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Opinion: Why Do Good People Make Bad Games?
Opinion: Why Do Good People Make Bad Games?
April 11, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield

April 11, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: Console/PC

[In this editorial, originally published in the April issue of Game Developer magazine, Game Developer editor Brandon Sheffield wonders why people with passion, creativity and the best intentions end up making licensed games that... fail to make the grade.]

There are a lot of things that frustrate me about the game industry, and to read my monthly editorials you might think I dislike it. But I don't, of course. The frustration comes from love and an awareness of unrealized potential that I think almost everyone in the industry also feels.

Specifically I've been thinking recently about why good people make bad games. It's amazing to me that I can go and speak with someone working on a movie licensed title, and they'll be full of legitimate enthusiasm, real ideas, and almost convince me - OK, this time they're going to get it right.

Then the game comes out, releasing day and date with the movie, with under a year of development time, and totally flops critically.

What's depressing about this scenario is that nobody wonders why. Everybody on the team already knows! The schedule was too short, the demands from the licensor were unreasonable, and the project wasn't well managed.

I've heard of licensor requests such as the hero not being able to die, or appear to be mean, or that developers couldn't use X character from the franchise yet, because they're saving it for the sequel, even though the books upon which the movie is based have been out for years. So why do developers do this to themselves?


Yes, money. What other explanation is there? Companies need money to survive, and there's plenty of it in license tie-ins. I understand why some companies do it-they still haven't had a breakout hit, or are still finding their specialty, so are doing licensed games until they can figure it out (though some might say if you can't figure out the market, why are you still in the business?).

But for companies with a pedigree, and a stock of original IP, and the bright, creative people available to make more-why? If you know that 80 percent of these games are going to be poor, and difficult to make and complete, and if you know that the project will most likely not match the vision, why sign on?

And you, reader-why do you do it? There's a lot of pressure to stick with one team for the long haul, but what about realizing your dream as a developer, or making your creative mark? It's true that licensed games can be good, or at least have glimmers of brilliance.

I've seen it in Ubisoft's King Kong and some of the LucasArts Star Wars games for instance, as well as the Konami Simpsons arcade game, and Capcom's DuckTales on the NES - but these are, of course, the exceptions, and I don't know that most people have any such illusions when making a game based on, oh, let's say Jumper.

The Best Intentions

It's not just licenses, either. I see conferences and talks on the future of games and design, and the true integration and collaboration of games with other media, and many of these ideas are sound, genuinely intriguing, and some of them are even possible to implement. Yet, where are they?

There are so many fantastic ideas out there not getting realized. Grand Theft Auto is a classic example of a difficult-to-realize concept getting honed into an almost universally influential game experience. Games like that don't happen without someone taking the plunge.

That's the big question. How do you take that plunge? I can't count how many people I've talked to who have great ideas for games, or who had better concepts for sub-par games that were eventually released. Why don't their games get made? Too daunting? Too many bosses?

My coworker and previous editor-in-chief of Game Developer Simon Carless says that in his experience, the only way to make a very different game if you've got an idea is to just get some coders and artists, and make it. I think that might be the case right now. But it shouldn't be. There should be methods within our current structure which allow individual creativity to blossom.

It's said that there's only so much original IP to go around-only so many brilliant studios out there. Maybe that's true. But with the number of intelligent people in mediocre studios, there could be quite a few more brilliant ones.

Take a look at our Salary Survey article (the results of which will be printed on Gamasutra April 14th), and if you're not all the way at the top of your respective field yet, maybe it's time to cut your losses with your work for hire company and join or form one with more potential.

I'm just saying. If you're one of those with ideas, vision, and passion for this industry, don't waste it at a studio that doesn't respect you enough to let you bring those things to light.

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Tadhg Kelly
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Well there are many possible reasons for this:

1. Most game developers may just not be particularly creative:

We work in an industry that has high people churn and similarly high rates of cynicism.

2. The environment is not conducive to risk-taking:

A lot of developers feel that because the industry (especially the console industry) is such a stratified and approvals-ridden space that there is not much room for creativity. The average would-be game developer these days has to put a lot of muscle and reputation behind an idea to get it approved the 47 required times by different parties and still have it see the light of day.

3. The market may not want it:

I personally don't believe this, but I do believe that many of the business managers and retail-side buyers believe this, and they make their purchasing decisions accordingly.

4. There's no money:

The reason why it's still a culture of a "a few coders and artists" making all of the most original stuff out there is because it's cheap.

Game development is not like web development - there is no startup culture, no VC, no angel investors. I and a number of others have called for senior industry doyens to take responsibility here and become sponsors and angels of the next generation, but they basically haven't.

5. The opportunities are there, but the developers don't see or believe in them:

The console industry has many developers in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. At those sorts of ages your sense of how the world works and the order of things becomes pretty settled, and it becomes more difficult to think differently.

A lot of developers don't really know what to make of the casual game industry for good or for ill. A lot of them don't really grasp why Facebook is important. A lot of them have no idea what Daniel Cook means when he talks about games as a service. They're no idiots, it's just that these developments fall outside their experience. A lot of developers are automatically dismissive of the iPhone as a gaming platform because of their views of Apple, which are views born from the Apple of 1990.

While the younger generation of developers are enthusiastic and do the work, the industry as a whole is decidedly sclerotic and still fixed in a philosophical spectrum that is largely antiquated.

A lot of developers clearly believe that gaming is still in its infancy when any rational analysis shows that the industry is almost middle aged. A lot of developers think that certain people are still cutting edge thinkers rather than middle-aged men who've been harping the same things forever and a day and have become irrelevant. A lot of developers still think that hardware is the future.


It's a combination. We're an industry starved of meaningful opportunity, run by middle-aged men, under-funded, still believing that the marketplace is moronic, and basically trapped by a series of constraints. The reason the game industry is not more creative is because of the games industry and all it entails.

-- Tadhg

Michael Stribling
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I believe the question is why do we do it?

Sometimes you know right away that a game is in trouble. Sometimes you don't figure it out until mid-way through development. The author has listed a lot of valid problems that seem to go with all licensed game dev. I, for one, have enjoyed the challenge of working with established, much-loved characters. In the end, you definitely want to make a great game. However, sometimes you have to face reality and settle for making the best game you can. I believe companies are learning from past mistakes. Slowly...but they're learning. As more of us "graduate" from working on these kind of projects(learning to recognize and point out the pit-falls), companies will benefit from the experience. As artists, programmers, designers, etc...we're free to go along for the ride and contribute, or not. I think the future is still bright for games based on movies, comic books, and all manner of source material.

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Nice editorial, but you are mixing up originality and quality. It's a common mistake but I don't like it anyway.

A lot of the average or bad games have the creativity and quality somewhat visible underneath a crust of unpolished production. This may be caused by lack of resources, bad management or messed up decision making, but it's still a production / development issue.

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There's also the element of ego, which is a major contributor. There are a lot of people in positions of "creative control" in the game biz who just flat out are lacking essential skills for their positions. Uncreative Creative Directors, flip-floppity indecisive Art Directors with poor communication skills, cluelessly disorganized Producers, Lead Programmers who haven't written a new line of code since '99... I'm sure we all know at least one of these. Many of them are unmovably entrenched in their positions.

Sometimes you get a perfect storm of having almost all of these at the same company at the same time, all reinforcing their own failings in a massive circle jerk. It's mind-boggling to watch them all stand around playing a build of the latest crap game and patting each other on the back for how great it is. Months later when the horrible reviews come out, they go into instant denial mode, denigrating everything but themselves - and most especially, denigrating the "elitist" critics - for the game's failure.

And then they wonder why nobody wants to give them 2 years and a real budget to make an actually decent original IP.

I've worked on FIVE of these turkeys in the last few years, and I'm tired of it. I'm trying to get out and move up to a better developer, but it's entirely possible that my shipped games list is hurting me in the eyes of other potential employers.

Oh yeah, and I'm "middle-aged" I guess, in my early 40's, and it's perfectly obvious to me that these projects are doomed to utter craptasticality from the get-go, every time we get one. So it's not an age thing, it's a dull and dreary mindset thing.

David Wallace
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Has anyone considered the poor treatment of this industry's creative people and the severe lack of mentors?

Independent composers are some of the most brilliant stars of this industry in all the best ways. They are independent, full of creative potential, diverse, multi-talented, and driven. They have all the best qualities to produce great work, but while teams of people join together to code a game, they're given just a couple of weeks to crank out hours and hours of music. In-house composers are often the more rounded team members, but they are rarely more than one person, with no power or clout. This is a perfect example of personality mismanagement.

Perhaps the gaming industry should take Meiers-Briggs and other psycho-analytical studies into consideration. Currently, we're in the habit of promoting and hiring the least creative people into the positions of power. Few leadership teams are balanced between tech, business, and art; there are no mentors, no systems of incubation, or sabbaticals for creative people. You could say our parts lack mutual understanding, stewardship of creative wealth, and rejuvenation.

Fundamentally, artists (especially working artists!) are very different from programmers, who are very different from businessmen. Artists are committed to making something from nothing at every moment. They see their world through beauty, form, and function, rather than material assets or 1's and 0's. They understand not only technical and momentary beauty, but the growth and maturity of emotion over time and how to create both. They are typically very cultured people, tuned to cultural relevance, and have a strong sense of the pretentious.

I could go on, but I fear the more I write the more daunting my own obstacles become in a business geared to exploit creative people and ignore their own best assets. Solid programing is the skeleton, textures and movement the tissues, but no one wants to play with the ugly kid who can't smile or cry.

Thomas Grove
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Film based games can offer just as many interesting design and programming challenges as an original title. Yes, you know from day one that the game is going to review poorly, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a ton of tough problems to solve and an experience to craft within a bunch of rigid constraints.

The thing is, all things being equal, you eventually say to yourself: "If I am going to be working on something, shouldn't it at least have a chance of being a game respected by my peers? Shouldn't it at least have a chance of winning an award? Shouldn't it at least have a chance of not being dismissed out of hand?"

And then you make a conscious decision to stop working on titles that you don't believe in.

Mickey Mullasan
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Greed: excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves

The parties in question, are looking to fufill one goal, satisfaction of greed. The greed may start at the top from the publisher, and trickle down to the working class hero that is the developer. The motivation is not relevant, but the intent is the satisfaction of greed. We as internal artists, always forget that some make art not for glory of art, religion, or humanity, but merely for greed.

The intention behind a project can color it in the public's eye. The reason you feel frustrated is because you are looking at the disheveled wrinkled fat face when you see, hear about, or have any perception of a project started by greed and ruled by greed. Some are more sensitive than others and can pick up on it right away. It's not a problem with the industry, it's a problem with the world. The industry is just a small microcosm.

Jacek Wesolowski
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For the sake of brevity, I'm going to use a generic first person shooter as an example.

One of major problems seems to be that a computer game is a (potential) piece of art and a piece of software at the very same time. These two aspects cannot be separated. For instance, it's easy to say "our hero is able to cast magic that puts life into inanimate objects". But how does it work, exactly? What if the hero casts her magic into the sun? Or against a living creature? Or a moving machine? Or... and suddenly we're in the world of objects, methods and use cases. The same applies the other way around. The player can do this and this, and this by pressing this button and this, and this (see player.h, buttons.h and these.h for further details), but how is all this a memorable experience?

I've seen projects led by people whose only asset was being in the right place, at the right time, with the right amount of money. They think all it takes to create a hit game is to buy fifty desks, fifty PCs, hire fifty people, and tell them it has to be very blowy and flashy. Then fifty people work each toward their own idea of what is flashy enough. Then instead of a great game we get a Frankenstein's monster made of 49 small pieces sewn together. One piece is missing because someone got sick and missed the deadline. Money-driven projects always have unrealistic deadlines, because it's cheaper that way.

I've seen projects led by programmers. They are used to thinking in terms of features. So there has to be a pistol, a shotgun, a machine gun, a rocket launcher and a doomsday device, each with six modes of operation and three types of ammo. There have to be thirty kinds of enemies, because zombies are cool, and raptors are cool, and aliens are cool, and lightsabers are cool, oh and half-naked amazon wizards are cool too! And there has to be a cargo ship in the middle of a storm, because there was one in Call of Duty 4. And an explicit cover system, because Gears of War was a big hit so let's copy that. And a stake gun, because there was that old game with a stake gun, and those stakes would literally nail enemies to walls, and that was kind of cool. And the engine needs to use HDRI, because everybody has it nowadays. So, these project leaders have many - too many - ideas, but each idea is an entity on its own. They don't constitute a concept. Programming-driven projects aren't even games. They are tech demos.

But the worst of all are projects led by artists, and graphic artists in particular. They are the worst, because sometimes they get lucky and make a success. People are used to traditional media, so when a game resembles a good (if shallow) movie to a sufficient degree, it can pass for something exceptional. And that's what graphic artists do - they create movies. At least art-driven games can be pretty, or even touching. Rarely are they anything more. The most sad side effect of this is that many people reduce level design to background setup. A level designer is then little more than a decorator. I've seen "finished" designs which were basically topological maps, because everyone on the team thought that location and timing of spawn points, or the setup of hiding spots was irrelevant. The hallmark of art-driven games is abundance of cutscenes, because there are so many pretty things to show and that stupid player insists on looking the other way.

The truism of the day is that the secret of good interactive fiction (also known as "gameplay") is somewhere in the interaction between the player and the game. In order to tame it, it takes a few different things: an artist's imagination so that the game speaks to the player; a programmer's discipline so that the player can speak to the game; and a psychologist's empathy so that they both talk to each other. This is a job for the versatile.

And we live in a world of specialists.

Mickey Mullasan
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Grassroots Gamemaster: I think that's because game developers do not have the same monetary channels as film makers. If you follow the money on an independent film you'll find a lot of random industries that are not related to film investing in the title. Developers may not be aware of where to get a benefactor, and the traditional art junkies that invest in art are probably not aware of games.

Publishers, even though their revenue is high may just be barely making a profit and are entrenched to other investor's need. Getting money from them is not going to be a healthy relationship, since you're so many degrees off from the source.

To get investors to trust games as an artform and not just a hit-or-miss business will take some work. Plus there's not a lot of glamour in games, so many investors may see games as just another notch in their portfolio, and will not be proud of their investment at all.

Michael Baker
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Leadership is an elusive quality in any collaborative human endeavor. As many here have indicated, the "problem" is not unique to the games industry, but common to business operations in any industry.

Gaming systems continue to penetrate other systems - ipods, mobile devices, social networks, advertising, etc. the notion of an industry requires that a degree of conformity exist amongst members. the gaming industry needs it's own Web 2.0 - where the conventions of monetization change. we have seen recent efforts at this with the casual and mobile games initiatives.

Inevitably, the old ways will crumble and a surge to fill in the void will bring innovation, quality, gameplay, interactivity, etc. to new heights of existence. For now, nobody wants to disturb the cash cow.

Aaron Casillas
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I read this article and the first couple of comments this morning, then copied your names (those that provided names) pasted them on to Moby games search, followed your names/credits to see what games you’ve all actually shipped. I know some of you have worked on games, but then there are those, like the 90% of “talkers at GDC” as a conversation I had with a Sr Designer earlier this week are just “talkers.” People who have never actually shipped a game and I mean as in worked in the trenches. After reading this article at 9am, I opened a case of Coors, for breakfast. Now it’s 4:31pm and the Casillas’ fury has awoken me.

Some of the “anonymous” posts are quite accurate in their perception. However I will just state as someone who has actually worked at some of the large corporate companies of the world; I find that the article and some of the comments to be paradoxically the opposite. Believe it or not there’s actually too much money and too much creativity in the industry.

As one former large president/ceo told me there is “good money and there is bad money” and I responded by saying I guess that also means “there is good creativity and bad creativity.” That is at its essence, the heart of the dilemma.

This year alone, I would say Art Graphically has surpassed game/level design, what I actually experienced were really badly tuned games that looked great. Just a couple of adjustments would have made these games top notch. I can name two games that retuned would fair much better, but I’ll leave it for another day.

While at EA, I had the opportunity between games to create 5 prototypes, two of them that actually became real games or influenced the brand and the other three which didn’t grab hold, but they were fun to make anyway. Yes it took a team of an artist or two and engineer to get them going, but they were some of the best memories I had at EA.

This time between games could be used at your leisure, you can rest, you have a discourse you can make more games, it was really up to you.

Just like there are 10000 of movie scripts and ideas out there, the same goes for game ideas. At some point, a multitude of politics comes into play.

To think that a game fairy is out there that has to facilitate your every game idea is fantastically whimsical and completely unreal. There are some very hard working people who are hustling to get their ideas made. For example, if Spielberg says “I’ll do this script” then based on his expertise there must be something good in it, however that is not to say that the next script wasn’t going to be just as good. It all depends, who owns the idea, who is pitching it and what are the politics. For example, I’ve been at companies pitching games where the pitching was just a formality, the game that was going to be made was already chosen, in other words it is not a democracy.

As far as money, there’s a lot of money out there, just because you haven’t been approached or because no one is handing you 3-20 million to make your game doesn’t mean there isn’t money out there. It has everything to do with what you know, what you have done, have you burned anyone, who are you talking to and most importantly who you know.

From experience again, even if you have “Angel” money and you create a 3million dollar prototype that does not guarantee you a publishing deal. There are many vectors to the game of getting a deal. Earlier in the day I was talking to my actor friend/ bartender and it’s the same issue as getting an acting deal, right place, right time and right people. I’ve had publishers and developers tell me, to paraphrase “give a great game and set up the right team…and let’s pitch.” But that really is simpler said than done.

On the issue of creativity, yes there is too much creativity and there lays one of the major issues when constrained to ship a product. You see, for some reason, God made everyone believing they are Game Designers and it hurts, especially for those of us that have been traveling the path less walked. When everyone on the team has “ideas” and most of them have not been thoroughly thought through other than, “this morning I was driving to work and wouldn’t be cool if….” NO it “wouldn’t be cool if…” please drive some more and think your idea completely through to the Nth degree before presenting it and even then please bring it up to game designer before sending another “fay” secret email to a producer. You see these “ideas” nay “thoughts” are dangerous because they can side track a production. When this occurs, I agree, games are not Art. The first time I heard this, it cut me deep, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, you can not have Fine Art when it’s a mishmash soup of thoughts and the vision of the game is everywhere.

As far as creative management, you see Producers are jacked from the start, they have to do two major things a) razor the creativity, and that means finding what ideas from the team fit inside the game, hopefully arm in arm with a designer and b) make the team happy. And at that point all Game Designers are shooting themselves, some ideas are just horrible ideas, but they are creative. (I personally think that Game Designers should run teams with a Lead Engineer and have Producer facilitate order and resources).

Many times, Game Designers have to shoot down ideas at team meetings or emails, not because it didn’t originate from us, it’s because it doesn’t fit with the other X ideas that are actually core to the game and have to actually be made. For example, all I need for the AI to patrol, “hey wouldn’t be cool if the AI got hungry and eat grass?” NO, it’s not. Once the core ideas are made we can course correct and recalibrate, but of course this is just a fantasy because the majority of productions deal with “feature creep” from inside and outside the team. Once this begins, no one really is designing a game; we are just trying to get to a shippable product because after all it is a Business and not an Art form.

Mr. Casillas what can we do to correct these problems? For one, a) some type of trade union would be great b) no more GDC “talkers, bring in some sr. Designers and Artists to the talks please, one of us has to write a real how book c) start off with a small team of five people, create a prototype before going horizontal d) if it’s a movie game, see my other post, movies and games are not the same creature, therefore it requires change.

I’m out I have a hippie Art show to pin up in Venice.

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No offense but after reading that I'd rather consult someone without experience. Experience is reeallly creeeepy.

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I'd like to make some assumptions:

1. Money is being allocated to make more money

2. The money will go to something that is contrary to the artistic ideals of the seasoned developers that are slated to work on the title

3. Game developers will still work on the projects and try to live middle class lives

4. Crunch interrupts normal middle class living; parents never see their kids; divorce; gonads and strife.

4. The product ships and makes money based on brand

5. Investors add to their money and reinvest for the sequel

6. Rinse and repeat.

So not only do you, a game developer, not make enough money to thrive and start your own project, you also have your ideals snuffed, and your life taken away. Gee wiz, how did the game industry become so uncreative?

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Long story short, originality is synonymous of risk and risk is not going in the logic of money, more money, more and more and more money and money and money the editors are following.

License are perfect for this. Low cost, short time, big sells according to the two previewsly said.

People with ideas are slowly loosing their passion and don't believe in what they are doing anymore. I guess, only star designer are believing in an exciting futur for us.

Aaron Casillas
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Hi Grassroots,

Yes I did talk to people about my prototypes at EA as I stated in my first get resources basically. They always gave me resources, no problem there. Grassroots, do you have a specific real situation where one of your prototypes was shot down at a company you worked for? Why? What happened? What would you do different?

In regards to experience, if you are asking to get funded or have upper management listen to your design ideas you need to have a track record and have a game pitch. Or have something REAL solid to show and it can't be just a paper design; especially if you’re asking for funds and resources. If instead, your interest is just to talk about your idea, that all depends in what context. Chit Chat go for it, but during a production they need to be well thought out in order to have anything pro-active occur. In there lays the issue I was talking about, Lots and LOTS of ideas being mish mashed into a game. That makes focusing the game in a set of core systems and mechanics that much more difficult, therefore you spend time maneuvering and calibrating the giant battleship (team).

Chit Chat at GDC doesn’t produce new ideas or new ways of making games, because it’s just talk and not the way things really work during a production. They’re more of a hypothesis panel than a theory or law discussion. If you want something solid to come out of those GDC meetings then it has to be a panel of people who are in the actual “trenches.” But more often than not, those in the “trenches” are busy making the game.

In regards to Inexperience, that can only be tested with actual real experiences. More often than not, experience can and will drive the quality of the game, as it will temper how experimental and safe you can push your ideas. For example, there is a reason why you don't see a lot of open level or open world games, which takes a certain experience and vision, instead we see a lot of hallway shooter type games, and those are easier and formula to produce. You will find that your paper ideas will ever 100% translate into 3d game, but they get you somewhere near the vector you aimed for in time/space.

So if you are an investor, with whom are you going to take the “plunge” with; someone who has actually produced a product or someone who only talks about making a product? One is much more risky than the other. Even when you place your bet on the fastest horse there is no guarantees that you're going to win, but the odds are in your favor.

If you are serious about getting a game funded, I recommend creating a Vertical Slice of your game or a couple of levels. Another analogy, if you wanted to design a new car, would you just show up with drawing of your car say to Toyota and expect them to stop production and build the vehicle? Even if you thought it was the greatest design ever made? Nope.

Money is not free…..I don’t know why some people feel entitled to have their game design made, it does not work that way…pitching a game, making the prototype is a hard work.

Making Games is a business, its Capitalism, its America.

(time for breakfast, redbull, newspaper, hardboiled eggs)

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What is with EA people and their precious "Vertical Slice". Are you making a pie? I've heard numerous people from EA rant on about the "Vertical Slice" like it was the holy grail to game development. Maybe EA should change their name to Nike, because it already operates like a Shoe Factory.

Aaron Casillas
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I agree Grass, it has to be tried out first, but the word "tried" is the key here and not talked about. The best time to try is at the prototype stage or the vertical slice stage of the game.

Like building a cake from the bottom to the top one layer at a time. Some techniques can also be the other way around, like peeling an onion.

However, both techniques are tied to money, you have T time to create your prototype because have to ship at T time. Or you could always get a copy of Torque or Unreal PC and a couple of your friends and create a mod. No one is stopping anyone. But the key is to have the goods when your ready to pitch.

One thing I've learned is that their are vp and cco and coo's of companies that are waiting for their chance to make their own game as well. That makes the line very long....

Aaron Casillas
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Grass, I'm extending you the opportunity to show your latest game in front of an audience....nothing is guaranteed.

But what I will need is the following from you:

game design doc

or game concept document (leave behind)

and prototype level, it doesn't need to be even triggered, just needs to inspire.

We'll sign double NDA's etc...

We'll prep it to show in front of an audience, perhaps something will come out of it, perhaps nothing...

I'll be contacting you outside of this website asap.

I want to see your ideas in action....

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As it's been said before...

Luck: When opportunity meets preparation

You have just hit opportunity Grass, here is to hoping your prepared. Best of Luck!

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Heroic Engineer here, I must say as an engineer at a large company I LOVE cool features, and I'm always full of the BEST ideas in the world. However as a genius of my caliber, my best friends are the Designer and Creative Nazis that shoot down 95% of my AWSEOME ideas, and filter out only the top 5%, if not for them I'm sure we'd never have met any deadlines :)

There is a reason simple is beautiful, and most of the time creativity is about prunning and working within limits.

Oh and money really is available if you got a good prototype. However unless your prototype is fun, you really shouldn't expect expect more than that

Steffen Gutzeit
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Why Do Good People Make Bad Games?

I think it's why genius people like Einstein was a mediocre student at school. They are maybe great in what they can (wish to) do, but they are limited in their actions.

Like Aaron Casillas said he prefer to bet on the horse he had seen once completing the whole distance rather then betting his (company's) money on the shiny jockey newcomer with the great ideas how to ride the his horse faster.

So if you were lucky to get a publisher and to finish your prototype to a sellable product your are mostly not allowed to to whatever you want to, because the publisher/investor wants to have a profit in the end, like a bank wants to have interest for the credit they gave you. Why? Because of their not seeing their money back.

To minimize that risk you as a developer will get a "surveillant". This surveillant is limiting you. Maybe sometimes he his limiting you and your ideas too much so your initial love and pep for your game flushes away and you become just a typing machine who finish his job lives his middle class living, doing overtime, got divorces, in the end he was part of a moderate game and starts working on the sequel [according to the post on 11 Apr 2008 at 11:06 pm].

The article mentioned especially games based on movie licensed titles. I believe, as a talker who has not shipped a game ;), such titles are good for no-name studios.

With a Lord of the Ring Jump and Run or a Harry Potter Adventure you won't get much kudos for that. Instead when you are creating your own IP and shipping a game like GTA, Total War, Half Life or Bioshock your reputation among the gaming industry and also among the customers will be enormous. So they prefer to cut your offer down.

For a small (start up) developer it could be a warm welcome to create a product on a movie title. They do not have to have many ideas to start and they have a (big) budget to rely on. They just have to complete the production at the given deadline so the game can be shipped to the launch of the movie or whatever the marketing plans.

It's a win-win I think. The game sells good because of the movie. The game is designed for the casual gamer who does not have high demands and therefore is happy with that product. The game developer has a success in their portfolio, a small reputation gain and has made some money of it.

Despite i think out there are way too much first class games - too much to even try every one of them. So there is no need to complain about a lack of creativity here or about too much investments. Even if only 5% of the games are supreme. That is absolutely normal. Like an iceberg, you have the top and below you have the mass. It's like the movies or books. Many out there, many shabby but some are wonderful.

Think of it like the Gaussian distribution. The top are the 5% which are the best seller and award winner. The middle field is the mainstream with the products where the polishing is missing, the money went out or something like that. At the lower end you have games like Barbie on the Road or My sweet pony stable.

Phil OConnor
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Personally I believe it is because nobody is in charge. Unlike the film industry where the Director is the main creative force behind the project, (sometimes the producer but more often the director), there is no equivalent in the game industry. What we end up with is the Marketing guy, the Design Lead, the Lead Programmer and the Producer vying for creative control. Personally I think that the Designer should fill the role of the "movie Director" but there is a difference between us and the movide industry: You dont get to be a movie director unless you have built up experience. The biggest budgets go to the most experienced movie directors. In the game industry, Designers tend to be some of the most junior people in terms of experience. Therefore few people give the designer enough trust or credibility to act as a Director. The problem with the other people running the show is that they are not creative, they are influenced by considerations of technology, market or money. Those three rarely inspire great gaming.

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9 times out of 10, when a game is bad its due to faulty control mechanics.

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In my experience most “good people who make bad games” have the best intensions but are working to schedules, budgets, IP and publishers that don’t allow for anything else but mediocrity. The “done when it’s done” mentality is just not realistic for the majority of the industry and reputations are made on track records for shipping on time not creativity and innovation.

Everyone talks about the film industry as a good model for creativity but the film medium is fixed and has been for a long time. If you look at the comic industry as another example of a different model, creativity is not a problem as it only takes a few people to get an idea on the shelves or online. That doesn’t mean that all the ideas that get on the shelves are good. The reverse is true as most are derivative and dull. But under a different model most of the greatest comics and graphic novels would not exist. But again it’s a totally different fixed medium so we gain little by trying to learn from the comic industry.

We are unique as our canvas is constantly changing and unlike paper and film it is driven by advancements from many other industries. Printing and camera technology may advance but they only make for better quality print and film. Every creative medium is influenced by technological advancements to a certain extent but our medium is defined by technology. Other creative industries can focus completely on content and this is where we differ.

“If the canvas keeps changing the artist must become a chemist”.

In any industry the individuals with the money are rarely people with vision or a huge risk-taking attitude. They are looking to get a good return on their investment and their jobs are on the line, the games industry is no different. The current issue with our industry is the shifting financial model driven by spiralling production costs. Publisher investment on box product for 360/PS3 is huge and can only result in less risk taking. Add to that the massive resale market exploited by the retailers and you have a completely broken system.

Thus creativity and new concepts are moving to other platforms like Wii, Xbox live arcade and PC. Some of the most innovative idea’s I see are using flash. These games can be made with small budgets, the originators of the ideas can retain creative control and best of all you don’t need a publisher. The budgets and scope of games like Bioshock, Mass Effect, Assassins Creed and GTAIV are exceptions and the people who make them are in the minority.

If we kept making games for the PS2 for the next ten years what would have happened? The Wii has shown that the mass-market consumer is less concerned with visual quality and more interested in content/innovation. Is it any wonder that some of the best games come at the end of a consoles life?

I feel without a stable canvas, creativity and innovation will always take a back seat to market forces for the majority in our industry.

Get lucky or learn Flash:)

Brandon Van Every
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The game industry middle-aged?? That's like saying the film industry was middle-aged in the 1930s.