David Cage: Game industry has 'Peter Pan Syndrome'
Quantic Dream CEO David Cage says it's time to grow up. “It's time to reassess who we are, and what we are doing,” he said, during a talk at the DICE summit in Las Vegas. He says we have Peter pan Syndrome -- “Someone who is anxious at the idea of growing up and becoming an adult, and who actually refuses to grow up,” by his definition. “And that's quite a bold statement to make about an entire industry!”
He reminds us that the 30 best selling games (though here he just targets retail) are either by Nintendo, or are Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or Kinect Adventures -- and that's it. 21 out of the 30 come from Nintendo. “Only three genres [make] the charts,” he says. “Kids games, Casual games, and violent action games.”
“When you think about it, you realize we use the same themes, the same worlds, for about 40 years,” he adds. “You're a hero, and you need to kill people in order to go somewhere, free the world, free the princess, or whatever.”
“When you look at Wolfenstein in 1992 versus Call of Duty in 2012, you realize we have made huge advances in graphics,” says Cage. “But if you look at the content, you realized we have not advanced that much.”
The industry is not moving forward in its themes, he says. “Many times when I play a game, I get the feeling I've played it a million times before,” Cage says. “We need to move away from our traditional market, which is kids, teenagers, young adults.”
We need to move toward adults, he poses. “Think about your friends who don't play. Think about your parents. Do they play console games? Most of the time they don't play video games. They barely know they exist.” But you can talk about books, movies, TV, with them, because those mediums are perceived as being for everyone.
With that as a premise, Cage reveals 9 things he thinks we need to change in order for the industry to grow up.
1: Make games for all audiences. “I believe it's time for this industry to create content, interactive experiences, for an adult audience,” he reiterated.
2: Change our paradigms. “We cannot keep doing the same games the same way and expect to expand our market,” Cage cautions. “We need to decide that violence is not the only way.”
“For most people out there, mastering a system is not something exciting, it's boring,” he says. They don't want to compete. It's fine when you're a kid, but not as fun as an adult. “I don't want to feel the strange experience of getting my ass kicked by a 10 year old,” he added, challenging the industry to start making games with no guns.
3: The importance of meaning. “When you think about it, you realize many games have absolutely nothing to say!” says Cage. “There's nothing against that, but that's a toy. Can we create games that have something to say? That have meaning?”
To do this, we need to let authors come in, he says. “Games today, most of the time -- not all, but most -- are written by programmers and graphic artists and the marketing team. We need to have authors really at the heart of the project.”
In addition, we should use all real-world themes. Most games take place in a world we can never enter, but Cage says we should focus more on human relationships. “We need to put games at the center of our society, the center of our life. Games can do that in a very unique way.”
4: Become accessible. “Let's focus on minds of the players, and not how fast they can move their thumbs!” he says. We need to think about the journey versus the challenge. Is a game a series of obstacles, or could it be just a journey? Just a moment that you spend?
5: Bring other talent on board. David Cage in his career has worked with David Bowie, and the actress Ellen Page, which he says brought new perspective to his games. “Working with these people has been an amazing experience,” he says. “They came to the game industry because that was something new to them.”
6: Establish new relationships with Hollywood. Relationships with Hollywood have traditionally been based on what Cage calls “a misunderstanding” for some time, largely through licensing. “I think the time has come for a meaningful constructive, balanced new partnership,” he says. “We can invent, together, a new form of entertainment.” They master linear art, and we master interactivity. We should bring them together.
7: Changing our relationship with censorship. “I see myself as a writer,” he says. “I try to write scripts talking about emotions, dialogues. Sometimes I use violence, and sometimes I use sex. And that's fine. But now I have somebody looking over my shoulder saying 'no, you have to change this. That's not possible.'”
“Why would this be okay in movies? Why would this be okay in novels? And the answer is always the same -- because you are interactive,” he adds. “On the other hand I was quite shocked by some things I saw at the last E3. Some games go over the top trying to be more violent, or have more sex than its competitors. And I think that's also a mistake.”
“Sometimes we go too far, and we behave like stupid teenagers ourselves,” Cage says. “And we should stop doing this, because it's a matter of being responsible not only to our industry, but also to our society.”
8: The role of the press. “I think press has a very important role to play,” Cage says. “[In the] press, we have on the one side, very clever people. They think about the industry, they analyze it, they try to see where it could go in the future. On the other side of the spectrum, you've got people giving scores. Just scores.”
“I don't think this is press,” Cage says. “Where is the analysis? Where's the thinking about this? Can anyone give his opinion and be respected as a critic? Being a critic is a job. It requires skills, it requires thought.” He here referenced the famous Cahiers Du Cinema, a film journal which helped influence the French New Wave of cinema, and changed movies significantly.
9: The importance of gamers. “I often think that buying or not buying a game is almost like a political vote,” Cage postulates. “You decide if you want the industry to go in this direction or not go in this direction. Buy crap, and you'll get more crap. Buy exciting, risky games, and you will get more of them. When you buy games, you vote for where you want the industry to go.”
What Cage wants is digital entertainment. “This new form of entertainment should be accessible to all, should be open to all themes and genres, and should be able to talk about ourselves, human beings, and societies, in a meaningful way. It should be based on the journey, not the challenge.”
If we do this, Cage says, “Finally, we will have a chance to become mass market.”