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Why are we so obsessed with the boring parts of game development?
Why are we so obsessed with the boring parts of game development?
August 13, 2012 | By Mike Rose

August 13, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, GDC Europe

The industry has become far too obsessed with platforms and business models, to the point where we've started to forget what video games are actually about -- having fun and feeling passion for what we create, says DICE's Karl Magnus Troedsson.

"Why are we so obsessed with the boring parts?" asked Troedsson, general manager at Battlefield developer DICE, as part of a talk at GDC Europe this morning. Why do we so often discuss which platforms will cannabilize others and which business models will prevail?

"Business models and platforms come and go," noted Troedsson. "If we make great games, we will survive all the different transitions."

Of course, you can't simply ignore all the business talk, and keeping ahead of the curve is always important. However, says the DICE GM, "fun is where it really starts."

DICE's core values: Quality, innovation and fun

DICE itself has three main focuses which it believes helps to keep this direction: Quality, innovation and fun. "It's so crucial to find your focus and stay true to it," he adds. "The market is too fragmented to do a lot of different things."

When it comes to the quality, for example, it's possible to over-scope a product and try to do too much, overshadowing the fun elements and not allowing your company to properly polish the title before launch.

"Battlefield 1942 was a textbook example of over-scoping," notes Troedsson as, at the time, DICE tried to add too many vehicles, large environments, lots of different environments and 64 player online. While the game turned out to be enjoyable, it was far too much to attempt at the time.

Innovation, too, is an area that can be a balancing act for developers. "Innovation is a bit of a buzzword", he says, noting that it's a little unclear on what exactly the word refers to.

bf3.jpgMany people, for example, lament "sequelitis" and say that bringing out iteration after iteration of a franchise is not true innovation. This, argues the DICE man, is "a cop-out argument" from people who don't understand exactly what innovation entails.

"It doesn't have to be a radical change," he says. "There are different levels of innovation, and it depends on where you sit." The inclusion of medals in the Battlefield franchise, for example, may not appear to be a huge step forward, but for many players who understand the series, it feels that way.

The environment destruction in Bad Company is another example of where DICE has applied innovation to the FPS space, says Troedsson. Creating these environments "was a pain in the ass", he laughed, but it changed how people played the game. "You don't look at a house in a static way anymore -- I'll just make a hole in the house and go through instead."

And yet, as with boosting the quality of your game, innovation needs to be of reasonable levels. If you push too many innovative elements into your titles, says the GM, you simply won't have time to polish your game and make it of good quality.

The final key element to video game development -- fun -- is a topic that is currently in flux at DICE right now. The word "fun" has become rather ambiguous at the company, says Troedsson, and his studio now leans more towards the word "passion."

"Development isn't always fun -- there are blood, sweat and tears," he says. But if you are passionate about your game, that will show through and customers will see that you care.

Gamasutra is in Cologne, Germany this week covering GDC Europe. For more GDC Europe coverage, visit our official event page. (UBM TechWeb is parent to both Gamasutra and GDC events.)

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Alex Nichiporchik
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This really reflected in Battlefield BC2. They made it smaller, more focused and more fun. Can't say the same about BF3 though.

Bob Johnson
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yeah bf3... Well I am having a hard time adapting to it compared to all the precious bf games.

Too many choices for one. Way too many awards and ribbons and medals. They all become meaningless and I just ignore them. Too many weapons/configs and too little time.

Then the sloppy nature of the game and the sunlight. I am still swearing at it while reminding myself that it is just another gameplay device to use strategically like a hill or some sandbags etc.

And the lag...probably just my setup but I swear there is half second more lag in bf3 than in previous games. Too often i make it 5 steps past a corner and then drop dead. Before I think it was 2 steps. Maybe I am just getting old.

Megan Quinn
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Battlefield 1942 was one of the most fun multi player games I had the pleasure to play. Donkey Kong was lots of fun too. I see the industry spending millions on tech to make boring games. Yes it looks pretty. Is it fun? But it pushes this technology to do this... sweet if your a nerd now is it fun yet?

k s
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I resent your nerd remark, I'm a nerd and I'm not that impressed by games that look pretty but aren't fun.

Bob Johnson
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1942 was a gem.

Megan Quinn
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I am also a nerd but there is a big difference between what I enjoy making and what I enjoy consuming. Offence taken point now given.

Rey Samonte
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I think one of the reasons why developers have had to focus on the boring stuff like defining their business model or deciding on which platform to develop on is the result of the opportunities we have today to publish games without the need of a publisher.

Having a business model defined as well as choosing the right platform to develop on given the resources a developer or team has can be very crucial to staying focused and being able to see a project through.

Rey Samonte
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Of course, my comment pertains to the small community of indie developers.

Dave Ingram
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That makes a lot of sense. My comment above suggested that the business and development side try to avoid stepping on each other's toes, but this is impossible in a 1-person studio or small indie house. In these instances, it is even more challenging to ensure that the fun-factor is the most important element of game design, while also selecting the right business models, platforms and technology.

Jean-Michel Vilain
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> Why do we so often discuss which platforms will cannabilize others and which business models will prevail?
Money matters too often. It's an obsession not only in video games.
Interesting article, helps me understand why I went indie. That's the most radical way to get rid of money constraints.

Nick Harris
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You shouldn't be able to knife your way through a chain-link fence with a single slash, let alone break down a thick wooden door. The grenade launcher under the standard assault rifle tears holes in brick buildings as is they were made of cardboard. Battlefield: Bad Company is a very fun and still popular game, but it is a shame that this innovative "destruction" DICE brought to their long-running Battlefield brand was increased in the sequel with buildings that could be completely levelled by tank shells, when the damage should have been reduced - with the grenade launcher first shots breaking the plaster away from the interior of a house as a warning to those inside that someone was about to "remodel". Just toning things down a little would go a long way to avoid its carefully structured levels from becoming flattened rubble without tactical cover. A cool innovation like "Destruction 2.0" should not come at the expense of infantry gameplay just because you have the technology to do it and it makes for impressive marketing material.

Actually, the innovation I most applaud is using the Back button on the 360 gamepad to Spot enemies. XP is gained by identifying enemies that are in your line of sight, but you may not be in a position to eliminate, no need for team chat which so often degenerates into abuse.

Bob Johnson
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Really I thought there was less destruction in bf3 or at least isn't as crisp as in bc2.

I can't stand the sunlight. :)

And too many weapons/load out choices and awards. And I just noticed that when I switched guns as an assault they had none of the same options unlocked that my first gun did. I swear they are aiming to make me buy the unlock package.

Tanks don't seem as fun to blow up either.

Duong Nguyen
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We'll given that what is "fun" is quite subjective dependent upon the person but even that is also subject to change over time. When dev teams were small sure everyone could agree what was "fun" for them and those earlier games had a focus of vision not seen today (except in indies). Now days AAA titles are driven by focus groups and "vision" statements..

Having "passion" is a prerequisite to making a quality product, but even than that's no guarantee of creating something truly memorable. Ultimately imo it comes down to having the right people coving all your bases, both artistically, production, design and programming wise. So many companies are weak in one or the other, ultimately making their end product just a hairs away from true greatness. A few companies have it all, like Naughty Dog and Rockstar, etc.. The luminaries of game development.

The bigger question is why don't companies just hire the right people to fill out their weakness? I guess it's a probably due to inability to honestly self-reflect and just general lack of available talent to go around..

Bob Johnson
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the first few lines of the article is exactly why I can't stand the social and F2P talk. People play fun games. They don't play business models.

k s
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Very well said :)

Brandon private
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I go by the name rivaL xfactor in the BF series and I am part of a group that has won a World Cup and many titles dating all the way back to BF2. I also run a youtube channel that has gained 45,000 subs since January of 2012 and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in business. I know many of you are "in" the industry so this is my version of a resume if you will and should help qualify my future statements down below.

DICE has made amazing strides through the years and has done a lot that we are all grateful for including some of the best FPS games ever to grace a computer screen. Between destructive environments, squad gameplay, and the gameplay itself I along with many others are very grateful. I cannot overstate this enough...

I above most gamers know that you have to have a functioning business model which drives people to continue to spend money both current and in the future and there are some lessons to be learned about this to improve any companies numbers.

I do have a few hangups which have resulted in a very poor public opinion of this company in certain reguards. Battlefield had an option in previous game titles called spectate mode and battle recorder. This created all sorts of issues in the competitive world, shout-casting and anti cheat world. How do you hype a game such as SC2 without spectate? How can you do anything e-sports based? MLG did not pick up this title for this very reason and has been a very big thorn in the e-sports world.

The next lesson is to patch the game more often. DICE has acknowledged many issues time and time again but it takes 4-5 months to fix. I am not talking "little" bugs here. I am talking game breaking mechanics. There have been 3 introduced in game so far. Dart bug, suppression 2.0 and SAGA frag round combo to name a few.

Companies should have servers to TEST future beta builds. This would catch MOST of the problems from escaping the developers hands. This would of also stopped all of the game breaking bugs that have been introduced due to the lack of testing in house. You want to test you build? Give it to a bunch of top end competitive teams. They will find broken mechanics instantly. It is our JOB to learn in game advantages and mechanics.

Listen to the masses. No, not every troll and whiner but put an ear to positivive communities who really want the best for the game. Reddit for bf3 believe it or not has been a great example and DICE has done well using it as one.

Lastly, do not keep the paying members of your game in the dark. Have weekly discussions about things you are working on. Acknowledge bugs and issues with the game in a public forum. It tempers the fear and quiets the masses. No one likes to be ignored.

DICE overall has done a great job but they are losing income by the minute by not taking care of some of these fundamental business issues. Happy gamers spend money. Unhappy gamers trash your game publicly over any forum they can spread their hate speech too.

If anyone wants the advice of a competitive player including DICE and his history of FPS gaming I would love to help. There are so many easy things that could make the BF title and other FPS games so much better!

DICE I still love you. Just stop neglecting the core product and people who allow you to make FUTURE titles with the money that we spend with you now. Remember, it only takes one bad game to start a sales slide.

rivaL xfactor