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Bleszinski: Industry Doesn't Properly Value Visionaries
Bleszinski: Industry Doesn't Properly Value Visionaries Exclusive
October 13, 2008 | By Chris Remo

October 13, 2008 | By Chris Remo
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    29 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive



The games industry doesn't always properly recognize the contributions of individual influential developers, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski told Gamasutra during a recent interview.

"I don't think the industry values visionaries as much as it could. I really don't," said Bleszinksi, who recently completed work on Gears of War 2. His comments came as part of a more extensive discussion set to appear on Gamasutra at a later date.

The designer compared the games industry's attitude towards creative talent to that of the film industry. "As sad as it is, you're only as good as your last game, in many ways," he said. "In Hollywood, at least, you get movie jail for like a year, and you're out, and you get to try and make another good movie. In games, you screw up once, and no one ever wants to hear from you again. It's pretty sad."

Bleszinkski singled out a few designer examples -- admittedly ones more recognized than most. "Look at a guy like Ken Levine or [Peter] Molyneux or Chris Taylor or [Hideo] Kojima. I mean, we all need to celebrate these people," he said.

While Bleszinksi was sure to state that game development is a heavily-collaborative process, he noted that other creative industries more willing to acknowledge individual creators gain associated marketing benefits.

He pointed to his current role as executive producer on the upcoming Gears of War film as having given him more perspective on the distinctions between the two industries. "It's a very structured, yet organic, process in Hollywood," he said, "where in games it's still the Wild Wild West in some ways right now."

"It absolutely is very much a team effort, and I'm nothing without the 100-plus people who worked on Gears," he acknowledged, "but if I can go out there and evangelize the game and help sell the vision of it, that's a very useful thing, and we're all able to put gas in our gas tanks as a result of it, right?"


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Comments


Nicholas DiMucci
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As much as I'd hate to admit it, he hit the nail right on the head. However, if you look at history, Hollywood wasn't much different during it's conception either.

Anonymous
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CliffyB is not exactly the right person to complain about that. He is hardly a visionary. He's no more than an average developer with an enormous mouth, with an speciality in alienating fans.



I'll give him Levine and Kojima, but Taylor and Molyneux lost their touch long ago, after Total Annihilation and Dungeon Keeper.

Shaun Peoples
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I'd probably go "Annonymous" too if I decided to slam the guy when I hadn't really read the article. He didn't claim that he was a visionary, even though the guy is attached to some really well received titles, he was pointing out the differences between the two industries treatment of important contributors.

Taure Anthony
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I agree totally with the article....but i do believe these things will change.....there needs to be major motion pictures about key people in the videogame industry to get respect all across the board

Anonymous
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I usually find CliffyB extremely annoying. Oddly enough, I agree with most of his comments.

Anonymous
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A chick once told me "you game guys are just not sexy" as she flaunted her Sony E3 ticket after party ticket in my face.



Then I wondered how many of us actually got invited...the real problem here is the game industry itself. Especially the upper execs who don't invite the very own talent that makes them money to events like this.....



Second, of course they don't want personalities, that means paying them more money!

Jacek Wesolowski
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Being annoying is Bleszinski's job. After all, fanboys need something to fight over.



More to the point, I don't think gamedev needs more "personalities". It needs more craftsmen (that is: artists who are also educated professionals).



However, I think the comparison to filmmaking is valid. Games are as much in need of vision as films are. But there's more to it. In movies, there's a director, but then there's the cast, the screenwriter, the set decorator, and many more. People don't go to see a movie and then say "this was a bad one, I'll never go to see a movie by this studio". Instead, they often say things like "the direction was poor, but the actor playing the main character saved the day" or "it was stupid as a drunken monkey, but I've never seen better FX".



So, on one hand, it's sad when a studio closes becasue their latest game "didn't sell" and nobody seems to believe in them anymore. On the other hand - and this is something I've experienced myself - the personality-based approach of "THE MAGNIFICENT DEVELOPER and his puny team" is just as harmful. Escpecially when the "and his team" part turns out to be more important, that is: someone is being taken seriously because they have a team, rather than because they have a captivating vision.

Eric Scharf
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I wonder how many of the millions of people out there (e.g. high school and college students furiously making MODs of popular Epic and id products to prove their game design skills), who are regularly trying to squeeze their way into the games industry, are actually going to take the time to read what CliffyB has said. They should.



Everyone "thinks video games are the coolest things since sliced bread". Everyone "has dreamed of making their own video game since . . . before they were even born". And, yet, one of the most recognized game developers of the past couple decades has stated the fact that, in the games industry, you are, in fact, no better than your last product; that every 1-3 years (in current game development terms), you need to re-prove that you have not lost your touch as one of the best. While game development, in some sectors, has come a long way, and while there are certainly several mainstream interdisciplinary development procedures that individuals and teams should regularly follow, there is still very little about quality game development that is a dot-to-dot cake walk . . . and this is completely outside the task of making sure you are properly utilizing your target hardware platform(s) as well.



While it is certainly safe to say that CliffyB will have a home at Epic for the next 1,000 years if he so chooses, if your next offering is off by a hair, regardless of who you may be, critics, even groupies, will always come running to make sure you are aware that you missed the mark (especially if you have disappointed the fans of your last product who simply wanted a bigger, faster, greater version as a follow-up).



Most of us understand that rarely, if ever, can you make everyone happy, which is why, ironically, more "risky" original IP should be supported (and publishers throughout the world suddenly feel a familiar chill run up their collective spine), because, if a product is truly original (with a given, in this case, of being visually pleasing with above-average game play), it is much harder for critics to smash to pieces until they have, first, taken the time to really understand what it is they are reviewing and the depth of what it is they are reviewing. But I digress . . .



Reviews for motion pictures and video games (which, again, directly affect the amount of praise one receives for their product-creating efforts) will continue to be treated like 1A and 1B, or one 1F, until they are judged on the same general criteria, which may never be possible. Your semi-typical movie review (displayed in mainstream newspapers, magazines, on film critic shows, and online) provides separate, in-depth judgments on the director, the producers, production costs and profits, the various shoot locations, plot and story quality, rumored story alterations, chosen actors, actor backgrounds ("Are they up for the part?"), character believability / depth, special effects, audio, sequel potential, number of domestic and foreign theaters in which it was released, and whether or not there will be any academy award nominations). And, currently, there are no more than a handful of game reviews that go into that kind of detail. And the typical response? "That critic has too much time on his / her hands". Game players / purchasers, for whom game reviews are mainly generated, care not for most of these kinds of details. They simply want to see the set of ratings a game has received (e.g. 7.5 out of 10), and, then, go about their business. Game ratings and related materials are generally not going to be on the agenda during dinner at the average American family's dinner together (where they are more likely to discuss the latest football game, the latest movie, the latest fashion, and the latest test scores, gulp).



One of the toughest parts of having to re-prove your game industry greatness, over and over again, may be that you rarely hear people (regardless of age) referring to their memories of a AAA video game like they would a blockbuster motion picture: "Hey, remember when Ripley got into that loader mech and took on the queen Alien?" vs. "Hey, remember when we were playing Unreal Tournament 2008, and you shot my arm out of its socket and blew out my knee right as I was about to capture your flag?" This is a no win comparison in favor of motion pictures (even with better examples).



You almost never hear people (non-industry, game-playing folk) saying, "Hey, the Dark Knight brought in ticket sales of over $1 billion dollars over its first six months on the silver screen, but the video game by the same name brought in $500 million over its first two months of availability on store shelves". Besides, sales comparisons are not directly indicative of "creative genius" or "innovative brilliance" (SEE my recent comments on Steve Jobs and Apple, regarding the greatest business innovator, at http://www.emscharf.com). You have to remove the money issue completely when comparing something like a motion picture to a video game. Yes, blockbuster directors are praised when their films sell an interstellar number of tickets, but, just the same, directors of well-received independent films, that may go straight to DVD, have garnered the same positive attention as well.



One other "minor" detail to remember is that, other than inserting a DVD, Blue-Ray disc, or, gulp, VHS tape into a player and hitting "play," society does not have the chance to play a movie the way you play a video game. This ties into CliffyB's additional comment, under a mildly different context (I believe), about the games industry still functioning a bit like the "Wild Wild West" (one of my favorite old TV shows with Robert "I dare you to knock this battery off my shoulder" Conrad).



How can you fairly and properly critique or judge a product (and its creator / creative team) that is designed to allow for as many unique endings as your personal game-playing skills can produce? You can run out of "lives" at any point during a particular game, within any of the available environments / levels, where you may or may not have interacted with main characters and / or level bosses. You can make one false move, and, if you have not saved the game before making that mistake, you are done (again, only after you have controlled your fate through your own skill). Motion pictures are one-and-done, like a traditional oil painting or stone sculpture. You can watch or study them as many times as you like, but, other than the now-popular bonus disc, you can perform no such interaction like you can with a video game. All that great game-playing skills collects dust during when it comes to a motion picture. Therefore, it will remain, for some time to come, very hard for critics to review video games like motion pictures, and it will, in turn, be even harder to reward quality results equally in each of these entertainment fields.



One last revelation on the depth of the problem with video game developers ever achieving the daily or even annual recognition that motion picture producers do: Video games (and game development by unappreciated association) are broadly viewed by society as throw-away commodities; non-essential products that provide soon-to-be-forgotten experiences. Society and, in many cases, publishers (and their bottom-line share holders), view games and game development as forever cookie-cutter, and, dare I say, like the toys they were originally invented to be, without question. With the concept in mind that there are popular video games for almost all age groups now-a-days (and not just the lonely, male, parents'-basement dwellers that purchase most of them), ask anyone what they have a library of at home? Most will say "a humble collection of my favorite movies". Others will say "a humble collection of my favorite movies and a smaller collection of my favorite video games . . . because I keep trading them in for new one at my local Game Stop". And, finally, the smallest group, the hard core gamers, will have a fairly robust collection of video games, and, still, they will admit to trading away half of that collection to their local Game Stop, because it takes them about a day or less to play through each of those games, AAA or not. If hard core can become mainstream (why do scenes from "Idiocracy" keep flashing through my mind), then, game developers may finally start to receive their just due . . . those, of course, who really do create AAA, top-quality, brilliant products (whether entertainment, serious, casual, or edutainment), that is.



Ultimately, back to CliffyB's original comments, he is right, but, much like the time is will continue to take for the visual quality of video games and motion pictures to "meet in the middle," so, too, will accolades for both video game development and motion picture production take a long time to reach the same level.



"Do not hate the playa'. Hate the system".

Sande Chen
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I definitely agree that we should celebrate visionaries within our industry and that the game industry could benefit from more directed vision. Whether this is the job of the Creative Director or the narrative designer, a more thematic approach elevates the work for the end user. Films are a collaborative medium, too, with pressures from actors and producers and studios, but the film industry recognizes the role of directors as artistic decision makers. Having directed before, I've often joked that directors need to have the egos of a small planet... That's because a director gets asked a million questions on the set from What color should the curtains be? to Where should we put this light?... and it's the director's job to know these details, or at least to make the decision and live with it. I've been on set and ran through and talked to each extra and gave them each one-sentence backgrounds because it was my job to decide about these details.

Anonymous
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In games, most visionaries are limited by their ability to turn their vision into a compelling experience. The best example is probably Black & White, a fascinating concept that became a tedious game.

Kevin Potter
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I'm sorry, CliffyB wants us to spend more time celebrating a handful of the most accomplished and famous designers in the industry?

Steffen Gutzeit
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Movies are being compared to games?

Well then I may suggest, the gaming branch needs their top stars, too. You known, when Vin Diesel, Mel Gibson, Angelina Jolie play a role or Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg direct a movie, that one will most likely be a hit, because the people entering the cinemas have done good experiences with them in the past.



The gaming industry has hardly such individuals. So how can I as a potential buyer of a product known it won't disappoint me?

Despite a whole team is responsible for the success, a big name should be established and enforced as kind of a marketing action.



I only can speak for myself but when I read certain names, I instantly have a imagination what quality a game will have. Blizzard or Bioware for example are reliable and the chances are good their next project will be worth buying.

Maybe even the publishers shall have a premium label (or sign) and a label for games not having the potential of being a big box office hit.

Brian Handy
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I believe we may need to have a more universal industry before we can expect visionaries to be fully recognized. Once we have an audience that rivals that of films, only then will we have equally recognized individuals.



It's a wonderful goal, and I do believe we will reach it someday, but I do not believe it can be the next step from here without making games as easy an experience to enjoy as films, museums, theater, where one simply attends and experiences the art.



Interaction may be what separates video games from any other art, but it also creates its largest barrier.

Orion Cherry
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I agree that games (being the interactive media that they are) are difficult for people to embrace as an integral part of popular culture to due to the drastic differences in willingness/ability to interact with something in order to experience it. Games ask more than just time from consumers, and this fact does create a rift when socializing.



No one ever asks: "do you watch movies" before they attempt to illustrate a point/concept. It’s simply: “have you seen XYZ”.



I don’t think games will achieve that kind of widespread social status for a while, the next generation perhaps. Similarly to how (over time) people moved from watching plays to watching movies to experience a new level of entertainment, I think the future of popular culture will truly hold video games up as something "everyone does". Interactivity will simply be the next level of the entertainment experience.



I think the game industry WANTS super stars... It’s just not ready for it yet. The industry has tried to lift developers into stardom before and for the most part it doesn’t seem to work out too well. Perhaps it will happen more often when the development process achieves that "structured, yet organic, process” cliffyB talks about. Then, when a guy like Peter Molyneux talks up a storm about how much they are going to put into a game like Fable the consumer can trust that he knows what he's talking about because the development process is "structured, yet organic" from the publisher all the way down to the lowest rung of the developer.

Wolf Wozniak
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Gears Of War?



Visionary?



lol?

Benjamin Quintero
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I'm kind of amazed that 1 sentence from CliffyB has raised this much debate. I'm going to wait for the full article to gain a little perspective on the context of his words.

Anonymous
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CliffyB isn't the first to suggest this; others have and for a while now. From a broader picture, part of the issue isn't just the lack of recognition. Sure, one could eventually imagine Will Wright's face being talked about by the average Joe like Spielburg or Jade Raymond like Angelina Jolie. Faces and names that draw people to their thing for their simple star power. However, an a point made previously, is that that isn't enough either.



As an industry, when we do celebrate people (via magazines, awards, and so forth), we only celebrate what would be the movie stars - the designers. If you look through any set of awards in a game magazine, you'll find things like Best Game, Best Shooter, etc. What you won't find is something like Best Audio Designer/Team or Best Programmer/Team. At the moment, we only celebrate the art and not the craft. The movie industries does both, though it may (for lack of a better word) pimp out the director and stars much more. The movie industry recognizes with awards and consideration that, yes, the special effects team does important work.



Before we can, or should, start pimping out stars, we need to make sure people know that games aren't just about one designer waving a magic wand, making people do what they say. We need people to understand that everyone from the community manager to the lead animator to the producer all do something beyond 'get in the way' of the designer and their vision. That making a game in the modern age requires a team and a substantial investment and that developers aren't simply rolling in the dough laughing at stupid gamers for buying cheap knock offs. Then we can start attaching names and making sure that non-industry people do start to recognize that this games sound is good but the stars are terrible in it.



Otherwise, we will simply keep having what we already have. An aura of The Big Bad Publisher beating down A Lone Designer that persists. Look at the Spore forums - there's a strong belief that Will Wright was this lone small designer with a core 6-man team (or whatever) that got beat up, threatened, and beat down by evil EA and EA stooges. You have people seeing quick demos or seemingly easy features else where and, quite confidently, claiming they could do better in six weeks what took the devs several years. Compare something like that to when a movie gets criticized - no one person is blamed directly but everyone is because people know that a movie is a collaborative effort requiring hundreds of people.

Anonymous
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Append to above: Another difference between the movies and the games industries is the freedom with which the collaborators can work. Most every major actor, actress, director, and what not has their own production company. On top of that, essentially every part of a movie is outsourced - no one is directly connected to a studio except for the people that specifically work in that studio. Directors float from one script the next as do stars, writers, and the like. Inhouse sub-studios exist but so do outsourced companies.



It's that sort of fluidity that also allows stars to be made. When you see Tom Cruise appear in 6 movies in one year... it leaves an impression.



In the same way, the video game industries lacks the a second tier of creation. With movies, you have a range of levels - student/low budget (no body knows you), indie/arthouse (industries knows you and you get developed), mainstream(Pa Kent knnows you). Video games miss that stepping stone. You're either completely unknown or you're well known.

Anonymous
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Been designing games for a long time and I am still surprised at the level of Hollywood envy! Come on, video games generate more revenue each year than films do. And the gap is only going to get bigger. That's why the major studios like Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal etc. have all decided to phase out the IP licensing model and are looking to develop games based on their film IP's themselves.



If there is any parallel to be made, I think it's that the game industry equivalent of the Hollywood superstars are the games themselves. No one person in the development process earns or deserves that much credit. Sure you need a visionary, or a champion of the game design, but games are a collaborative effort in a way that film will never be.



And how many more films would be turn out to be box office bombs if they had to be interactive? It is far more difficult to make a great game for that reason. If you want to draw comparisons to film, it would be far more relevant to restrict the comparison to animated films.



my 2 cents worth anyway

Ciro Continisio
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This man talks too much for me. He feels like a star and gives away a lot of interviews... mostly stating obvious things like in this one.

John Petersen
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The games industry never properly recognizes the contributions of individuals who influence developers.

Anonymous
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Besides actors (for obvious reasons), the movie industry is not generating many celebrities in recent years. Who directed The Dark Knight? Who wrote In Bruges? Who is Brad Bird? Only people who take a special interest in movies will be able to answer that. Their gaming equivalents will also know about people like Clint Hocking, Alex Evans or Fumito Ueda.

Anonymous
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Anonymous at 5:49pm you say games are more collaborative than films. You have obviously never spent a single day on a film set. But what's indefensible is the position you have that the corporations that own the games - extended through the 100% collectivist mindset - are more important than the individuals who provide the creative leadership. So when a game makes a ton of money only the shareholders should benefit? Nonsense. Film's reverence for individual creativity is why when the film industry holds its annual awards one billion people watch on TV, while when the game industry does, nobody gives a damn.

Alan Rimkeit
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Well I am damn glad I do not want to be a developer. Being an artist is enough for this guy. Sometimes humble is the way to be.

Chris Melby
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I have no respect for Cliff B.. Because of "his" actions, I only associate his name with negative thoughts now days.

Devitt Upkins
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I believe another big hurdle is that people genernally dont know what we, as designers/developers, do.



When was the last time you saw a "Behind the Scenes" of a AAA title? We all can picture what an average movie set looks like. Does anyone have an idea what an average game studio is like?



Watching the trial and tribulations of how Star Wars and Blade Runner barely made it through production is almost as entertaining as the movies themselves. There's nothing sexy about looking at a bunch of unshaven geeks hacking away at code. Yet this is all I see in "Making of..." videos.



The real question is, Can we romanticize game development like the movie industry has glamorized film production?

Devitt Upkins
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I believe another big hurdle is that people genernally dont know what we, as designers/developers, do.



When was the last time you saw a "Behind the Scenes" of a AAA title? We all can picture what an average movie set looks like. Does anyone have an idea what an average game studio is like?



Watching the trial and tribulations of how Star Wars and Blade Runner barely made it through production is almost as entertaining as the movies themselves. There's nothing sexy about looking at a bunch of unshaven geeks hacking away at code. Yet this is all I see in "Making of..." videos.



The real question is, Can we romanticize game development like the movie industry has glamorized film production?

Lewis Pulsipher
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"Cliffy" is an expert self-promoter, for sure.



As I look at it, one reason video game designers aren't glorified is that big games appear to be "designed by committee", with nearly everyone on a team contributing to a greater or lesser extent. Which is one reason why so many video games are so derivative.



But this failure to recognize isn't exclusive to video games. Ever hear of Reiner Knizia? He makes over a million dollars a year (freelance royalties) on his board games. He has a MUCH stronger influence on one of his games than a designer of a AAA video game does.



In the movies, certain folks (especially the director, basically the storyteller) are glorified. In contrast, writers of the story itself are given almost no "glory". Do video games want to follow this skewed model?



In movies, because the director takes the credit ("a film by so-and-so," as they all say), he or she also takes the blame for the money lost when a film fails.



Because AAA games cost so much to produce, it's natural for publishers to avoid risking millions on a designer whose last game was unsuccessful. Much like Hollywood.



This doesn't happen in non-electronic games, because the final prototypes can be produced by one person inexpensively. If Knizia produces a weak game, or a dozen weak games, they may not be published, but they don't tarnish his reputation because no publisher money was lost.

Peter Park
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To my eyes, the industry is already on the road to what he's saying. The huge attention garnered by his comment here is one, and other recent comments by big names like Kojima getting huge response by industry is also another one.



Many big names of the industry are being tracked very closely by media, and this isn't limited to directors either; as technology guru's like former Gearbox Corrinne Yu and Ryan Payton moving to MGS to head next Halo game shows.



I am also very eager to see game industry grow and mature to be structurally comparable to movie industry. I think this will be realized soon enough with enormous growth it's showing. With so much enthusiasm from audience and great influx of talents, I expect games to start delivering much more than just "cool" experiences soon... probably around 5 years.



To come back to the topic, with the growth of the industry, audience will start recognizing many talents and marketing people will start using this to raise sales. Or marketing may come first before people start caring. But either way, it'll come.



So, I'm looking forward to see if Fable 2 meets the hype.


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