than the games before. Doesn't this factor of a longer lifespan actually play to the indies' favor?
Some of the neophytes such as myself have been discussing this of late, though we've been talking specifically about the MMOGs themselves, and splitting them, vaguely and unassuredly, between "World" and "Game". Aside from the constant redefinition of those terms, many of us generally think that a "World", which has proven to have a narrower appeal (less mass-friendly), also has proven to have a longer appeal (retention). How this translates from MUD to MMOG I gladly leave to the more learned and experienced. But I do feel the corrolation within MMOGs somehow relates to MUDs vs MMOGs.

In my humble opinion, the genre needs both. It needs the WoW's to introduce the genre to many people who knew of it but previously ignored it. It needs the UOs or SWGs to retain the more loyal fans of the concept of virtual lifestyle. By extension, and due to the complexities of delivering a World, I've been wondering if it wouldn't be better for a developer to start an MMOG as a Game and then transitioning into a world (ie, start with combat and questing then introduce housing and creative player-skill-driven crafting) with the "Hollywood" launch (a term I first read here and seems very a propos).

Posted Mar 28, 2005 12:33:23 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Wow, I stepped out for a week and missed all the fun. OK, so here's an academic's reply to this thread:

Warren Spector's point has been missed by many. It's simply that there is a bottleneck in distribution and that this affects the kind of games that get made. That's all, but it's a big point. Is this indicative of personal traits on the part of the speaker or the respondents? I could care less. The important takeaway point is that structure affects conduct, and that there is a problem with the structure.

I have this all laid out with fun flow charts and such here in an article from a couple of years back:
https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/dcwill/www/WilliamsIJMM4-1.pdf

but more simply it's like this:
Developer->Publisher->Distributor->Retailer->Public

If you get too few players at any one stage (what we call "concentration"), you get reduced competition and a bottleneck that affects the adjoining stages.

So, to paraphrase Mr. Spector, the retail stage is too concentrated and if/when the distribution model changes, so too will the kinds of games being made. This is why Steam and online indie games may be a leading wedge to the future.

I submit that in a world with less concentration at the publishing or retail stage, more, cheaper and better games would get made, making most of the posters here happier. Changing the degree of concentration is usually a matter of public policy work.

If the folks here continue to squabble about art and commerce and the hypocrisy of a given poster, you will be missing the bigger structural issue.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 2:25:46 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

PS. Brenda Laurel's comments were pretty well received by those of us in the audience. If I may paraphrase what she said for the skeptical:

Games matter culturally.
People aren't thinking about this when they make them.
Please do.
And hire some women so the values reflected in the games aren't all about male fantasies of power, sex and violence.

Is that so cloud-tripping, really?

As the father of a young girl, I cheered at this. When I was younger and single I would have scratched my head, and perhaps pooh-poohed her comments like others have.

The industry, and much of this fine blog, is rather beardy, so I'm not shocked to see that some folks didn't get it. I hope you all have daughters.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 2:33:40 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Dmitri Williams (paraphrasing Brenda Laurel)>And hire some women so the values reflected in the games aren't all about male fantasies of power, sex and violence

Was she asking for games that will only appeal to women, for the games that appeal to men also to appeal to women, or for there to be games designed to appeal to both men and women in fairly equal proportions?

I'm not a great fan of stereotyping, so I don't see that you have to hire women to reflect values that aren't about "male" fantasies of power, sex and violence. Likewise, I don't see that hiring women would necessarily reflect other (presumably "female") values.

Richard

Posted Mar 28, 2005 3:29:56 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Does she read this blog? Brenda? I don't want to speak for anyone else, so take this with a pinch of salt:

I think she was suggesting that when you have a diverse work force, they make more diverse games on several levels. Teams of guys usually (not always) make games for guys, just like we do with books, movies, etc.

This is always the core argument to diversity: not that it's some PC crap, but that it leads to better, contested and refined decisions.

When you have lots of different kinds of people working on anything, you (usually) make a better product. To cite the Sims, and thus Will Wright's ability to hire a balanced work force, is nearly cliche at this point. But it's a good game, made by a gender-balanced group of designers, and appeals less to one gender group than to "gamers".

It seems a salient notion given the deluge of panels and discussions about broadening the appeal of the medium.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 3:51:29 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Games matter culturally.
People aren't thinking about this when they make them.
Please do.
And hire some women so the values reflected in the games aren't all about male fantasies of power, sex and violence.

Very good points, Dmitri, and ones that both need to be made and are often ignored.

It seems that few MMOG developers have more than a passing acquaintance with psychology, anthropology, history, mythology, or semiotics; or at best that they view these things as beginning and ending with Joseph Campbell. If your view of culture is built on the foundation of sit-coms, rock music, and a freshman survey course in art history (or a well-thumbed copy of "Hero with a Thousand Faces"), then this will largely be reflected in the games you produce.

On the "hire some women" point, I could not agree more. At Maxis, I had the good fortune to work in the most woman-friendly environment I've seen in the game industry. At one point I had two women designers working for me, my boss was a woman producer, and the general manager was a woman (and each was terrific to work with). This wasn't some PC-ism, it was a manifestation of the Maxis culture, which differed significantly from the frat-house garage-shop atmosphere found in so many other game dev companies. And it showed up in the games they produced: SimCity, SimEarth, The Sims, etc., could not have come out of a game dev group more concerned with the length of their swords (real or metaphorical) than with creating ground-breaking games.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 6:07:31 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

On the "games matter culturally" note, one thing I've been thinking a lot about recently is how games and story operate in a culture and interact together (and yes, this does have a real-world point). IMO, single-player games can tell a story. They can make a point: KOTOR, for example, manages to say something about the nature of love and the nature of power -- quite a feat in a medium otherwise concerned with more facile topics.

OTOH, I've come to believe that MMOGs can only ask questions, not answer them: it is for the player population as a whole to answer the questions the developers set before them; otherwise the distributed, many-to-many nature of the world/game evaporates. Given that, it's our responsibility to choose questions well. I suspect that as we choose deeper, more meaningful questions, the players will respond in kind with more thoughtful (if behavioral as much as spoken) answers evidenced in their play and community. To bring this down to earth, I suspect strongly that this will also have positive effects on the overall game community and will result in greater player retention over time. The reasoning for this is based in the topics I mentioned earlier -- how people respond to questions that resonate deeply as opposed to ones that rattle around the surface. Is your game asking questions on par with a Saturday morning cartoon or are you aiming a bit deeper?

From a MMOG POV, consider: World of Warcraft could have explored questions of what it means to be at war, under what conditions is this moral or honorable, why would you fight or not fight, etc? They could have even opened issues surrounding racism and cross-cultural understanding -- all removed to a safe distance from our messy daily reality through the use of fantasy archetypes (SF&F's trump card). Instead, they seem to have been unconcerned with this, and went the route followed in their single-player games, saying essentially, "these two sides are at war - go." This is satisfying for awhile, but ignoring the larger questions in a game where people will spend hundreds of hours and will eventually tire of the "content" ultimately leads to player discontent. "Okay, I have my mount and I've done some raids... so what?" There's no resolution, nothing even to consider as a larger purpose for the many hours put into this activity. Had the dev team instead thought about how to weave into the game consideration for important questions -- without trying to supply the answers -- they might well have created the fodder for endless "user-created [meta] content" in the form of on-going discussion of questions that have concerned people since the Greeks (at least).


[Many thanks to Samantha LeCraft for helping me focus these ideas.]

Posted Mar 28, 2005 6:11:41 PM | link

Jim S. says:

I don't think I could agree more. I'm going to quote you on that, Mike, if you don't mind.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 8:10:43 PM | link

Michael Hartman says:

> As the father of a young girl, I cheered at this.
> When I was younger and single I would have
> scratched my head, and perhaps pooh-poohed her comments like others have.
>
> The industry, and much of this fine blog, is rather
> beardy, so I'm not shocked to see that some folks
> didn't get it.

Dmitri Williams, I have a 3 year old daughter. My gaming company is currently 3 men and 3 women.

Despite this, I still think Brenda's comments were "far out" and neither relevant nor helpful (for reasons already expanded upon here).

I would caution *you* not to make so many assumptions about the people who read and post here.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 8:32:05 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

Had the dev team instead thought about how to weave into the game consideration for important questions -- without trying to supply the answers -- they might well have created the fodder for endless "user-created [meta] content" in the form of on-going discussion of questions that have concerned people since the Greeks (at least).

You're asking this of something trying its best to target the most mainstream gamer possible though. There's plenty of this that goes on in smaller MMOGs. You might be surprised at the extent of it, in fact. Some of our players spend most of their time arguing over philosophical points of good, evil, chaos, order, and so on.

--matt

Posted Mar 28, 2005 10:10:52 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Yes, Matt, I am. I'm suggesting that doing this is good for the product (and the state of the art). This isn't about producing pap for the mainstream groundlings vs. rarified art for the text-based elite. It's about learning from thousands of years of effective storytelling. From Aeschylus to Shakespeare to Spielberg or Kauffman (depending on your tastes), stories that last inevitably revolve around deep, difficult questions. This is what separates the Flintstones from Casablanca.

We have a new medium, and thus a new way of communicating these human questions. What I'm suggesting is that even in the most mainstream of MMOGs -- especially in MMOGs aimed at the mainstream (and WoW is decidedly not aimed at any mainstream) -- we are better off commercially and creatively by finding ways to discuss these questions. And, as I said above, while single-player, single-viewpoint games can tell a story much as a book or movie does, multi-viewpoint MMOGs can only ask them. I believe we'll see terrific things happen when we successfully ask the driving questions that lead hundreds of thousands of people to tell their stories about them.

But even Beowulf quickly advanced beyond "we killed the monster, we got drunk" centuries ago.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 10:49:26 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

While I agree with everything you are saying, Dmitri, the quotes from Brenda Laurel still came off as being a shade or two less grounded than your rephrasing of it. Granted, I didn't attend the panel in person, so I don't know if she's being misquoted here, quoted out of context, or if was the sort of thing you just had to be there for. But from the quotes here, I didn't gather any of what you are talking about, in suggesting that there should be more women in development.

As a female game designer myself, of course I support the idea of more women in development. I think we can also extend this to, 'hire people of different backgrounds and different gaming tastes'. The wider variety of view points on your team, the wider variety of ideas your team will come up with, and the wider the audience your game will (likely) appeal to. If Brenda was hinting at this on the panel, then I am glad to hear it. But from the quotes posted here, I'm not surprised that concept didn't come across to the vast majority of people here.

As far as the issue of culturally important games, even after reading through the quotes here several times, I had trouble picking that out of what Brenda Laurel said. She said "Where’s Malcolm X, or Chavez?" I didn't know if she meant, 'where are they amongst game designers?', 'where are they amongst game characters?', or 'where are they amongst game concepts?' She wasn't at all clear in her points, if her quotes here are any indication.

I do think we can put much more into our games than we currently do, from a cultural and socially-aware standpoint. Mike and I discussed this extensively today, and this was hardly our first conversation on the topic. And while your point, Matt, is well taken, I think Mike was trying to point to a well known MMOG that could have asked interesting questions, but didn't.

Personally, I don't think asking -- but not answering -- deep questions like the nature of war or racism would hurt a mainstream (and by 'mainstream', here I mean 'aimed for the middle of the road for previous MMOG players') MMOG like World of Warcraft. If we pose the questions (but not answer them), and then build on top of that an interesting world and fun gameplay, I don't think we're going to alienate any of our potential player base. Mike wasn't suggesting that WoW take a stance on war or racism, only that Blizzard ask the question and let players answer it for themselves.

Actually, the fact that you've seen philosophical discussion arising from smaller MMOGs is more encouraging than discouraging, IMO. When it comes to asking deep questions through an MMOG, I don't think a small player base is required. With a larger MMOG, you may not see the whole community participating in a single philosophical discussion, but I don't think that dilutes the power of the questions in any way. In fact, I don't think philosophical discussions are the point of posing deep questions with MMOGs. I think the point is to make the experience more meaningful to the player, and to engage more than just the lizard part of the brain. I think that sort of experience would keep a player around longer than a simple treadmill in a static world.

Posted Mar 28, 2005 11:34:30 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Dmitri Williams>I think she was suggesting that when you have a diverse work force, they make more diverse games on several levels.

So the games industry should be hiring more/less old/young gay/straight tall/short fat/skinny native/immigrant rich/poor people, rather than merely more women? In that case, why focus on women? Is "diverse" just a codeword for "women"? Or is there genuinely something in the bio-socio-cultural make-up of women that means they bring views to computer game design that men are simply unable to comprehend? If the latter, that's a dangerous statement to make, because the converse statement can also be made (that men bring something to computer game design that women are simply unable to comprehend), which could be used to validate a preference to hire men over women. "You should make diverse games by hiring diverse people" has a flip side in "We don't want to make diverse games so we won't hire diverse people".

>Teams of guys usually (not always) make games for guys, just like we do with books, movies, etc.

For books? Teams of guys make books? What teams of guys? What books?

>This is always the core argument to diversity: not that it's some PC crap, but that it leads to better, contested and refined decisions.

Yes, but "better" in what sense? At what level? At the level of individual games? At the level of games as a whole? The pop music industry is reasonably balanced in its appeal to teenaged boys and teenaged girls, but rare is the group that appeals to both in equal proportions. Computer games could exhibit this same phenomenon.

>When you have lots of different kinds of people working on anything, you (usually) make a better product.

Again, what do you mean by "better"?

Let's take an example: cars for men. Some cars are family cars, some are targeted at women, and some are targeted at men. I'm hazarding a guess here, but I suspect most cars for men are designed on the whole by men. They're basically designing a car that they want to drive. Could putting a woman in charge of design make for a better car for men? Well yes it could, because (assuming everyone follows their stereotype) the woman would not want to drive the car, but this would therefore mean she could look at the design objectively. She might see flaws that the men - blinded by their desire to create a fast, sleek, primary-coloured beast - might miss. She might notice that the low-slung headlamps were likely to be hit by stones thrown up by the car in front, say. What she wouldn't do is soften the look of the car, fill it full of unsightly but comforting safety features and make it available in pastel shades. The car is aimed at men, and if it's given what they feel are girly features they won't buy it.

Putting women on the design teams for computer games aimed at men could - should - be of similar benefit. But putting them on the team so as to make the resulting game be more appealing to women may be a (financial) mistake; it could be that this lessens the game's appeal to men by more than it increases the game's appeal to women. Then again, it could be like many movies, in which it's possible to appeal to both men and women without putting off either. All I'm saying is that we can't take it for granted that giving a game features that men find appealing and others that women find appealing will necessarily lead to a game that either men or women will find appealing.

I don't know whether Brenda Laurel was advocating hiring women to hone individual games, to balance individual games, to balance the range of games, or to change the culture of the games company, or some combination of these. Some, I'm enthusiastic about (since we're using daughters as a credibility badge here, both my children are girls); for others, in particular balancing individual games, I have my reservations. Hiring a broad spectrum of personnel is probably a smart move, but let's not get too idealistic about it. If young men clearly can't get their "male fantasies of power, sex and violence" in undiluted form from computer games, they're just going to get them from somewhere else.

>It seems a salient notion given the deluge of panels and discussions about broadening the appeal of the medium.

But is the appeal of the medium broadened more by increasing the range of games or by broadening the appeal of individual games within the current range? Or both? Although there probably is a lot that can be done at the individual game level, I think it has its limits and those limits could be fairly low. More success is likely to follow from broadening the range of games.

Richard

Posted Mar 29, 2005 2:47:45 AM | link

Chris Turner says:

Greets all. To this rant I've only a few things to say. Whilst MOST of the replies to this rant are logical, others are just pure crap. You'd be suprised how much players for the smaller MUDS pay for Each of their characters. I know because I play Ironrealms Achaea, and have spent moey to play, and know quite a few people who do regularly. Why aren't people playing bigger MMORPG's such as WOW and EQ? Many reason problay, either they don't want to pay for a game, or they simple they don't want to have to D/L the software to thier computer to play.I for one don't Subscribe to play Achaea, I play when I want with out paying if I want. As Matt has stated, the players aren't really looking for a game that rivals,say, GTA3, but instead for an escape form reality. That is roleplaying is. However I do disagree with Matt's point on these games are played "by the idle rich". Games are played by everyone, not just the rich folk. SO what if your poor and dont have a computer? Go to the public library, theres plenty there. As for these games from indepentant dev's not being "real games", thats trash. Just because a game is not made by a big company like EA or doesn't sell 50mil copies doesn't make it any less of a game.For instance, Im currently developing a small time MUD with a few other coders, right now we maybe have a playerbase of about 6 people, then agian we aren't looking to be the next greatest fame, but to simply allow people to have fun and meet people.
That is all for now.

Posted Mar 29, 2005 4:39:03 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Mike Sellers> Yes, Matt, I am. I'm suggesting that doing this is good for the product (and the state of the art). This isn't about producing pap for the mainstream groundlings vs. rarified art for the text-based elite.

Anarchy Online provides a rather rich backstory for discussing important issues, but only the roleplayers take it beyond the trivial level. The problem is of course that you need a completely different type of game-play. So it isn't merely a question of reinventing the wrapping, you have to reinvent the entire gaming structure. (Doom, Quake and other FPS probably provide opportunities for discussing important issues about violence too... I don't see many of those players getting into the philosophical aspects of violence...)

However, I somehow doubt most _gamers_ will take to it. It doesn't matter how philosophical a quest is, if the reward is substantial, then the hardcore gamers will go for the reward and not the story. (The roleplayers and "soft" gamers being a different breed.)

Posted Mar 29, 2005 6:13:14 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Great points, Samantha and Richard. Let me be clear that Brenda wasn't making a big push for hiring women. That's coming from me. I doubt she'd disagree, though; it's just something I inferred from her talk.

Richard, yes, I think you have it down nicely with the car analogy. It's what I meant. It's not hiring group X to make product for group X, it's hiring lots of different people to make better products for whatever the desired audience is, broad or narrow. That said, women are the obvious example given the paucity of them in computer science and engineering more generally. I think last year's Ph.D. crop was something like 15% female and it was an all-time high. Not a good sing.

I think about this a lot in regards to my own kid. It's important to me that she see strong female role models, and I don't think that the industry has done a great job there. Sure, there are exceptions, but most female characters are still the eye candy objects. I suppose I'll show her a lot of Miyazaki anime, where the girls are heroic, not pastel and not amazon killer goddesses. That's the sensibility I'd like to see. But hey, this is just my opinion.

Would more female designers lead to these kinds of trends? Since there are currently female designers making sexist imagery, it's no panacea. Then again, I doubt that upping their numbers would hurt either. On this point I'd like to hear from Mr. Hartman. Rather than have it fly off into some ad hominem thing, I'd be very interested to hear about the workplace culture of a small, gender-balanced balanced shop. What do the women designers there say about this thread? And the men? And does it change when the women are not in art and PR but in story, level design, programming and management?

As to the thematics and Caesar Chavez, etc., I think she was going for games that get at social issues by identifying heroes who make change without blowing stuff up (note: I quite enjoy said blowing up myself).

Posted Mar 29, 2005 8:40:29 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Ola, again I'd point to KOTOR: many hard-core gamers no doubt played both the love-story and the power-story; of those, many may have brushed right by the implications of either. That's okay. The point is that the game was a better game -- more enthusiastically played, reviewed, and discussed, thus leading to more sales -- because of the depth of the characterization, plot, and thematic elements. Even those who don't much like love stories are likely to be positively affected by this level of writing and awareness (again, as shown in other forms of entertainment for a few thousand years).


Richard, unless I'm misreading you, I'm not sure if you're being deliberately obtuse in your comments above about the narrowness of the overwhelmingly male POV in the games industry.

The software industry as a whole is dominated by men unlike almost any other. Even moreso, the computer games sector of the software industry is dominated by men -- especially young single white men without a great deal of education or life experience -- to a degree not seen in any other I know. Certainly moreso than any other entertainment industry.

This creates a definite "made for guys by guys" atmosphere. Yes, game companies like to trumpet the few "grrls" who play GTA or Quake or whatever, but the fact remains that overall far fewer women play games than men, and even more importantly far fewer people of both genders (those who have moved beyond the shallow gameplay often offered) play games than use other entertainment media.

And when a game like The Sims comes along -- one which had significant design, development, and management contribution from women (Will is the first to say this didn't spring from his forehead fully formed, despited EA's PR to the contrary) -- despite the fact that it breaks all sales records it is often considered to be a fluke, inscrutable from the narrow, classically young-white-single-male developer POV. (To be fair, other games devs coming from a female POV -- Brenda's Purple Moon Games or Her Interactive, for example, haven't produced shining examples of great games either; the double-x chromosome is no guarantee of creative or commercial game success.)

So, from your response, I'm not sure if you're actually arguing that we as developers shouldn't be concerned with hiring more women, or that we shouldn't be concerned with broadening our horizons in our hiring (or design and development?), or something else. Do you seriously believe that our creative horizons are sufficiently broad, that we have no need for looking beyond the constraints of the narrow niche of knowledge and experience in which most games -- and most game dev teams -- find themselves?

(I guess I need to add a disclaimer along the lines of others' statements: I have six kids, three boys and three girls. I have two women working for me now. The best large game dev organization I've worked in was led by a woman, my boss was a woman, and I had two women designers working for me. I wouldn't hire a woman preferentially over a man now just because of her gender, but I would, and do, look for people, especially designers, with broader horizons than those often found in the industry. If such a person is a woman, or otherwise does not fill the demographic stereotype evidenced at GDC or E3, so much the better.)

Posted Mar 29, 2005 9:15:17 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Mike, KOTOR is single player... That's hardly comparable to long-term MMO play. If the players cannot affect the game world then there is no reason for them to ask questions about it either. MMO designers aren't likely to relinquish that power, and you can only fog the minds of MMO players for so long making them believe that their actions matters (3-6 months perhaps).

Show me a big MMO developer who is willing to let the players have a significant impact on the state of the game world. It is going to cost more than WOW, for sure. ;)

Posted Mar 29, 2005 10:01:41 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Ola, see my comments in my post above about the differences I see between thematic elements in single-player vs MMO games. I used KOTOR as an example because it addresses interesting thematic issues, even though the same methods could not easily be used in an MMOG.

you can only fog the minds of MMO players for so long making them believe that their actions matters (3-6 months perhaps).

Less than that I think. But is that mind-fog the best we can do? I certainly hope not -- if that's true, that's as much as admitting that MMOGs as an industry sector have a limited life span: once we've deceived all the foggable players a few times, giving them the same illusion that their actions matter in world after world, soon no one will have any desire to try the next MMOG.

MMOG developers have been unwilling to allow players to have a significant impact on the world because, I believe, no one (outside of ATiTD and maybe SL) has any real idea of how to do this. We're all still essentially designing AD&D variants, and almost all of our design methods and gameplay tropes are themselves still largely single-player in nature. This leads to what we have now, massively single-player games, with a bit of player interaction and community thrown in.

I believe it is possible to ask interesting questions in an MMOG, while leaving it up to the players to answer them. But you're right that it's going to require breaking out of the mold MMOGs are in now. And no, it won't cost more.

Posted Mar 29, 2005 12:33:49 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike wrote:

MMOG developers have been unwilling to allow players to have a significant impact on the world because, I believe, no one (outside of ATiTD and maybe SL)

There are lots of others that allow players to have a significant impact, and some of them have considerably larger populations than ATiTD. All of our games plus smaller ones like Armaggedon or Shadows of Isildur.

--matt

Posted Mar 29, 2005 12:47:08 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

Yes, Matt, I am. I'm suggesting that doing this is good for the product (and the state of the art).

Good for the product? The product has needs that are not currently being fulfilled or something? ;)

I see it as largely a waste of time and money for a game like WoW. Its players just want to run the treadmill by and large and the development team's effort is best spent focusing their effort on that treadmill. WoW has shown, if nothing else, that the people that are (right now) most interested in MMOs in the West (and possibly the East), want less of what you're talking about, not more. Less backstory. Less thinking. More style and polish.

--matt


Posted Mar 29, 2005 12:51:08 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

but the fact remains that overall far fewer women play games than men

From which you could draw the conclusion that far less women are interested in games than men or the conclusion that games aren't being made that cater to women. Is there really any justification for believing one over the other?

And when people talk about targetting women for games, what are they really talking about? It's not as if they're talking about helping poor women get access to health care or anything else they really need. They're talking about expanding their market so they can sell more copies. What gets to me is the high-minded language that's used when it seems to me that what people are really saying is "We can make more money if we target women as well." That's all well and good, of course, but there seems to be a lot of beating around the bush as to why said people want to target women gamers as well as male gamers (I certainly wouldn't argue that the industry does much currently in the way of targetting outside the stereotypical game player.)

--matt

Posted Mar 29, 2005 12:55:48 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

(Sorry about all the replies. I dislike lumping multiple replies together into the same post.)

Chris Turner wrote:

However I do disagree with Matt's point on these games are played "by the idle rich". Games are played by everyone, not just the rich folk. SO what if your poor and dont have a computer? Go to the public library, theres plenty there.

If you have access to a public library, you're already rich by global standards. Much of the world has never even made a phone call. Most of the world has never used the internet.

--matt

Posted Mar 29, 2005 12:57:51 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

WoW shows that polish pays off. Whether this will be sufficient to retain people for more than a few months remains to be seen -- the game has only been out for a few months. Other MMOGs with less polish but more varied gameplay have retained player communities for years (with the attendant subscription revenue); WoW has not yet shown that it can do the same. Personally, I believe that WoW represents the distillation of first-generation MMO gameplay, but that we will soon see people begin to drop off in large numbers, rather than sticking around for a few years.

... From which you could draw the conclusion that far less women are interested in games than men or the conclusion that games aren't being made that cater to women. Is there really any justification for believing one over the other?

Yes. Market data and successes in selling games that appeal to both men and women. There are many indicators from both games and other forms of entertainment that women are as interested in computer-oriented entertainment as men -- but the industry continues to ignore market sectors other than those it already knows.

Consider a similar example: you could also say that the failure of US-based MMOGs in Asia might indicate that Asians aren't interested in MMOGs. In fact, various marketing execs I've known have said exactly this. Only to be proven horrendously wrong when others actually made games that were more to Asian (Pacific Rim anyway) tastes. We're still not doing a good job of catering to Asian sensibilities or culture in US-based games, but that doesn't mean that other people aren't doing this well.

What gets to me is the high-minded language that's used when it seems to me that what people are really saying is "We can make more money if we target women as well."

Not sure why that bothers you. I don't intend to make "pink games" to target women, but neither am I satisfied with going after the same market every other MMOG does. Market growth is a desirable thing in a commercial endeavor. Beyond that (back to what I was saying earlier), I truly do believe that we can make better (creatively, commercially) games if we look beyond our own backyards in terms of whom we hire and what kinds of gameplay we consider.

Posted Mar 29, 2005 1:09:40 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

WoW shows that polish pays off. Whether this will be sufficient to retain people for more than a few months remains to be seen -- the game has only been out for a few months. Other MMOGs with less polish but more varied gameplay have retained player communities for years (with the attendant subscription revenue); WoW has not yet shown that it can do the same.

Fair enough.


Yes. Market data and successes in selling games that appeal to both men and women. There are many indicators from both games and other forms of entertainment that women are as interested in computer-oriented entertainment as men -- but the industry continues to ignore market sectors other than those it already knows.

What market data? I'm not challenging that it exists. I'm just asking for pointers to conclusive data here.

I don't really buy that just because a couple games have been very successful with demographic X that it shows that demographic X is interested in playing games generally. An analogy: I know African-Americans who otherwise have no interest in tennis, but will watch the Williams sisters play. Does that show that African Americans want to watch tennis or that they want to watch the William's sisters play? Do women want to play games, or do they want to play the Sims?


Not sure why that bothers you. I don't intend to make "pink games" to target women, but neither am I satisfied with going after the same market every other MMOG does.

It's the Brenda Laurel attitude that comes along with it that I dislike. If it's about profit motive, then it's not about targetting women gamers. It's about finding the most expedient way to increase profit, whether that involves women gamers or not. I often hear the same crowd complaining about the way publishers try to maximize profit as I do insisting that we must target women gamers.


Market growth is a desirable thing in a commercial endeavor.

Oh, for sure. I'm constantly trying to impress this on the text MUD developer community, though they largely are too wrapped up in their bitterness to do anything but attack any game that isn't theirs.

--matt


Posted Mar 29, 2005 1:45:55 PM | link

greglas says:

Forward by another professor:

http://xxblog.com/index.php/archives/2005/03/28/politics-and-video-games/

Blog entry on women, games, and politics.

Posted Mar 29, 2005 1:46:42 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Matt Mihaly said, And when people talk about targetting women for games, what are they really talking about? It's not as if they're talking about helping poor women get access to health care or anything else they really need. They're talking about expanding their market so they can sell more copies.

No, we're not trying to help poor women get access to health care, nor are we working to advance women's rights in other parts of the world. We aren't trying to be humanitarians here, and I agree with you, Matt, that we should be careful about the words we use when saying we want to bring more women to gaming.

So admitting that we're not on a humanitarian mission here, I think there are two sides to the issue: the commercial side and the communications side. Yes, by saying we want to broaden the audience we are saying we hope more people will buy our games, and thus make us more money. But games are more than just money making devices, or at least they can be. Games can also be about communicating ideas, emotions, stories, or deep cultural questions. Why should boys be the only ones exposed to this sort of communication?

I believe that the internet broadens horizons. It gives people access to ideas that they wouldn't have otherwise encountered, and gives people the ability to communicate with strangers from all over the world. In general, men are more comfortable with technology, and are more likely to be familiar with computers than women are, but I think this is changing. If we can bring more women to computers and to the internet through gaming, can we assist the cultural shift that is already taking place? Could women become more comfortable with technology through games, and from there broaden their horizons?

I support the idea of more women in technology development, and more women using technology, regardless of what the specific technology is. Games in general and MMOGs specifically are just a small part of this, but I do think they can help change the way women think about themselves and the world. I'm not trying to help women have more rights or better access to health care (there are better organizations and industries to belong to if that was my main concern), but I think its unfair to say that those are the only things worth fighting for when it comes to women. Men have games, which consist of technology, entertainment, and communication, made for and marketed to them. Shouldn't women be included in the technology-entertainment-communication of games? Why should any form of cultural communication be limited to one gender?

Posted Mar 29, 2005 2:02:20 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

I realize this is sort of off-topic here, but I had a comment on that blog, Greglas. The author at one point writes:

Why is it that the women must be the ones who just put up with the bad behavior? Why can’t the men change, too?

I wonder, could you interpret this as showing the same gender myopia that the author accuses males of demonstrating? In other words, she's defining behavior that is apparently genetically male as "bad," presumably in constrast to behavior that is apparently genetically female as "good." (I'm not willing to believe these sorts of tendencies are purely cultural, as they're so dominant in nearly every civilization throughout history.)

--matt

Posted Mar 29, 2005 2:06:49 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Samantha LeCraft wrote:

Men have games, which consist of technology, entertainment, and communication, made for and marketed to them. Shouldn't women be included in the technology-entertainment-communication of games? Why should any form of cultural communication be limited to one gender?

Well, I think the premise that women don't play games and have no games to play that might appeal to them is flawed. According to the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3615278.stm), 39% of gamers in the US are women. 69% in South Korea are women. Perhaps women just aren't playing the games that the developer crowd likes to talk about (ie Text Twist or Bejeweled instead of Halo or Everquest). About 40% of our players are female.

--matt

Posted Mar 29, 2005 2:22:06 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

I know a lot of people like to say that games like Bejeweled don't "count" when talking about women playing games, and that we should exclude those numbers and only count "real" games. The reason I would say that they don't "count" is that they involve only one of the three elements of games I identified -- Bejeweled is only about entertainment. There may be a passing bit of technology involved, but nothing that broadens one's horizons. But the important one Bejeweled is missing is communication. Bejeweled does not tell a story, does not communicate emotion, and does not ask cultural questions. Now I'm as big a Bejeweled fan as the next person (as the high scores on my PDA will show), but when I'm talking about including women in the technology-entertainment-communication of games, I don't think Bejeweled, or WordWorm, or Poker fit the bill.

I think that those games are great, and I think that the fact that women are playing those games is great. But the fact of the matter is that men are being exposed to stories and ideas that women are not, by in large, being included in. There are more women playing (non-puzzle, non-card) games now than there ever have been before, but my WoW guild is still more than 75% male.

Women are playing games, and there are games out there that appeal to women. But I think we can do more to open up this form of communication to other portions of the population, besides young affluent men.

Posted Mar 29, 2005 2:39:13 PM | link

Xilren says:

> Forward by another professor:

> http://xxblog.com/index.php/archives/2005/03/28/politics-and-video-games/

> Blog entry on women, games, and politics.

Interesting closing sentence.
"After all, we’re not asking for you to cut your penises off. We’re asking you to join the human race."

So...are we saying males aren't part of the human race? :-p

Seriously, why it's such a foreign concept that in western society men and women have many similarities in terms of wants and needs, yet at the same time they also have many significant difference in the same? You can aim your product (and product, not just games) at one gender or antoher, or both. I dare say most product offering in western society are interntionally NOT gender neutral in terms of appeal, but that just my sense as an observational consumer. Computer games are no different in this respect.

Xilren

Posted Mar 29, 2005 2:43:12 PM | link

Thabor says:

There are more women playing (non-puzzle, non-card) games now than there ever have been before, but my WoW guild is still more than 75% male.

I'm not sure WoW counts as communication or technology in any greater degree than a poker game would. However, putting that aside what would you say are the barriers specific to WoW preventing women from becoming more involved in it? How would you go about making it more inclusive to women?


Posted Mar 29, 2005 6:24:50 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Samantha LeCraft wrote:

I know a lot of people like to say that games like Bejeweled don't "count" when talking about women playing games, and that we should exclude those numbers and only count "real" games. The reason I would say that they don't "count" is that they involve only one of the three elements of games I identified -- Bejeweled is only about entertainment. There may be a passing bit of technology involved, but nothing that broadens one's horizons.

Please don't take offence at this, but this starts to seem someone disingenuous. Now it's not that games need to be made that appeal to women (cause they already are), but that specific types of games need to be made to appeal to women?

Also, from the consumer's point of view I don't see that Bejeweled is any less "technological" than Half-life 2. Prettier graphics doesn't broaden your horizons technologically and all you as a user are doing is running an application.


I think that those games are great, and I think that the fact that women are playing those games is great. But the fact of the matter is that men are being exposed to stories and ideas that women are not, by in large, being included in. There are more women playing (non-puzzle, non-card) games now than there ever have been before, but my WoW guild is still more than 75% male.

You seriously think there is some greater cultural value in being exposed to Halo 2 or GTA: San Andreas? I mean, I could make a much stronger reverse argument that men aren't being exposed enough to daily soap operas (or My Little Pony dolls), but the flaw there is assuming there's some value in men watching daily soap operas (there is no value in either men or women watching them as far as I'm concerned, aside from idle entertainment).

I've played Halo 2 all the way through to its silly end, and I can't say that I felt that anything was communicated to me that just has to be communicated to another person. I had fun. But that's it. (Not that that's not enough. It's all I ask for from my gaming time.)


Women are playing games, and there are games out there that appeal to women. But I think we can do more to open up this form of communication to other portions of the population, besides young affluent men.

I'm sure we can, but aside from a profit motive, I don't see any reason to. Aside from profit motive, who cares if women are blowing up Covenant forces or beating up prostitutes? Who cares if men are watching Sally cheat on Jesse with Raphael on As the Days of General Hospital Turn or whatever? Yes, men are missing out on the latest sexcapades of hot women and studly men trapped in a cave after an avalanche. Yes, women are not beating up the Covenant. These are such completely unimportant issues aside from the profit motive that I, at least, can't take them seriously.

And yes, we can definitely do more to open it up more to affluent young women as well as affluent young men. That's great for the bottom line if these women are indeed interested in playing the games you want them to play. But aside from that, I'm just baffled that anyone would care whether affluent young women are able to spend their time on this form of idle entertainment instead of that form of idle entertainment. It's not as if anyone who has enough money and time to sit around playing video games is starving for entertainment options.
--matt

Posted Mar 29, 2005 6:42:22 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Thabor said, what would you say are the barriers specific to WoW preventing women from becoming more involved in it? How would you go about making it more inclusive to women?

I think WoW did well enough for what they were aiming for. Given that they set out to make an MMOG that appealed to people who were already familiar with MMOGs or who were already familiar with Blizzard's previous products, I think they've managed to attract more women than I would have predicted. I have heard stories from wives and girlfriends of long-time-MMOG-playing guys who say that WoW was the one that finally made them want to sit down and see what it was that their mate was spending so much time on -- and not only that, they ended up actually enjoying themselves. So I think WoW actually did much better than can generally be expected from a fantasy MMORPG, when it comes to attracting and retaining (at least in these first few months) female players.

That said, WoW made the same mistake that so many other MMOGs make: there's only one form of gameplay. In WoW, you have to be involved in combat. You can't be a pure crafter (to move forward in crafting you have to obtain certain levels, which can only be done through combat and questing), and you'd be hard pressed to play a completely non-combat healer. Everything in WoW revolves around combat, so there's absolutely no place for someone who isn't interested in being involved in combat. I think that anytime you confine your game to one form of gameplay, you limit your potential audience. This is fine for single player games, but I think there's room in MMOGs for more than one form of gameplay per game.

Posted Mar 29, 2005 10:15:09 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Matt said, Please don't take offence at this, but this starts to seem someone disingenuous. Now it's not that games need to be made that appeal to women (cause they already are), but that specific types of games need to be made to appeal to women?

If games already appeal to women, why aren't 50% of gamers women? 39% of US gamers and 40% of your own player base, and you see that as enough? The 69% in Korea proves that we could be doing a better job attracting women to the medium. You may be satisfied with 39%, but I'm not.

Also, from the consumer's point of view I don't see that Bejeweled is any less "technological" than Half-life 2. Prettier graphics doesn't broaden your horizons technologically and all you as a user are doing is running an application.

What I'm talking about here is familiarity with technology. From the point of view of someone who is familiar with technology, it may seem like all you are doing is running an application. But take a second to think about all the tiny things you had to master to be able to play Half Life 2 all the way through. At some point, you had to learn the layout of the XBox controller. Presumably that wasn't too hard for you, because it wasn't the first console controller you'd ever used. But what if you'd never played a console game before? Would a young girl who had never used a console controller before been able to make it all the way through Half Life 2? Would she have had the motivation to learn the controls? In contrast, Bejeweled requires less technical knowledge than it takes to use Instant Messaging.

This all has roots in the sociology of children. Girls are much more concerned with how they look when they try something new than boys are, and so they have to have much more motivation in order to master something they are unfamiliar with. Mastering Instant Messaging has a higher motivation factor for girls, in that they can use it talk with their friends. I've known girls to be motivated to learn how to use a console controller if there was a game they really wanted to play, but most of the time games don't appeal to them, so they don't put themselves in social danger in order to learn the controls of the game. Girls aren't "bad" with technology any more than they are "bad" at math and science; they just need more motivation to master technology than boys do.

Now why is this important? Knowing how to use a console controller is hardly an essential life skill. However, the more times you successfully master a new form of technology the easier it is the next time you try to master a new technology. So if girls are motivated to learn new game technology (ie, console controllers) because there is a game they really want to play, the next time they are presented with having to learn a new technology it will be easier for them. This ability to pick up new technology easily means that they will be more comfortable with computers, and from that they broaden their horizons through access to the internet, have the opportunity for better paying jobs, etc.

So from my point of view, we need to develop games that appeal to girls but that challenge their ability to use technology in small ways. This is the activist side of me speaking, and of course there's the whole other side of the issue: if you widen your audience to include girls/women, you can increase your profits.

You seriously think there is some greater cultural value in being exposed to Halo 2 or GTA: San Andreas?

Not necessarily. But then, I'm not advocating for turning existing franchises into more female-friendly games. What I'm saying is that games are a communication medium all of their own, and that by not making games that are appealing to women, we are cutting off a large portion of the population from a whole new form of communication. Personally, I'm not worried about the fact that soap operas don't appeal much to men, because there is plenty else using the communication medium of television that appeals to men.

I've played Halo 2 all the way through to its silly end, and I can't say that I felt that anything was communicated to me that just has to be communicated to another person.

Only a very small segment of all communication absolutely has to take place. What was the last thing you took away from a book, movie, tv show, etc, that just had to be communicated to another person? Most information communicated is trivial. At worst it's useless, at best it's thought provoking. I don't think the importance of the information communicated is a good way to measure the importance of the communication medium itself.

I'm sure we can, but aside from a profit motive, I don't see any reason to.

Well, fine then. I admit that the side of me that sees reasons other than profit to make games that appeal to women is the activist side. That's the side of me that compels me to speak at conferences designed to get middle school girls interested in math, science, and technology. I can live with the fact that getting girls involved in gaming for reasons other than profit is purely a personal goal.

And yes, we can definitely do more to open it up more to affluent young women as well as affluent young men.

Just for the record, I said "affluent young men" originally because my point was that women aren't the only market for whom we could be designing better games. I'm also interested in making a game my grandfather would be interested in playing.

So, admitting that my reasons for wanting to make games that appeal to women, other than profit, are largely just personal ideals... What's so wrong with wanting to expand the market so that we can make more money? Isn't that a natural thing for businesses to want to do? Is there any reason why trying to expand the market to more women so that we can make more money a bad thing?

Posted Mar 29, 2005 10:34:34 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mike Sellars>So, from your response, I'm not sure if you're actually arguing that we as developers shouldn't be concerned with hiring more women, or that we shouldn't be concerned with broadening our horizons in our hiring (or design and development?), or something else.

I think that if we hire people of type X simply because they are people of type X, we should know what we want to do with them. That applies whether type X is women, men, old people, young people, parents, grandparents, ...

>Do you seriously believe that our creative horizons are sufficiently broad, that we have no need for looking beyond the constraints of the narrow niche of knowledge and experience in which most games -- and most game dev teams -- find themselves?

Of course I don't. What I was cautioning against was the notion that employing someone of type X to make a game intended for type Y to appeal also to type X may be a bad idea. A vegetarian could help design the world's best beefburger, but it would be a mistake to try and make the beefburger appeal both to those who want a beef hit and those who are vegetarians.

There's a difference between employing someone to design for their own stereotype and employing people to break stereotypical design practices. I'm for the latter; I have reservations about the former.

Richard

Posted Mar 30, 2005 2:42:00 AM | link