So as the chief game designer for Zynga, is there anything that you are telling your game designers amid these reports and accusations, relating to the environment of social game design right now? I mean, I know that you guys look at other games.
BR: Yeah. First of all just to be clear, the chief game designer is kind of a first among equals title [laughs]. I don’t get to tell them much what to do unless they’re in my division. There are some games where I actually run the games, and there are others that I’m kind of really close to. And then there are others that are further away.
But in terms of a first among equals, I think I say, "Keep innovating." You know, make your games better. Make them more social. Make them more accessible. Make them higher quality. And that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, and if you want to give credit to the game designer for being a great game designer, those are the things you do that you do to succeed.
Should social game makers, if they make a successful, innovative game, should they just expect to get copied?
BR: I don’t know if they should expect to get copied. They should certainly expect to get competed with [laughs].
Right. Well for some people that’s one and the same, Brian. Or at least they go hand in hand.
BR: Well those developers will probably not be the people who are successful, to be clear. I don’t know if you remember Rise of Nations.
Yeah, of course.
BR: But it was where I wanted to get in. I decided I wanted to get into the RTS space. I’d been doing the Civilization-y Alpha Centauri games, which were turn-based, but I was kind of more an expert in history games than anything else. So it was logical I’d do a history of the world game.
But of course there was already an Age of Empires, and so how do you compete with Age of Empires? And so Rise of Nations was my idea of competing with Age of Empires and some people said, "Oh, it looks just like Age of Empires," and other people said, "Holy crap, this is so much better. I love this and it’s better than Age of Empires." And I think that’s a reasonable difference of opinion. It didn’t surprise me that people said both of those things. It just kind of depended on your perspective.
We brought a whole bunch of things that were different, and yet we were an RTS, right? And to be an RTS you had to get to a certain place to be a history game. You wanted to visualize history in a certain way, and so we did it, and a whole bunch of people bought our game. And yet, Age of Empires was completely successful, and also probably benefited from the competition we gave them. They had both competitive pressure, and some of the ideas we contributed to the genre.
To be fair to Rise of Nations... you know, I’ve heard from people that have defended Zynga say, "Well look at Battlefield and look at Call of Duty and today's FPSes. They copy off of each other," much like how you use the example of Age of Empires and Rise of Nations. But game designers and people that know about video games, and aren't casual observers, know that those games have real differences.
BR: Well, I would say those wouldn’t be the examples. I wouldn’t be telling you to look to Call of Duty and Battlefield [as examples of plagiarism]. I would be telling you to look at, like, Doom, and all the other shooters that came out right after it, you know?
Or Command & Conquer and all the other ones that came out in ’97, right after it. It's that early era when a new genre is being established where you can get a lot more entries, and because you get a lot more entries, a lot more of them are more of the same.
But in the end, what you get when the thing consolidates, when the genre consolidates and the genre’s been kicked around, at that point you can give the genre those unique twists that are going to end up being successful.