[What purpose does R&D serve in the game industry? Gamasutra speaks to Rod Humble and Sony's Richard Marks, in charge of the team that developed PlayStation Move, to find out what pure research can do for games.]
First you come up with a lot of great ideas. Then you talk about them. Then you implement a lot of art and gameplay. And then you go "shit, that kind of sucks" ... and you toss everything out and start all over again.
That's Blizzard Entertainment's version of research and development, according to a talk game design senior VP Rob Pardo gave a few years ago about the developer's keys to success.
Nintendo and Valve are two other companies merciless about cutting games that aren't working, polishing and fixing games that are, and developing titles for a long time in secret until they are ready to be announced -- rather than announcing a game just because it exists.
Indeed, Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata has said that trial and error is the key to creating fun, that sometimes the prototype phase lasts more than two years -- and sometimes the prototypes are scrapped altogether.
Given the three companies' successes, it is surprising how few other game companies do anything like R&D -- let alone pure research into game mechanics. What's dissuading them?
Ron Carmel, co-founder of World of Goo indie developer 2D Boy, believes there are potential benefits to launching just such a program in major studios. In his keynote speech at the Montreal International Games Summit last year, Carmel urged large publishers to use their resources to create small internal teams that would work on groundbreaking games from within.
World of Goo
"We need a medium-sized design studio... something that is larger than a typical indie but has the same propensity for talent density, focus, and risk-taking," said Carmel, formerly an employee of Electronic Arts prior to going independent.
Carmel recommends that a focus on profit be eliminated from the equation.
"Creating this within a major developer doesn't present a problem," he said. "With a budget of $1-2 million, 10 staffers could be hired to work on creatively ambitious and forward-thinking projects."
He likened the idea to the car industry which, alongside its mainstream consumer products, works on concept cars, few of which enter production as regular models.
"The concept car is a marketing expense to build your brand and say, 'Look at all the amazing things we're creating.'"