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Leading Change in the Game Industry
by Josh Davis on 02/25/13 03:47:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Leading Change in the Game Industry

         Cliff Bleszinski is, hands-down, one of the best game designers to have ever graced the industry. Although he has demonstrated his technical skill by applying it to projects like the Gears of War franchise and Unreal, he is known only as being a great designer for these reasons. Many people consider Cliff to be a great leader because of his wealth of fresh and innovative ideas. Cliff Bleszinski will always be considered a great designer, but will always be known for his leadership in change. Cliff is a visionary; he has the unique ability to look past the single mindedness many designers have towards the good of their games, and look at games as a whole, and constantly thinking about how to improve all games. He often ponders what it would be like to be on his own, consulting for game developers and improving the quality of games universally (Sheffield, 2012). In an interview with Brandon Sheffield, Cliff exemplifies this passion for video games by choosing to focus on how to improve Japanese games to meet the standards of the western world (Sheffield, 2012). He very knowledgeably offers insight into the needs for more multiplayer elements that seem to be lacking in Japanese titles, like Vanquish, in order to establish higher sales numbers from an early point in sales; “I'm sure the development team got together and was like, "Well, we probably shouldn't do multiplayer because of the budget," or the time, but at the end of the day you have an amazing product that was [handicapped] by the fact that it was seen by many gamers as a campaign rental or a used game, and not the $60, day one, gotta have it game.”

         Because of this ability to see games through multiple lenses in order to produce the best possible games in terms of sales and quality, Cliff Bleszinski is easily seen as a designer that demonstrates Kotter’s third step of Creating a Vision (Kotter, 1996). Cliff (CliffyB as he is well-known) is known for being a game design prodigy, but his true success started with his breakout hit Unreal (Jones, 2003). Cliff quickly demonstrated his ability to, not just create a great game, but to understand what makes a great game, and how to build on that. He created a vision for his next hit game by applying what he had learned from his first game, what he hoped to expand upon, and how to change the essence of the game without losing the franchise’s feel. He changed the way players experienced the universe without completely ripping them from what was familiar, creating a seemless experience. This could not have been done without leading his team to change from what the previous norm was. He not only adapted, but he created the vision of what the future held for the franchise.

 

Cliff demonstrated the next step in Kotter’s process, Communicate the Vision, flawlessly (Kotter, 1996). In fact, Cliff is known for his communication ability. Cliff has the gift of being able to communicate his vision better than nearly any other designer. This is because he doesn’t communicate to people what he wants them to hear, he communicates what people want to hear to them. He has an innate talent in motivating people towards what he sees by making them see it their way. This is clear in that he was able to lead his design team towards a vision in his mind that was clearly painted to the rest of the team; and this has been demonstrated time and time again. His games are his own because he communicates on his vision on such a level that everyone around him almost believes it is their own vision. For these reasons, Cliff Bleszinski is a model for the leadership of change.

When discussing the subject matter of leading change, none other stands out as much as Will Wright. Since the conception and realization of video games as an entertainment medium, many genres have spawned from a larger subset of genres, yet no game has managed to split off into a new direction, falling under no such preset, as the games created by Will Wright. Although Wright was not the creator of the “god-game,” genre, he is often referred to as the “God of god-games” (Seabrook). In 1989, Wright created and released Sim City, a game in which you create a city and manage it towards success or failure (Seabrook). With the creation of this game, the very essence of what a game was; what a game could be, changed. Game Developers around the world saw this game as the birth of a new era, and this era saw the creation of a new style of games in which real life was emulated through a simulated experience. “To game designers, Wright is the Zola of the form: the man who moved the subject matter of games away from myth, fantasy, and violence and toward ordinary social life,” (Seabrook). Wright’s rationalization towards this “new form” of games can be best understood when he was quoted on the topic as saying, "It occurred to me that most books and movies tend to be about realistic situations," ... "Why shouldn't games be" (Seabrook). The amazing thing about Wright is that his leadership towards change is one of the most far reaching in the industry. He doesn’t lead a small group or a studio into change for their own benefit, he leads the entire industry to change, in both thought and in action.

         Will Wright, exemplifies Kotter’s sixth step towards leading change, Plan For and Create Short-Term Wins, with model leadership that spans across an entire industry (Kotter, 1996). Beginning with Sim City, Wright has continued toward his personal, game-changing goal, of creating the most true to life experience in games (Seabrook). With each new game he creates, he continues to try and blur the lines of reality and fantasy, but despite the successes he holds, does not allow them to deter or slow down his overall goal. He welcomes games, such as Second Life, throughout the industry into a genre he created, to further fuel his desire and creativity that pushes him towards continued and profound change. Despite most AAA title games pushing the boundaries of realism (no doubt by Wright’s direct influence), he remains un-waivered by the blend of realism and fantasy, continuing in the direction of his ultimate goal of creating the most true-to-life game possible.

         Wright Institutionalizes The New Approaches, Kotter’s eighth and final step, on such a universal scale that the implementations are undeniable (Kotter, 1996). Wright’s changes to the industry are undeniable. The way he has impacted the industry has had an effect on nearly every game produced since he burst onto the scene over two decades ago. Although this is a clear example of how parts of his approach have definitely become staples of the industry, there is no way to better exhibit the way he has demonstrated Kotter’s eighth step than to look at every game he has made, and frankly, that he ever will make. Wright doesn’t make carbon copies of his games, but what he does do, better than anyone else, is build upon the foundation he laid in 1989, and continue to use every iteration of every game he has created, as a sort of framework for every game he creates to date. The changes he has brought to the industry have become, as Kotter states, “the way they do things around there” (1996).

         Them impact Cliff Bleszinski and Will Wright have on the game industry is undeniable, but with further insight, we can understand why they are such powerful leaders; they are visionaries that create change and see it through to fruition. Their actions serve as an instruction guide for success to many people. True leadership not only leads but also motivates and inspires. Bleszenski and Wright have moved an entire industry towards the concept of change, not just as a last resort, but as something to aspire to. They embody what leadership towards change can accomplish in any creative medium. They lead by example, and their example challenges everyone in the industry to constantly push the boundaries of what is possible; to never accept the norm, to create outside of the box, and to become the best game designers possible, starting with leading change.     

 

Jones, George. (2003, December) Keepin’ It Unreal. Computer Gaming World. Issue 233. P114-118.

Kotter, John. (1996) Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press.

Seabrook, John. Game Master. The New Yorker. Volume 82, Issue 36.

Sheffield, Brandon. (2012, May 11). What if Cliff Ran the World?. Gamasutra. Retrieved from: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/170144/what_if_cliff_ran_the_world.php

 


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