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Feature: Do Developers Need To Be Players?
Feature: Do Developers Need To Be Players?
September 27, 2011 | By Staff

September 27, 2011 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design

As part of Gamasutra's latest feature, notable developers Kareem Ettouney (LittleBigPlanet) and David Braben (Kinectimals) show a strong contrast in their opinions of whether developers need to play games to make them.

"Are there advantages to not being a regular player of games? I would say among designers, probably not," Braben tells Gamasutra.

Meanwhile, says Ettouney, "There are people who are great musicians and great writers and great storytellers who don't necessarily play much. I think that things that feed into development do not have to be direct. You don't have to make games and then play games -- you can make games and do kung fu and that will help your animation, or if you're a dancer, you understand elegance. It doesn't have to be literal."

On the other hand, says Braben, "It may be that they come at it fresh and not be influenced by the way people have done things, which actually is a fair point. But the problem is you will end up more likely than not just doing something in a game that was done umpteen years ago."

Still, Ettouney says, it's important that others on the team do have that in-depth knowledge of gaming. "We need those people. We've got people in the team who are fluent in all the on-going stuff and they show us as well."

The full feature also features commentary from id Software's John Carmack, Media Molecule's Mark Healey, Stainless Games' Neil Barnden, and more, and is live now on Gamasutra.

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Game Designer


Christian McCrea
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David Braben has such a storied career its hard to find fault with someone with a huge history. But.. if not for the developers, then for us as audiences, yes. A thousand million times yes. Oh. Yes.

Evan Skolnick
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When a writer tells me he wants to write for video games, the first question I ask him is, "Do you *play* video games?"

If the answer is no, I tell him that what he's doing is like approaching a Hollywood studio to become a movie writer, while admitting he doesn't really like or watch movies.

K Gadd
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If you're fine with only having terrible, badly-reviewed games on your resume, it's fine to not be a gamer.

The claim that a great musician can be a great musician without playing games is missing the point: You're not composing a symphony or putting together a new album; I assume you're composing the soundtrack for a game, or handling a larger piece of the sound design (if not all of it). How can you possibly do a good job of that if you don't even have a good understanding of what games are and how they work?

It's certainly the case that a skilled musician or artist can find desperate game developers and studios willing to hire contractors who don't understand or play games, but those projects aren't where most of the magic is happening. Ultimately, the games that people remember are built by people who care about games.

Brandon Kidwell
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I believe it is important to be a player when "designing" a game. Art, Programming, and music is something different. Personally playing games helps me figure out what to do and what not to do. While it is perfectly plausible for someone who does not play games to design a game that "is" amazing it feels more like a lucky shot then true passion.

John Rose
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I think we can all agree that yes, you need to be familiar with games. But that doesn't mean you have to play them all the time, or that you need to be up on every release. 99% of what comes out is a retread and won't add to your design repertoire. Games are a ridiculous time sink, and not every title deserves a few hours of your life. You don't need to play every shooter to understand them well and make great products. In a medium like ours, where we're supposedly reaching for more emotional impacts on our audience, I think it's much more valuable to spend time outside of games.

Casey Dockendorf
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From my experience, the developers (Designer's, Artists, Programmer's) that played video games always had better insight and more input than those that didn't. The ones who didn't play games often struggled to clearly convey their wacky ideas, but the ones that were gaming on a regular basis would use examples like: "hey I think a style like _______ would be great for our game" or "They used a similar system in the game ______ that worked really well." It's a matter of fact that the closer and more aware of your product you are the better the development process is going to be. Most companies I have applied to, or worked for are more likely to hire someone that is passionate about their products than those who just have "good ideas."

On the music side though, I don't think you have to be a gamer to be a composer for Video Games unless you want to be a Sound Designer. These are two very different positions that people tend to lump together. I think a great musician can be a great composer for any medium. <- My humble opinion.

Chris Charla
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Could you be an animator and not play games? Sure, probably. Iím sure you can find exceptions to anything. But as a general rule, people who donít play games stick out as posers in the game industry, and lack the skills to be truly successful. All the smartest and most successful people I know in the game industry, regardless of discipline, actively play games. This goes from QA to production to acquisitions to business and legal types, all the way from entry level kids to VPs, Presidents and CEOs.

Kris Shankar
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Kinectimals was a terrible game. Even if you are an experienced designer who plays a ton of games, there's no guarantee of success. Likewise, you can be a new designer who doesn't play a ton of games and still come up with a winner. Game design is a creative endeavour and true creativity is born of inspiration. Inspiration cannot be manufactured by playing dozens of games....

Louis Png
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I do agree with Evan, a game developer certainly needs experience in gaming titles, and not just by playing, but understanding.

If I may point out, I saw over time, a misconception of ideas in my cohort, that while developers need not always be players, there are a few cases where they believe, players can be developers.

Needless to say, that has a horrifying impact on me. That analogy is kinda like saying, if you ate a lot of fast food, you are qualified to be a cook.