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A View Toward a Game Developers Guild

September 30, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

What would a Game Developers Guild (GDG) look like? Would we want such an entity? Would it hobble the world of game development with the kind of "not-my-department" surliness many associate with unions? Or could it be a tool that game designers, developers, producers, and unions can use to move game development into a new paradigm?

What Kind Of World Needs A Game Developer's Guild?

Our company is unusual in the game industry. We are a "game producer". What's a game producer?

A game producer company asks game designers to come forth with their best game designs. It's the opposite of conventional wisdom (which has it that game developers don't want to hear you when you say "I've got a great idea for a game!"). Such a company is modeled after a film production company. It asks for inspired, well-thought-out, well-written designs. It sends word out it's looking for free agent designers to approach with their best design for a game.

Surprisingly, while many have looked at us as tire-kickers, maybe semi-seriously applying, almost none have full-on committed and submitted a well-done design that could plausibly spark a full game.

Our CFO, who comes from film and television, can hardly believe this. In film, writer-directors will wash dishes, wait tables, mortgage their house, max out their credit cards, do anything to get the time and freedom to craft their dream script or shoot a short film. But their game development equivalents -- designers -- seem to crave security.

It's not because they don't have great ideas. Most do. But they come to us as if we are a game publisher. They want to do the minimum -- a pitch doc, basically -- and then have us hire them, buy them out, and make the game.

Problem is, we aren't that. A game producer can't work that way. It isn't about being a monolithic corporation with a static roster of unchanging talent, grinding out games that, even if they come in the front door with a unique vision, leave the back door all looking the same: large, brown-castle shooters done in the Unreal Engine (or something like that). So we tell them, we need more. A game producer needs commitment. Needs a good design that it can establish chain-of-title to; that forms a selling basis -- one you breathe life into.

But then, when it comes to this, many of them back away.

Why do they do this? Why don't they make a more thought-out, better design, with actual production-ready documentation and maybe an early playable prototype?

It's not because it's not doable (though there aren't many good writers of design docs today).

Mostly it's because it's dangerous.

The Danger Of Being A Free Agent Game Designer

You're an intermediate game designer at Game Company X -- not some Will Wright (yet). Just a person who's worked in a supporting role for some years, maybe designed some levels, wrote the odd mission design, or something to this end. You have a "dream idea" for a game -- but you hold it close to your chest, not wanting to share it with your employer because you know that if you do, it might get co-opted into the game you're working on now. Or you won't share in the reward if it becomes a major hit. Or it will get distilled in the churning groupthink of your typical game development company so that by the time it's released anything original in it will have been boiled out. Or you haven't the time or energy to somehow cobble together the production resources required to quit your company (giving up healthcare benefits and so on), and finance an entire vertical slice.

Or, worse, if you do start shopping around your design you might piss off your current employer and they might fire you -- and now you're out of a job, health insurance, and so on. Or if you actually do take a chance to write up the idea into something close to a well-executed, readable design document (maybe you're between jobs and have some time), you know that you have very few places to take it as publishers "don't read designs", and even if they did they wouldn't greenlight anything until they first saw a vertical slice.

So your Dream Game sits there... On your hard drive... Or in your mind... In limbo...

Now let's switch the tables somewhat. Take the perspective of us, the game producing company. Not a game developer; not a game publisher... a game producer. We do on occasion see a designer with that good early design. Working like a film producer, we want to do a deal on it and begin to "package" it: to attach elements to it which will both map out the production picture and have a sway over whether it gets greenlit: if Outsourcer X says they really, really want to build Game X by Designer X, then the idea would be that might have sway over an investor or publisher (after all: who better to judge whether a design could actually be turned into a good game than a game creator? At least, that's how it often works in the film industry with key talent).

So the game producer needs to be able to shop it around. It needs to be able to find outsourcing parties to come on board if it gets greenlit (as a game producer maintains no internal production resources to minimize its burn rate). It needs to be able to show your design to investment parties to see if they like it. So to pound that pavement, a game producer needs to do a deal. (Otherwise we're just giving you charity.) The game producer either options it as a design document (using the literary model) or does a co-production with you. But to do either, we need that design to be substantial. There needs to be a something there. You, game designer, need to put some sweat equity into it.

We say this to designers, but they don't seem to want to take that time to flesh out their designs. They don't want to lose their jobs. They don't want to lose their healthcare. They don't want to alienate their bosses. They don't want to spend all kinds of time writing up a design and beginning the journey of realizing their vision when they could be doing something more useful -- like learning how to optimize lightmaps.


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Comments


Alex Champandard
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For what it's worth, we founded an AI Game Programmer's Guild last year. At the moment, it does more down to earth stuff than what you suggest, but I'd be pleased to see it take on more of a leading role (since it's made up of other industry veterans/experts). Particularly with the business / industry things you mention; there's lots to be done there.

Anthony Hart-Jones
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It is a bit of a strange situation in many ways; here in the UK, we have BECTU if you want a union, TIGA, ELSPA or NESTA representing us in parliament (depending on your role) and the EGDF looking after us on a European scale. If you are a writer or a narrative designer, you have the Writer's Guild of Great Britain.



Suddenly, the idea of another guild (no matter how well-intentioned) seems like it might divide loyalties and confuse others. The intention is good, the example seems good for the industry as a whole, but there will be a transition period that might need factoring in, especially given the current economic climate...

Adrian Lopez
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The problem I have with guilds is what I see as their desire to monopolize a particular industry. Guild members are, first and foremost, expected to remain loyal to the guild by never working for companies that haven't agreed to the standard guild contract. Given their desire to impose particular terms upon employers, to allow individual members to negotiate freely on projects of their choice would interfere with the guild's purpose. The guild itself ends up becoming more important than the individual members, with members contractually barred from working for studios that won't or can't afford to agree to the guild's terms. It's almost like a kind of protection racket.

Mike Kasprzak
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The other problem with the role of producer and guild is the radical different types of games. Our industry is big, but the majority of work being done *is not* the equivalent to Hollywood blockbusters. Mobile, Casual, Portable, and Downloadable spaces make up the vast majority of projects in development. Your AAA "GTA but better" and "Halo but scary", you really only seeing a hand full of these come out of each publisher every year. The other vast majority is licensed games, all of which tend to be spearheaded by major publishers who can afford to license the properties.



A guild traditionally also relies on the idea of local talent pools. Our industry is *far more* international than the film industry. Sure, many countries produce the occasional international smash hit film, but the majority of well paid work is in Hollywood, New York and Vancouver. In games there are no boundaries, and each country has specifics to their healthcare, costs of living, and taxing systems that global guild acting as more than a "job board" doesn't seem practical.



There is room for the producer, but given the relative ease of modern game publishing, they actually may as well act as micro publishers. Otherwise it's just another hand in the pocket.

Bart Stewart
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We had a good conversation about these ideas back in February of 2009 when Tim previously presented them: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22045



I'm still torn. On the one hand, as a guy with game design ideas I can't help but applaud suggestions that sound as though they would increase the odds of new ideas being greenlit.



On the other hand, what's known as a "guild" in Britain and Canada is properly termed a "union" in the U.S. -- and the anti-competitive consequences of unionization (by any name) ought to be given fair scrutiny before being embraced in the game development industry.



More broadly, any idea this sweeping needs to be considered not just for its potential benefits but for its possible unintended consequences as well. If it were widely adopted, what problems could this system produce that the current system, while admittedly imperfect, tends not to have?



A trustable analysis of this proposal will openly consider both the hoped-for opportunities and the possible risks.

Glenn Storm
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I was intrigued to hear this side of the story, Tim. I guess I never realized that there were game producers combing the landscape for ideas to shop around, let alone that they'd be in favor of a guild. But, your argument seems pretty convincing. It actually sounds like game producers have a really tough row to hoe. Yeah, no overhead, but as you mention, you not only have to wrangle deals with publishers/production staff, you also need to overcome the fear factor of the designer with the golden idea just to get something to deal with. (And I can only imagine what impact the recent "Go indie!" push has done for that situation.)



I have some experience being a part of a guild (TAG, The Animation Guild, formerly MPSC) and I need to dispute the idea, raised in comment, that members are barred or punished for working for non-guild studios. The guilds understand that you need to feed your family, that not all studios are union, and that reality is what it is. There is no punishment or condemnation, no strong-arm goons lurking to dissuade you from working in a non-union shop. Funny enough, that's actually a Hollywood character stereotype about unions. And, I hope people understand that this analysis is not about comparing the medium or development process for games to film; this appears to be much more about refining another Wild West aspect of our business: the deal.



I hear Mike's criticism and it makes sense that the global nature of talent in games currently might make things commercially, if not legally, complicated. But, I'm still in favor of the idea in general and it's nice to hear the business side might also be on board.

Leo Gura
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Design Doc != Script.



It's pretty common knowledge in this industry that a bloated design doc ain't worth shit. I'm skeptical that you could buy a design doc, hand it over to an outsourcing company, and produce a hit title. You just don't see many outsourced success stories. The best developers, like Blizzard, Bungie, Valve, and BioWare understand this. That's why they pool talent and iterate. Halo started out as an RTS, of all things.



This being said, I'd love to see a company that spotted visionaries in our field and gave them a means of implementing those visions. Although iPhone and the indie games scene is already doing that to a extent, we could really use the help with AAA titles and especially MMO development -- which is completely stagnant.

Adrian Lopez
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@Glenn Storm,



Perhaps not all guilds have these rules, but I know for a fact that guilds such as the Screen Actors Guild do forbid members from working for any company that isn't a signatory to the union's contract. Would-be members can avoid this restriction under "right to work" laws by effectively becoming "dues paying non members" (search for "financial core"), but otherwise it is usually against union rules for union members to work for non-union shops.

Kevin Kissell
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As a person that is trying to break into the gaming industry, I applaud Tim and his company for trying a different model. I have seen a lot of nay sayers bashing the idea that could be a possible boon for this industry.



I am outside the gaming world. My hobby is to create and write game design documents. I have one completed and have several that are about half done (still being worked on). My goal is to move my hobby into my full time career; however that is very difficult because without being employed within a gaming company, your ideas are never heard.



The idea for creating a guild for game developers appeals to me because it is near impossible to have one’s ideas looked at. If a company desires to hear my concepts and there was also a guild to lobby ideas to the industry, that could increase the variety of games coming to the market.

Glenn Storm
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@Adrian: I am no expert on SAG rules, but as you point out, working at a non-union shop isn't strictly forbidden. You do pay a price (dues) and that was the case for TAG as well, but again, artists have to eat and the unions know that. These agreements are between the studios and the union; where the burden is on the studio to hire strictly union workers, but that agreement does not prohibit the worker from accepting work at a non-union shop. The unions are formed to serve the workers, not punish them.

Andrew Dobbs
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"They don't want to spend all kinds of time writing up a design and beginning the journey of realizing their vision when they could be doing something more useful -- like learning how to optimize lightmaps."



Just had to point out this quote...it's great. So much of game development seems built to kill dreams and squash inspiration with the drudgery of minutiae.

Kevin Kissell
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@Leo Gura,



Any design document no matter how large will be needed to explain game details to the programers and artists. I have researched this and have found that documents are needed to start any project great or small. Also your second paragraph is completely true. We need more new AAA titles then the same old designs.

Andrew Grapsas
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This seems to cut out the entire, "THIS IS A SOFTWARE INDUSTRY" element of it.



Guess what? It's a software industry :)

Adrian Lopez
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@Glenn Storm,



I don't know how it works in the case of TAG, but SAG's very first rule is that "No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect. This provision is worldwide."



http://www.sag.org/files/documents/SAG_Membership_Rules_0.pdf



The only way to avoid this rule is to either leave SAG and work strictly non-union, or else become a dues paying non member (you pay your dues but have no voting rights).

Andrew Dobbs
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@Adrian @Glenn



From what I've heard, I believe there is something similar for play actors and many of them just perform roles under a fake name.

Glenn Storm
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@Andrew: I've heard of that too. I'll have to ask actor friends of mine more about when/why they do so.



@Adrian: Again I am no expert on SAG rules. Wikipedia has enlightened me only a little. Global Rule One, as your quoted rule has been called, appears to have gone generally ignored or is side-stepped, as Andrew pointed out. On the face of it, this rule makes little practical sense anyway because there are fewer SAG jobs than SAG actors. The strength of the union is measured by its membership loyalty, so I have to wonder: if the union actually stands in the way of making a living in that profession, wouldn't that negatively effect membership loyalty? I can see the rule playing a role in stating a mission for the union and strengthening their position in a rhetorical way at the bargaining table, but I have a hard time seeing SAG actually chase down and oust members unless they crossed a picket line or made an agreement with a union studio outside the union's agreement.



But in any event, while it would probably be better to just get some expert opinions if we wanted to continue this line of discussion about SAG, I think it's more important to remember that the original point of this topic is to explore a potential guild for our industry, and that such an entity wouldn't have to mirror SAG.

Lance Rund
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Movie production is fleeing Hollywood to non-unionized locations, or in many cases overseas altogether. The guild system is a major contributor to this flight. When was the last time a blockbuster movie with a blockbuster budget was made in Southern California?



Do we really want the same thing to happen in the games industry?



In the general software industry, every time unions attempt to get a toehold they are more-or-less laughed out of the building (I've seen it happen firsthand more than once). When unions enter the picture, employee stock options and other perks leave, and tech workers 1) like to reach for the brass ring and 2) don't want a union boss telling them who they can or cannot work for.



The basic problem is that the games industry treats production talent assets, development, test) poorly. Their production models and ideas of the relationship between employee and parent company looks very much like Silicon Valley looked like in the late 80's. Silicon Valley changed its ways in the 90's, and much goodness was had by all. The modern Silicon Valley enjoys very good wages, good working conditions, and equity in your company. None of this would have happened if Silicon Valley had gone union.



Tell me, who is doing better, in terms of business success and employee potential: Hollywood or Silicon Valley?



If game companies would climb out of a 1990 mindset, adopt employment practices and work practices that more closely resembled 2009 Silicon Valley than Hollywood, the whole union/guild mindset would simply be laughed out of existence. I suspect we'd have more, better games and fewer EA_Spouse, too.

Kevin Kissell
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On design documents:



just as a example, I have a very large design document (325 pages), that describes the game plot and background of the story, 20 single player missions that include objectives, cut scenes, scripted event, mission details, envornment information, 15 multiplayer maps, description of weapons and items used in game, player controls, and other useful things a company would need to create the game. Anybody know of 75 people, 20 million dollars and 2.5 years that I needed. haha



Anyway, the docs are important, however they need to be well written and fully developed to get your foot in the door.

Kevin Reilly
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The avenue for "free agent" video game development exists. It's called iphone and Facebook. Does it exist for AAA games? No because it is cost prohibitive relative to the risk inherent in console development. Many publishers and investors are shifting away from the big risk development for the cheaper casual markets.



Should the industry change to accomodate a "game producer" model? Not sure. There is no guarantee that more money will pour into the system for development simply because there are more "game producers". From a plain reading of your proposal, you are not offering to put skin into the development beyond a possible option payment to achieve greenlight so it begs the question why the industry should change without financial incentive to do so beyond speculation of increased revenues. Opining for designers to become less cautious about sharing design docs (which may belong to their employers depending on the jurisdiction) and adopting an ambiguous set of standard deal terms (not actually spelled out in your article) to suit your needs as a game producer seems a bit self-serving. Maybe actually producing a product using this model will make skeptics (like myself) into believers.



Also the suggested entities to formulate and regulate such game developer guild have myriad problems of their own:



IGDA - the organization has many publisher members which poses a natural conflict of interest.



SAG - politically dysfunctional and most of the "stars" negotiate deals far above the common day rate player (which do not support living wage).



DGA - most directors leave the DGA when they have made it and like SAG it's powerful members negotiate far better deals than the standard terms.



WGA - courageous in their strike, equally as dysfunctional as SAG and constantly in conflict with each other over writer's credits. Will they have time to learn the intricacies of game development when they have already lost so much on internet?

Tim Carter
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@ Alex Champandard: Thanks, but we need far more people than AI programmers to build a game.



@ Adrian Lopez: The film unions have had to incorporate the desires of their members to work on more independent projects.



@ Mike Kasprzak: The game industry is more international than the film industry? What are you talking about? Almost every nation on earth makes or has made films.



@ Bart Stewart: It's a trade-off. Benefits here, losses there. Why not try it? Anyway I would prefer to do rather than analysis-of-the-paralysis.



@ Glenn Storm: Thanks for the feedback.



@ Leo Gura: A bloated design doc isn't worth shit. Who said design docs have to be bloated? That's your shit. Own it.



(Besides you can do a deal on a design document. After said deal, you can now shop something around. You can't do a deal on some guy telling you about a good game project he wants to make - no matter how experienced he is. The oral tradition - which game developers currently use to spark new projects - has disadvantages over literacy. Literacy - the willingness and ability to read and write - is very powerful. Literacy is a good thing, not a bad one.)



(I might add that I've always wondered why game developers insist on believing that a screenplay is an exact blueprint for how to make a film. It never is. Likewise, it never would in the game industry. But because a screenplay is accepted as a legal and promotional vehicle, it enables projects to be sparked. To be shopped around. To be talked about and sold. Why on earth would game developers not want an extra legal and promotional tool in their toolbox such as this?)



@ Andrew Grapsas: Ummmm... No. This is an entertainment industry. Software development industries solve mundane problems of day to day life. Games are about entertaining. The software bit in games is a mere vehicle. (Software is also used in music and film, but you don't think of either of those as software industries.)



@ Andre Thomas: How has that giant realm of culture call FILM been creatively stagnated by its unions?



@ Kevin Reilly: Have you ever seen an iPhone game with a $10 million dollar budget? Anyway, you're giving a circular argument. Like telling the Wright Brothers, "I'll believe that man can fly when I see one fly." What benefit is there to such commentary?

Mike Kasprzak
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@Tim Carter - I don't see a lot of Bollywood films in Theaters around here. However, I see plenty of games developed in Russia, Croatia, etc. That's the point I'm trying to make. A greater international market of talent in games than film.

Kevin Reilly
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Tim my point is that freedom does exist in iphone and facebook development where barriers to entry are lower and ROI is less limited by traditional console publisher model. Getting a $10M dollar budget greenlit for any original AAA games by indie developers is becoming harder due to the economic realities of the industry. I don't think that altering the financing model for production as the article suggests will make it easier to accomplish that goal because it doesn't actually expand the pool of available investment capital. It just allocates it to different entities without a evidence it will increase ROI. I am sure you would agree that some verifiable proof that the model actually works would go a long way to making it an industry norm. No?

Steve Avery
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@Tim Carter:

"Ummmm... No. This is an entertainment industry. Software development industries solve mundane problems of day to day life. Games are about entertaining. The software bit in games is a mere vehicle. (Software is also used in music and film, but you don't think of either of those as software industries.)"



That's because software isn't the end product in those industries. It is for us. We make entertainment software, and ignoring either the "entertainment" or "software" aspect of that is a great recipe for failure.

Alex Champandard
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@Tim Carter: Thanks, but we need far more people than AI programmers to build a game.



Hehe, I think you're addressing the wrong point.



First, we don't need more than a specific group of people to build a guild -- which is the point of your article. Why should it be a generic all encompassing guild, when there are already others? Second, if you're not going to look at (and work with) existing initiatives then you're probably not going to get very far.

Leo Gura
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I'm not saying that a well-thought out design doc isn't useful, or even necessary, but that having a guy write a 300+ page design doc in his basement for a AAA title is ridiculous. I've been there, done that. If you think you can design a AAA title in your head, you're in for a rude awakening.



It's a pipedream. Watch what happens when the rubber hits the road. Your design is gonna change every which way. But okay, suppose you craft a stellar design on paper, good luck trying to convince 100 passionate, opinionated artists, programmers, and designers to buy into it without having their say. Even better luck convincing those same developers to actually bother reading it!!! ...let alone understanding it, and developing around it. There's a reason these people are willing to work 70-hour weeks for little pay -- it's called creative input.



But that's not even the real problem. As the old saying goes, you can't get what you want until you want it. And practice in this industry shows that you don't know what you want until you iterate. As I see it, that's the missing element in this model. Ultimately we're making SOFTWARE, and you're perpetuating waterfall development, tisk, tisk.

Mike Kasprzak
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@Tim Carter - Right, and us being man-power smaller doesn't do anything other than mean there's less people to sustain a guild model, but you're missing the point. Russia for example produces a notable percentage of game content sold to consumers in our local market. Film and TV? Not so much. Russian film content has little to no value or presence in the North American market, meaning having to include them in any film guilds is unnecessary. And as you've said, we're smaller, and for the most part we're all competing on a level playing field for the same consumers. Russian film stays local. We are a global industry. The US may provide film for the world, but the world provides games for us.

Kevin Kissell
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I fully except that I am fighting an uphill battle, however I has studied the gaming industry for about 15 years, and I see a need of finding other sources of game ideas. I also know that any idea would be redesigned once it goes into development, however if the essence of the concept is there, then I will be ok with that. 99% of the games made come from within the game development company, which is a good thing. They are the experts in their field and know the ins and outs of the business.



I am just saying that there are a select few who are just crazy enough to design an AAA game concept and try to sell or market the idea. Everyone who plays games has an idea, but only 1 out of 1,000,000 will ever write it down or work on it to see where it goes. I am that One. I have played video games for the past 30 years, and have watched the industry move from the basement to a major entertainment movement. The industry will generate about 45 billion dollars in 2011; I want a small piece of that very large pie.



Sadly my skills and talents are not with programming code or artistic design, they lie with the idea itself and a passion/craziness for writing them down. I am a concept generator and document writer. I have about 20 years worth of ideas in my head, and I intend to write them all down. I see my ideas as either video games (FPS, RTS, MMO) or movies, or a series on the SciFi channel. I have vision and passion for what I do, and I will succeed.



I see Tim’s guild idea as a good thing. He is just trying to give the people who have put in the time and effort and passion for their idea, to be heard. Nothing wrong with that. I would join a development guild if it met that I my ideas could be heard by people who could create them.

Kevin Kissell
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Just to be clear with everyone, I am not trying to suck up to Tim or his company, I just agree with is concepts and ways for doing business.

Ernest Adams
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You don't build FROM a single huge design document. We haven't done that since the early '90s. However, you do document design decisions as you go along, for two reasons. One, you need to specify to the other teams what you want them to do, especially so they and budget and schedule the work. Two, you need to keep a record of decisions made, so you don't revisit issues again and again. Something I never want to hear in a design meeting is, "Didn't we talk about this last week?" and nobody knows because nobody wrote it down.



The key to this whole article appears in the words, "Our CFO, who comes from film and television..." Important tip: this business is not film and television. It doesn't work the same way. It doesn't have the same ethos. And because it involves software engineering -- devising a unique new piece of software machinery for each game -- it will never, ever, be like film or television. Ever. Ever.



I ranted about this at the GDC 15 years ago in a lecture called "Celluloid to Silicon: A Sermon for the Newcomers from Hollywood." Parts of it are outdated now, but it is essentially still apt. You can read it here:



http://www.designersnotebook.com/Lectures/Celluloid/celluloid.htm

Ernest Adams
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Oh, and one more thing: no, the IGDA is not supposed to be a guild or a union. When I set it up I explicitly promised the early members that it wouldn't go that route. Game developers HATE regimentation and they love flexibility, even if it means they get less money. Game developers are all libertarians at heart; they all see themselves as future captains of industry with studios of their own someday, and they will want to run it their own way when the day comes.



You can't equate a Hollywood set carpenter or a script-doctor with a game developer. We don't work that way.

Tynan Sylvester
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"We say this to designers, but they don't seem to want to take that time to flesh out their designs. "



As some others (hi Leo!) already wrote, this is not the problem. The problem is that the only way to develop a good game is to do it iteratively.



Long ago, in my naive youth, I spent months writing a huge design doc. I thought through everything. Then I tried to make the game and discovered that none of it actually worked the way I thought it would. The end product turned out decent, but didn't look like the initial plan except in the very broad strokes (and not all of those survived). No large-scale game ever does.



The reason nobody is interested in paper designs is that they have no value. Any part of the design which is not tested and proven in real world conditions is worth little more than the paper it is written on. The only way to build a game is from the ground up, developing ideas in small steps on top of the proven foundation, proving or discarding those ideas, and repeating the process until the game is finished and polished. Making a whole game on paper is just building a house of cards. It will tumble at the first whiff of reality.



So, in summary, the reason game production doesn't work like movie production is because games are not movies.



I have no doubt that people will still wish it did, though. The siren song of waterfall development will be with us forever. Kind of like communism.

Bob Stevens
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I'd prefer an organization like the ASC... something with clout that contributes to the industry in a significant way. In the ASC's case they have exclusive membership and decades worth of their journal, which is a very useful resource in the field of cinematography.



I doubt you can have clout without an exclusive membership, and I doubt you can contribute meaningfully back to the industry without members being highly skilled in their fields.



The IGDA will never be like this, and it will never (and should never) be a union. It's a networking organization, full stop.

Megan Fox
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So, I'm also in the industry (graphics programmer, for what it's worth), and what we see time and again on the tech side is that a designer, if allowed to make a monolithic design document, often fails to grasp that a sequence is technically infeasible on the target demographic's hardware, whether that be consoles, handhelds, or whatever else. This is something film doesn't have, film is a fixed medium, and is one of the many reasons why games can't work like film - games tech is constantly advancing, and you often simply can't know if something is possible until you try. Thus, the iterative style.



Another tech-specific challenge is that you can't simply contract out a portion of a game and expect what you get back to in any way, shape or form mesh with your code base. Games aren't something you can chop apart and develop piecemeal and then re-assemble in post. Period. That isn't how software works. So this grand scheme you have of contracting out to various producers plain doesn't work - you need a few core unified studios, which need to be pools of talent.



This of course ignores the other manifold issues, such as an untested design potentially being quite un-fun in practice despite however it might look on paper, or how it strips the various co-creators of any artistic input, or a thousand other problems - but everyone else has already addressed those.



And... etc. Treating films like games will get you games that play like movies, which is great if you happen to like linear first-person shooters with extremely long cut scenes, but probably not so great for everything else.





Now none of this means that I hate your ideas - personally, I would love to have a more open market, and for there to be some means of getting AAA games out there that weren't almost always intentionally safe in some way (because safety in at least one of design/concept/tech/etc is the only way a AAA game can be made a reasonably safe investment in our current funding system), but I don't think we can simply look to what film did, copy it, and have it just magically work. The two mediums are totally different.

Kevin Kissell
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@ Tynan



My design documents is just what I see in my head. A road map to the finished playable game. The artists and programmers need to know what the game is all about, where the player is at, what the player should be doing and why.



Anybody can write an idea on a napkin, however companies will look at you because you have put forth effort, shown talent in writing and also have shown you can finish an idea.



My concept has value. If I was to give it away (at no cost) to EA for example, they could look at was useable, retool the rest and create a great game. Like I said before, I have vision, my document shows time, hard work and commitment. Any company would be the fool to reject it because of its length. It is well formatted, easy to read and shows great detail.



To everybody who doubts the power of the design document, email me and I will show you a well thought out game design. You will need to sign the NDA first, E-mail – kevinkissell@ymail.com

Andrew Sega
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@ Kevin - With all due respect, that sort of design document is not a roadmap to a finished playable game. You haven't engineered it, done the concept art, done the final world data, or playtested it. You could probably go back after a AAA game is finished and write a complete design doc for the game, but that skips over the years of hard work iterating, balancing, and polishing the game product. Lots of ideas sound good on paper, but fail in execution.



Large game companies are not running short on game ideas, every internal designer has some, and most of them are never going to be produced. Why would they need yet more "paper" designs?

Cordero W
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Plus, game design is an art. I think that is why you don't see designers wanting their ideas crashed upon or stolen. It requires only one person to make an portrait or painting, and seldom more than one. If people like it, they will purchase it. If they don't, then they don't. The artist doesn't care. They're just happy to make the art in the first place, and move on their next "masterpiece." Thus, what makes video game designers partially artists. They do not want to lose that vision that they had. Though artists have their designs critiqued, it is usually final by the time their analyzed, unless they have someone, like a teacher, looking over the work to give their input. Having been in art classes, I know all about this. I'm saying this because video games aren't just software or entertainment, but also art. And because of this "all around" description, not one "principle" is going to be set in stone for the video game industry.

Kevin Kissell
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@Andrew,



You are right, why would a company outsource for new ideas when they can go down the hallway and find good ideas there. My biggest goal is just to be heard and my products looked at, after that if I am lucky, then someone would like to take a chance on me. I still believe that my document is of great worth. Why would I write something that has a 0% chance of being looked it? I have hope, and I have vision, plus I am a doer not just a talker. I can back up my ideas with something tangible, it may not be a working demo, but a design document of any lenght is more then just a good idea. I still believe that what I am doing will be successful.

Andrew Grapsas
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"Steve, software isn't the end product. An experience is."



:) Cute. I agree. But, the software tends to be what makes or breaks that experience. I love pen and paper games; but, this is the "video" games industry.



I agree completely with that "entertainment software" comment by Steve.



Additionally, having a large design doc from the get go with everything drilled down and detailed is anti-agile and will more than likely result in a poor game.



You have to find the fun, not write it down on a piece of paper.



This whole idea is just silly.



We're not Hollywood.

Kevin Kissell
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@Andrew,



The document is just a place to start from. Is says...here is an idea, what do you think, like this mission, well let's keep it, do not like this mission, we will scratch it or redesign it, that is a great idea for a weapon...keep it, that weapon is silly, delete it.



This is what my document does, it helps and guides but does not say, here is an idea, everything stay, no changes. It is fluid, not solid, it can be changed. When a company desides to create the game, the design document answers alot of question from both artists and programers.

Andrew Grapsas
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"The document is just a place to start from. Is says...here is an idea, what do you think, like this mission, well let's keep it, do not like this mission, we will scratch it or redesign it, that is a great idea for a weapon...keep it, that weapon is silly, delete it."



If the weapon is silly, it shouldn't be in your initial docs. I agree, there should be a place to start from. I disagree that it has to be some sort of document detailing even what a level consists of. An essence statement, a mission statement, a simple "This is what the heart and soul of our game will be" is enough.



From there, rapid iteration should flesh it out.



Documents, more often than not, are not fluid. They are either adhered to, or they aren't updated as changes occur, and they tend to be glossed over if they're too detailed. It's just silly.

Tim Carter
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It seems many people out there prefer the prison cell they know over the strange new outside world that they don't.

Tynan Sylvester
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This comment is addressed to Kevin Kissell.



I have done the exact same thing you are doing. So did my buddy Leo, as he mentioned. I spent years on it. I have written design docs for mods made with several people, indie projects I made myself, and for parts of a large-scale AAA game at a development studio. Hundreds (possibly thousands) of hours of my life were invested in these writings.



In no case did any of them turn out to be of any use except as a very shallow launching point for an iterative process. Most of the time they just slowed me and my team down, since we ended up thinking about and implementing stuff that turned out to be unnecessary or wrong.



Here are a few other data points for you.



-Halo started out as a real time strategy game.

-Left 4 Dead started having open-world levels and no special infected.

-BioShock started out as an ultra-nerdy RPG about mutants in a Nazi bunker. No, really. This is on Gamespot. The Little Sisters also used to be sea slugs, not little girls.



Think about how Valve develops properties. They never purchase design documents. What they do is bring in projects with a proven core mechanic and polish them. Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead, Portal, Team Fortress 2, Day of Defeat, Garry's Mod were all done this way. All successful games.



If you really truly want to see your idea become a game, figure out a way to distill it down to its purest core mechanic, get that implemented, and find out for real if it works. It's only when a naive player smiles at your game that you're created something of true value - a proven game mechanic.



It should't be that hard. For example, Left 4 Dead started out as a Counter-Strike mod where they just added 30 bots with knives versus a fully-equipped team of 4 human players. That's the core of L4D, and they grew it piece by piece from there.



Everyone starts out thinking you can design on paper. For me, it took years of punishing failure to realize that this doesn't actually work. I'm not trying to talk down to anyone. It's just, damn. What a waste. I could have saved myself a few years there; maybe you still can.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"...why the industry should change without financial incentive to do so beyond speculation

of increased revenues.", "expand the pool of available investment capital.", "I want a small piece of that very large pie."



I've been feeling very sick and stressed out lately, could you guys do me a _teeny_ favor and at least pretend that our primary goal is to change peoples' lives and move them through emotional engagement and challenge through skillful and empathetic execution of our artform as opposed to raking in the dough; It would really help my stomach. If we are starving for more money, we could always get rid of the carpetbaggers and 6-7(-8...) figure CEOs that want to 'take the fun out of making games' and we would be left with perhaps a few thousand talented and sincere artists for which quality is the primary goal and profit is the deserving reward - but alas, the uninspired and the insincere rest at the top of the power pyramids in this (and all) industries. (45 billion dollars split between, say, 10,000 individuals that cull out the fat gives us $4.5 million each - hint hint, nudge nudge ;) )



Okay, joking aside, I sincerely think that the future of our artform (and as a side effect our income) can only improve if we move away from the financial rhetoric to the artistic rhetoric in these discussions. An example of this can be seen in my previous sentence; I used 'artform' instead of 'industry'. Improving the artform is what we are truly aiming for, and improving (or stabalizing) our income is our reward, just as any good, sincere doctor will tell you that healing patients is his goal while his salary is his reward for what he is contributing to society.



Now I am going to play the role of annoying fence-sitter in the design doc discussion. I think it is suboptimal to take either extreme; writing a several hundred page design document is actually a good way to show you are dedicated and perhaps a good hobby if you enjoy it, but if you are in a position where you can _implement_ something much sooner than that you would be insane not to. But design documents (or writing down design in general) is still quite useful. At my company, we have what we call 'recipes' which are clearly segmented pieces of the overall design that get written not up front but at a given point _during_ development when it is essential to officiate communication (new system, control change, etc). Even on a mod I am making by myself in my spare time (I never intend to let anyone else work on it), I often find myself writing down ideas for enemies and skills before implementing them as a means of capturing my flowing thoughts before I lose them.



Also, for those implying that design docs are less agile than programming, sandboxing, and creating art, you're either smoking something reeeaaaally good or using some amazing mind-reading tools. I am a software engineer unfortunate enough to still be coding in C++ and have to deal with cpp/header redundency maintenance and concept scattering innate a language geared more toward abstracting assembly than abstracting fun, so please forgive me when I say it is much harder to change something via code than it is to type a different paragraph or section in MS word. Design documents are _very_ agile, second only to the human mind -- and vastly more permanent. Where they fail is in their _accuracy_; if we are going to point out the flaws in this design document, let's stay focused on this (as many before me have done splendidly).

Bart Stewart
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Tynan and Jeffrey, thanks to both of you for helping me feel a lot better about something.



I too have a couple of relatively bulky design docs I've been slowly adding to and tweaking over the years. I've been feeling bad about not "finishing" them... but now, thanks to the power of Iteration! (TM), I see that they're actually done! I have successfully finished something!



At last, I can now move on to the next stage: complaining that no one will drop a giant satchel full of money on my desk so that I can quit my high-paying day job, hire several minions, and start the hard work of actually implementing these designs. :)

Cordero W
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@Jeffrey Crenshaw: I'm glad one person sees the artform point I made. :)

Charles J Pratt
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"It seems many people out there prefer the prison cell they know over the strange new outside world that they don't."



Wow, way to reach out to the very people your company needs to succeed.



You're still not answering what seems to be the most pertinent criticism of the system you're proposing: that it lacks room for serious iteration. As has already been pointed out the common theme among many of the game industry's big successes was a long period of iterative design. Is there room in the process you're suggesting for that kind of experimentation?



Also, if I'm not mistaken, your company won't guarantee that the person who writes the design doc gets to actually work on the game they described unless they're already a veteran designer. This is, I think, I big misconception of where your talent is actually going to be coming from. A veteran designer might have great ideas but is probably older and has a family and therefore has the least tolerance for the risk you're suggesting, no matter how much they might like to. It's the young designer that has less to lose and is more willing to take the plunge, and yet there's a disincentive to do so because they're not sure they'll even have a controlling say in how their game is implemented.



Finally, I agree with Ernest Adams that your company is making a mistake by equating a game designer with a screenwriter. Just for myself I'll say that writing a design doc is the least interesting part of my job as a game designer, and one that has the least effect on what the game is actually going to look like. The idea that my job becomes writing a lot of design docs, having them optioned (maybe), and then waiting for one to get picked up (and I don't even have a guarantee I'll be able to work on it), isn't very motivating.



I think that people have already pointed out some of the ways in which you're missing the process of making a great game. Along with Mr. Adams I would also point out that you might be misinterpreting the psychology of most game designers.

David Hottal
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Tim, I have to say I love the idea. Reading through the FAQ on your companies page, it gives a lot more insight into what you're trying to do.



I think too much of this conversation has focused on design docs and not the intent of "free agent production". A 300 page design doc is overkill. However, a succinct design doc that presents the vision clearly and effectively is critical. If a design doc starts out as an RTS, there's no reason it can't be changed to an FPS. However, it's ineffective to just say, "I want to make a game about X, let's do it!" It's all about balance. A design doc should be an iterative document that presents a vision, and is updated iteratively based on regular play testing.



I do love the possibilities a guild and free agent production has.



1. Creativity and risk taking. This is huge. By having less overheard, it's much easier to take risks. We would, hopefully, see more games pushing boundaries and breaking away from formulas.



2. Opportunities for aspiring designers. This applies to industry vets who aren't creating the games they want, as well as people looking to break in. Designers can focus on their pet designs and have an opportunity to sell it.



Most other media has a similar setup. Movies have been discussed, but music is like this as well. Musicians create demo tapes in hopes to impress a recording studio to give them a contract. It's a system that works. It's all about matching creative talent with the resources needed to make the art (and money).



One question though... Tim, is there a casting couch? I don't think I'm up for that.

Tim Carter
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To Charles Joseph Pratt, if you have a design close to your heart, that requires a major budget, and you want to get it made, you can speak to us. (When other game producers appear - and I'm certain they will - you can speak to them.)



Be prepared to believe in your design.



Be prepared to sell it to others.



Be prepared to do business.



If it gets greenlit, be prepared to have to translate that design into a prototype. Don't write too much detail - just *enough* detail - because many ideas you have will be subject to playtesting and may not work when the pedal hits the metal. Make precise the detail you do write. Show, don't tell, when you write. Commit to your design decisions as it makes your writing compelling, and we all tacitly understand any element in a desdoc is subject to prototyping and playtesting anyway.



But at least now that we have an object called a *design document*, we can do a deal. We can do a deal and tie into a wealth of legal precedent on prior literary transactions.



Without that object we can either talk and talk and talk - but you can't do a deal on talk (unless you're Will Wright) - or we can wait and wait and wait for you to somehow cobble the resources together to make a prototype first.



(Or you can go off and just make an iPhone game - but wait, we were talking about a design for a major game, not a little game like that. Put out your iPhone game, and now those new trade secrets are now out there, but your game is lost in the slush pile of a thousand other iPhone games, with no marketing budget to speak of; and any AAA game developer can look at any new concepts in your game and yank them freely.)



If you want to be in love with a process that's been used already - which many are calling broken; which cannot unite a triple-A budget with an indie game team; which means your dream design (that I assume you have) will sit on your hard drive or in the back of your mind until you either 1.) pitch it to head office (which might make it, but if they do you won't see any of the profits if it becomes a hit [but hey, it will net you a few more years of employment]), or 2.) leave your company and build another studio (if you can manage to raise enough resources to build the vertical slice *before* getting any financing), but then have to manage your studio (instead of going on to your next dream game), and now you're stuck in the same place as you were before except you're the boss now, not the employee, and your company needs monthly overhead payments to be met, so you better stick to making sequel after sequel after sequel because they're a safe bet - then by all means, stay where you are.



We aren't interested in the designers who want to keep the status quo.

Tim Carter
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To David Hottal, you sound like a true believer. (Casting couch...? I ain't goin' there...)

Kevin Kissell
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To: Jeffrey Crenshaw,

Thanks for understanding my situation about my vision. When I take by idea on the road to show the world what I can do, I will have a small 25 page “Show and Tell” document that will break down that large document and show its soul. The large documents I produce are mainly to flesh out the entire game from CD install until the end of the game. This is my vision process, outlines, writing more details, rough drafts and final product. It really is what the game could be, not what the final product is. It is not set in stone, that is why it is written on paper :) It will allow me to get my foot into the door, plus look how many posting this article created in just a few days.





To: David Hottal

“A 300 page design doc is overkill. However, a succinct design doc that presents the vision clearly and effectively is critical.”



Yes, my larges documents are certainly overkill in all since of the word, however since I am not inside the gaming industry and my last name is not Lucas or Spelberg, then I have to impress beyond what is considered “normal”. All I am trying to do is get my name out there, present my ideas, have them created, and make some money in the process. I am serious about my work, I do spent a lot of hours refining my concepts into a workable game that will have some worth to a company. I research game trends and what is needed with the industry. I desire to fulfill that need. I intend do to this for a living someday within the near future. I also write to show that I am not a “one trick pony” I am currently working on 3 other ideas, here is my process thus far, Game 1 at 100% done, Game 2 at 80% done, Game 3 at 50% done, and Game 4 at 25% done. This is me, this is what I do.



To: Tim Carter,

I am also a true believer,

Charles J Pratt
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Tim, I'm sorry if you somehow construed that I was making an argument for the status quo. I am not. However, just because the status quo is bad that doesn't mean that the model you're presenting isn't also problematic.



You haven't addressed what I pointed out was (in my opinion) the most pertinent critique of your company's plan: the role of iteration. What is the space for iteration in the process you're putting forward?



Also, isn't it true that your company does not guarantee that the person who wrote the design document will be part of the team that actually implements their design? Isn't this a problem for a) the young designers that are most likely to be interested in your offer and can tolerate the risk the most, but who don't have the experience to be included in the rest of the process, and b) people for whom writing the design document is the least interesting part of game design and are aware that often a game looks very little like its initial design (especially after iteration)?



These problems have nothing to do with whether or not the current model of game development is healthy or sustainable. Perhaps you have solutions to these problems with your model, or perhaps you consider these problems to be necessary evils, or perhaps you don't consider them to be problems at all. Either way, reiterating that things are already bad and that your model doesn't work unless you start with a design doc doesn't answer the criticisms that have been made here by people who aren't "true believers".

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Thanks for understanding my situation about my vision."



Sure, but I fear my fence-sitting may have been skewed from the pendulum effect of combating design-doc naysayers, so let me remedy that!



"then I have to impress beyond what is considered “normal”."



Okay, what you are doing is certainly beyond normal, but I'm not sure it's particularly impressive. At least, not in the context of hiring a new designer - I am certainly impressed at your dedication! But you are selling the wrong ability. If I was in the position of hiring you and you told me you had several design docs, one of which is over 300 pages, I would wonder why you don't have any games to show me. I mean, complete (or even initial prototype), digital, playable games. Certainly you could have thrown something together in Game Maker in the time it took you to write 300 pages! If you are trying to set up a strong resume, it is just about mandatory to have some playable demos - yes, even as a designer. If your resume consists of only documentation of your ideas, that tells me that you think that designers come up with all these wonderful ideas while programmers slave away at implementing them, artists take care of visual minutiae, and testers take care of the menial task of nitpicking. It is not like this at all! Designers work very hard, scripting (like programmers), blocking out levels (like artists), and balancing and fixing bugs (like testers). Designers have to do all of this and more to work well with the other departments. Since you've been studying the industry for so long, I'm sure you're aware of this - yet then I must wonder why you are marketing a skill that designers use relatively little (writing) to the point of ignoring the more important skills that any decent game company looks for in a designer (implementation, follow through, working on a team).



"This is me, this is what I do."



That is not the message you want to get across to anyone!! Tim's company may change this in the future, and you may be willing to wait and see if this happens. Maybe it won't. Likely it won't; I think there are many great things about what Tim is suggesting, but I don't think the concept of designing a game to such completion and then having other people take care of the small bothersome aftersight of 'implementing it' will ever be legitimate, and I think you will always have to (and should be dying to!) get your hands dirty with implementation details. If you really want a job now, change this attitude! Game companies don't want 'idea' men; at least, not people who are _just_ idea men. They want people who _implement_ those ideas. And if you are really passionate about those ideas, you'll want to implement as much yourself as you can - because no design document is going to get your team members' brains to align with yours.



Please do keep the passion though; it is sorely lacking in this industry, for many reasons, and it is another marketable skill.



And a question for Tim: if a designer pitches a nice design doc to your company and insists on being the hands on creative director/lead designer/whatever, they would have that first right correct? I am concerned when Charles says "your company does not guarantee that the person who wrote the design document will be part of the team". This can't be true, right? Assuming it's not, then the role of iteration is quite easily explained - it happens after the pitch (which is not inflexible, simply inspiring and honest to collect talent that is interested in the genre/theme/etc), when the designer has an appropriately skilled and interested team that has agreed to make the best game that they can. I see Tim's idea as changing how teams are constructed, not necessarily changing the pipeline or iteration process. Tim, is this an accurate assessment?

Kevin Kissell
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To: Jeffrey Crenshaw,



As in my other postings will tell you, I have no skills in being a artists or programing codes. I am just the idea man who writes what he sees in head. I am purchasing some map making software to help display what is in some of my missions. This software is basicly 2D topdown view to show where the locations are within the envirnment the player is in. I could, if hired into a company, show how the game "feels", however throwing code together is way out of my skill set. The completed game has some missions that are on Earth, I have used Yahoo Maps to cut and paste locations to tell the story and show various objectives with those maps. I find this useful and helps with the value of my document. I have outsoursed and spent alot of money to have my weapons and item found in the game created for me. The pictures of the weapons and items are high quality, very detailed and show my vision of what the player uses within the game. I have used every skill and talent in me to produce these ideas. It is a pitch document plus so much more. To get this game created, I need people with the skills and talent that i do not have. I have come as far as I can. Now I look to other sources to bring my vision to light.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Kevin, I would suggest you view these skills not as limiters but as things you can and should overcome. I don't think you need to be able to throw together code or make AAA art, but understanding at a high level how a game engine works is useful for a designer. For example, do you have any levels with multiple enemy types? One of the most frustrating limitations I've observed for modern games is that it can be tricky to fit many enemy types into memory because they often have a large set of unique animations (on top of textures and models) which can eat away at RAM. I've worked on projects where levels had to be designed around this - like, if the engine can only support 2 or 3 types of enemies in memory at any given time (on top of the player character, which is probably going to have an even larger number of anims), but your level in the design doc calls for 6 enemies, then you may need to split the level into two or stream it in individual parts. Is your design flexible enough to just break a level at the appropriate point? Can you find a twisting hallway to do the streaming in so the player isn't watching things from a large vista pop into the game? What if a weapon that you really like doesn't make it into the game because it is trickier to debug than other weapons and can't fit the budget - can you anticipate this? Can you cut it from your design without breaking the balance of your difficulty or weapon introduction pacing? Although, perhaps a convincing enough design doc and good presentation skills can save said weapon, or convince art to remove animations from some enemies so other enemies can fit, be aware that these are the kinds of issues that implementation will reveal that design docs have a hard time anticipating.



If you have the time, I would suggest googling Doom Builder and screwing around with it. It is an editor for making Doom-style maps, so you will need a Doom-style game (Doom, Doom 2, Heretic, Strife), though also google zdoom for a very popular combination port of such games (you will still need the main wad file for Doom/Doom2, not sure what for Heretic/Strife). I suggest it with personal bias because I have experience with it and could help you learn it (it's much easier than modding modern games, if time is a concern), but the main point I am trying to get at is that you should take the time to make _something_. There is plenty of software out there for making simple games without knowing how to code, and even though you might find it frustrating to work on 'simple' games, it looks a lot more impressive on a resume than you might think and fosters a good attitude of appreciating the importance of implementation.



At any rate, please be proud of the talents you have but don't be defeatist about the talents you don't have - a designer has to have many! You should really consider moving forward from the idea pillar to the implementation pillar. And though I'm only a hobbyist game designer (professional game programmer), I have been studying and practicing design for years and I am just now starting to learn the third pillar: politics. I'm not going to go into the details of that one right now since I feel like a noob in such matters, but let's just say it's the least desirable of the three :)

Tim Carter
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Charles, there is a two-stage greenlight in this model (as opposed to film's single greenlight). We take a design then look to finance prototyping of it. Each design is a different package and lives and dies by this. Some are driven by the reputation of the designer; some by a marketing connection; some by the merits of the design (which means it has to try to do radically different gameplay - because doing a first-person shooter with an extra minor change tacked on isn't going to cut it: it has to be really really different).



We lump the designs together in a slate and finance the whole lot of them together. This is risk mitigation.



When we find finance to greenlight prototyping, we put the design into prototyping, using an iterative methodology. Then we make a prototype. When we make a prototype, it looks just like the typical game development studio you're familiar with. The only difference is, the production facility will look different. It may be a temporary office, set up for the duration of prototyping. Some providers may be distributed. We play it by ear for each project. We try to stay away from totally distributed (virtual) development. All the participants are outsourced parties - everyone.



In the prototype we find if the core thesis is going to work. If it does, we now have a vertical slice which looks very much like the typical vertical slice that a publisher wants to see. So we go out looking to greenlight it again - for full production. If we can't find funding to go into full production after a number of years, the rights will revert to the original designer (with some conditions applying, given we just spent a lot on making the prototype). (Actually rights reversions can be triggered at multiple stages in this process.)



If it goes into full production, we're now involved in full production. Again, similar to standard game development except that the team is assembled purely of building bricks of outsourced suppliers - from core talent members to large art production companies to middleware companies. All outsourced. All know that when the project ships, they'll move on to their next gig elsewhere.



To Jeffery Crenshaw: We want people who *both* have ideas *and* can implement. The game industry is full of experienced professionals who all know how to implement a great first person shooter, but have been so programmed to think that games = first person shooters (or whatever) that they really have lost that fundamental ability to create and reimagine. They just make a shooter, plus an extra dood-dad added on. Sequelitis.



Regarding this point: '"your company does not guarantee that the person who wrote the design document will be part of the team". This can't be true, right?'



Basically we work with you. First, it depends on how you want to play it.



We can do a design acquisition where you sell the design to us, but in exchange we do a super-detailed contract that explains every possible way you'd be compensated in the event your game becomes a major hit.



Or we can do a co-production deal, which is similar to a traditional game development company, but set up just for a single game and again, it promotes you as a deisgner.



There are advantages to either route. You can read up about it on our website.



We negotiate between the money and the designer. The designer needs to realize that he's going to have to sell his IP no matter what. Even if you start up your own company, and control that company, you sell your IP to company - if you want investment, that is - and the investor usually gets majority control if you want his money. Not even Core Talent Games can change this fundamental reality.



But what we do do is put a great deal of effort into promoting the name of the designer, working with designers as individuals, creating a culture of free agency, selling designs in large parts as the product of individual designers, helping designers develop their individual brand as creators so they can go on and eventually command more power as creators, get their name out, and so on. That's our difference.



To the investors, we act as early-stage scouts. We proactively go in an look for designs rather than waiting passively for vertical slices to come (a process which breeds risk-aversion on the part of developers and investors alike). The game producer needs expertise as a game designer to do this job. He needs to shoot holes in most design elements - or recognize the well-intentioned design from one that also has some good implementation. Good implemention is a sign of a good designer - and that's really what we're looking for on a project, even if we do the deal on the design.



Shoot me an email and I can explain more.

Leo Gura
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@Kevin



Jeffrey's right on point. The best generals are former soldiers. They understand what it's like in the trenches. This is absolutely necessary. If you care about the artform -- meaning you don't want to make crap games -- then you gotta get out of armchair design.



The reason designer's have to learn seemingly trivial things like lightmapping, level editing, modeling, script, etc. is because it changes how one thinks about design. Designs written without experiencing these things are naive. You can't anticipate most technical challenges -- you need to consult engineers for that. You can't anticipate pop-cultural shifts -- a design that worked 3 years ago might not work in today's market. And you can't anticipate political pressures -- which will blow certain ideas out of the water. This industry is very competitive, and you can't compete effectively unless you're bouncing ideas off of fellow designers.



Watch the videos of Blizzard designing Diablo III -- that's art right there. They're iterating. They will put out a polished product that will succeed as a result.



@Tim



I hate the status quo of this industry more than most. Which is why I went indie. But the mainstream game industry is a giant machine with very delicate clockwork. This has to be respected to a degree because unless you're intimately familiar with how the entire mechanism ticks, taking out bits and pieces is dangerous -- not only to peoples' livelihoods but the artform itself.

Tim Carter
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Leo: Which part of "a design is not a rigid blueprint for a final game" can't you hear?



(Likewise a screenplay also isn't in the film industry. Go watch Hearts of Darkness, about the making of Apocalypse Now, and tell me the screenplay was a rigid blueprint there. In some cases, it was being rewritten every day on the set. That is total iteration.)



The point of returning to the design is to think of things that are utterly new and haven't been explored. When you spend so much time in technicalities, you get lost in the details. You get myopic.



A general actually spends most of his time in the command post, where he looks at the big map. That's why he's called a *general*. The worst generals spend their time micromanaging troops at the front lines. They miss the big picture.

Kevin Kissell
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After many long winded posts, this is what I have been saying the whole time. I have created the big picture; from plot and background story, to single player missions, mulitiplayer maps, weapons and items that the player will use, to the keyborad and mouse controls for those weapons and items. I have had to create the big picture, to show the grand vision of what the game or could be.



After may years of hard work, writing and rewriting, formating missions, and doing thousands of hours of research, it will pay off in the end. Tim's company will be the key to my success. Vision will be rewarded, lazyiness and just dreaming will get you nowhere. To quote Thomas Edison: What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. The idea part is easy, the writing, research, outlining, draft after draft, to final product. Now that is the hard part.



I put my soul into every concept that I create. In the end, you will see my games upon the market, it might take years, however you will play them. I have two FPS, one RTS game, and one MMO being worked. All my games are unique, innovative and something new for the gamer to behold. Have fun playing them....in a few years :)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Shoot me an email and I can explain more."



Thanks Tim, I was interested in doing this but I can't seem to spot your email in your post or the article or your profile, and your website only has an info & jobs email target. Forgive me if I am simply blind.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I think there is something valuable a production company can add to the mix. And I mean "millions of dollars in savings" kind of valuable.



The biggest problem with game design is that most people don't understand it. Sadly, this includes senior designers in established studios, sometimes. It's easy to complain about waterfall, but I've never seen anyone do a proper requirements analysis (note that, in case of a computer game, such an analysis cannot be purely technical - hence the difficulty).



Most advanced disciplines are not widely understood, either, but the difference is that when you don't understand a car engineer, you take their word for it and buy a car anyway. Or, if the decision is really important to you, you ask someone you trust for advice. But when someone doesn't understand a game designer, they usually think they know better, and they don't even consider buying designer's idea. The result is that greenlighting is being done blindly.



I once saw a studio sign an AAA contract with a big publisher, based on demo whose only asset was that it looked pretty. No compelling IP, no bankable talent, no super tech, no innovation, just a fairly impressive recording of some fast paced action. The action was faked in a way that would not hold if someone actually played the demo. But the publisher apparently didn't mind. Or didn't bother to check.



The project went into development, but failed after about a year and a half. 600 man-months worth of salaries, equipment and office rent went down the drain.



The point is, I could see it coming. I was just a witness, and I could easily name ten things that were going completely wrong in that project. A few of the actual team members could do that, too. If they were listened to, someone would have saved most of those 600 man-months. The publisher could have paid for a better, more succesful variant of the same project.



The biggest issue with that project was that it had no design. There were a number of raw ideas: "it's a first person shooter", "it has co-op", "it's a sandbox", "it has super-detailed graphics", "it's a cinematic experience", "it's 20 hours long", "it kicks ass!". That was wishful thinking, rather than a vision. Some of those ideas were too vague to actually mean anything. Some of them were mutually exclusive. None of them were interconnected.



One of big differences between game development and filmmaking is that in a large film company, a qualified specialist actually reads the script, reviews it critically, and points out things that they think are not going to work. The process isn't flawless, but it's there. Nobody does the same for games.

Charles J Pratt
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Tim, thanks for answering my questions!



It sounds like there is a space for iteration but that it's limited to just the prototyping stage. I think that people here have rightly pointed out that this might be a bad idea, because often a game gains much from consistent iteration throughout the whole process, but thank you for clarifying.



You still haven't said definitively whether or not the writer of the design doc will always be included in the implementation process if they wish, even if they have no actual experience. I assume that the answer is "no", that you would negotiate to have them compensated in the event that their game gets developed and then perhaps if it becomes a hit (the first deal you outlined).



I still think that you're going to have a problem where the people truly interested in this process are those that have less experience and therefore are more likely to get shut out of implementation, and also that for most truly talented game designers writing a design document is the least interesting and least consequential part of their job.



Honestly, I think that your model would be more appropriate for funding middle-sized games. Right now there is very little game development going on between small indie projects and giant AAA development. These are folks who actually do need representation and someone to sell them to larger publishers. Perhaps that is a role more appropriate for your company, helping talented indie teams expand to something larger than garage development but not quite 100 person juggernauts, rather than trying to produce AAA titles right out of the gate.



Still, experimentation is healthy for the industry as a whole, and we could especially use more experimentation in business models. Good luck to you and your team!

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Sean Parton
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Wow, what a fantastic fountain of insight from everyone who's commented here. I always love reading comments in some of the more controversial subjects we get here at Gamasutra, because they always offer many different opinions and insights that would otherwise be hard to gather.



@ Tim Carter: One thing that seems to be completely absent from what I've read and gathered here is the existence of designers beyond whoever came up with the initial design doc.



I say this because although I am a game design and as such have plenty of my own ideas, coming up with new, innovative designs isn't actually my forte. My strengths (and what I enjoy most about my discipline) is system, content, and to a degree level design.



Essentially, is there a place at either the first (prototyping) or second (actual game making) process where someone of my strengths would be included, or is it assumed that the initially greenlit document has everything mostly intact to begin with?

Leo Gura
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Is the ad hominem necessary?

Tim Carter
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To Dingus Anon: LOL! You don't understand packaging. If I'm a snake oil salesman, then the entire film industry - from the highest Spielberg to the lowliest Fassbinder - is full of snake oil. Anybody in that business knows what the producer does: pound the pavement to promote a project. The rest of your argument is circular. Kind of like saying to Columbus, "Well, this New World can't possibly exist because nobody has returned from there yet, and you haven't been there yet." (No shit, Sherlock. Yah gotta start somewhere.)



Take "Impressive Prototype" as an example. Okay, I'm assume you know something about game design. What's the strategic implication of relying on said prototype to appear as a path to make game? Answer: It's risk-averse. You, as financier, *wait passively* for a prototype to appear. You don't proactively go to the talent and work at the pre-prototype level - you wait for pre-prototype (the design) to materialize. So, the next move in the dominant strategy for getting a game made under this system: a development company must make said prototype (vertical slice). But since publisher *requires* this, they (game developer) know they are essentially making a game pitch in the form of a $3 million prototype. Isn't it kind of stupid to do that just to test out whether a core concept is going to work? Wouldn't this make the game dev co very very risk averse? If you have to shell out $3 million to get a game greenlit, what kind of game would you propose? Probably something that looks like space marines running around inside a brown castle killing aliens. After all, that's what publishers "get".



So do the game balancing, mister. In strategy game balance any time there is a single dominant strategy - any time you MUST do X, instead of having a multiple number of ways you can succeed - you have a *broken* game. The game production model, as is, is broken (and I ain't the only one whose said that). Just because a new one doesn't exist yet - and here we are out trying to build it, hooking into a wealth of legal and artistic precedent - doesn't obviate that basic reality.



To Sean Parton: Okay, you're a later-stage developer. Wouldn't you like a system where people came to you and asked you, "What do you think about this project?" And, if you were able to develop a name as a later-stage developer, you might say you like it. You might attach your name to it. Now, guess what?: you're influencing whether a game design will get turned into a game. That's called packaging. The whole free agency thing - at least at its best - is run off of money types who also want to know what talent thinks should be made. Talent now influences the greenlight. Because we stop looking at games as being made by containers called game development companies (full of essentially nameless people), and now start to see games as being made by talented people.

Kevin Kissell
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To Dingus:



"but I am afraid that you lack any understanding of game design and development if you think that a design document is worth much more than the paper it is printed on."



I hope you have read every posting for this subject. I think that we or some of us agree that a design document has value, shows hard work and can get you a meeting with investors and the people need to start the project. Tim "The Preacher Man" Carter will help those who have great marketable ideas with designs or demo to get them seen and possible created. The model he is wanting to create is something new with the gaming industry, however he is not just sitting around not doing nothing, he is working toward a goal. A noble quest. Dingus, you do not know bubkus.

Kevin Kissell
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In keeping with the "Preacher" theme, to Dingus...I will write my way to salvation (salvation = money), can I get an Amen.

Kevin Kissell
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Dingus -



I have worked too hard and written so much that I dare not give up now. Tim's company offers light at a very long dark tunnel. Where all others turned me away because I do not work for a game development company. I might have a chance with Tim's business. Hard work will pay off, vision will be rewarded.

Tim Carter
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Shush, Dingus. Back in your corner.


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