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'I think most game designers really just suck' - Richard Garriott
'I think most game designers really just suck' - Richard Garriott
March 20, 2013 | By Mike Rose




"I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. I'm not saying that because I think I'm so brilliant. What I'm saying is, I think most game designers really just suck."
- Richard "Lord British" Garriott, industry veteran and Portalarium founder, believes that the video game industry is dramatically underskilled.

Off the back of his Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter success, Garriott was extremely candid in an interview with PC Gamer, explaining that most of the designers he has worked with in the industry lack the skills necessary to create good video games.

"I think there's really very few great game designers," he said. "I think Chris Roberts is one of them, Will Wright's another, Peter Molyneux is another. They clearly exist, but on the whole, I think that the design talent in our industry is dramatically lower than we need, as an industry. It's a very hard skill to learn."

Garriott suggests that a lot of video game designers take up the role because they lack the necessary skills for other roles. "If you like games, you eventually get to the point where you'd like to make one," he noted.

"But if you had this magic art talent as a youth, you can refine your skills and show a portfolio and say, 'I’m a good artist, go hire me.' If you're nerdy enough to hack into a computer, programming on your own, you can go to school and learn proper structure, make code samples and go 'Look, I'm a good programmer, hire me.'"

He added, "But if you're not a good artist and not a good programmer, but you still like games, you become a designer, if you follow me. You get into Q&A and often design."

Garriott goes on to say that he believes most artists and programmers are, in fact, just as good at designing games as the dedicated designers are. "They're often better, because they understand the technology or the art," he adds.

"So we're leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they're not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer," he reasons. "It's really hard to go to school to be a good designer."

Garriott isn't finished there. He continues, "And every designer that I work with - all throughout life - I think, frankly, is lazy," although he follows this up by suggesting he is over-exaggerating for the sake of giving PC Gamer "another zinger."

"But if you follow," he continues, "they generally say, 'You know, I really like Medal of Honor, but I would have bigger weapons, or I would have more healing packs, or,' you know. They go to make one or two changes to a game they otherwise love versus really sitting down and rethinking, 'How can I really move the needle here?'"

The Portalarium head notes that he pushes his own team to really think about the whole picture when it comes to design, considering the "why" alongside the "what."

"What's your motivation for being into it?" he says. "What are the side stories? If you have these characters in there, what were their lives before they showed up on this map? If you didn't think of one, go back. Do it again. I want you to know it."

[Update: Garriott has responded, noting "My point was, that game design is the hardest, but also the most valuable skill to build in the industry." You can read his full comment below.]

[Update 2: Garriott has released an official statement as a follow-up to this story. We're providing a link here without further commentary.]


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Comments


Lewis Wakeford
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Although this makes him come off as arrogant, he does have a point. Game Design isn't really a skill you can go to university and get a degree in and become good at through education, but it seems to be treated a bit like that. Sure, you will probably be able to avoid making terrible games, but you won't be much better off than some random person who treats game design as a hobby, including the programmers and artists that contribute other stuff as well.

The role of designer is obviously still necessary, but if you don't have anyone with an actual portfolio of existing games to choose you'd have just as much chance of success with any random person who takes an interest in game design. It might as well be someone who can code or make art because the understanding of those technical aspects will help them out. Many indie games don't have a dedicated designer, they get by just fine having a programmer or artist that is also the design lead, and while they may not always produce something revolutionary the result is often comparable to what would have been created with a dedicated designer that does nothing else.

Think of it like hiring a writer for fiction. You don't really care if they have an English Literature degree or if they worked as a typist for 5 years, what matters is what else they have produced in that field and if it was any good.

Michiel Hendriks
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""""Game Design isn't really a skill you can go to university and get a degree in and become good at through education, but it seems to be treated a bit like that."""

And what is? Just because you have a degree in anything doesn't mean you are any good.

Jonathan Jou
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I'm going to side with Lewis here, because while "good" can be a defined to mean something beyond "competent," it's really the case that you can trust someone who peels potatoes to at least produce peeled potatoes to some degree, just as you can expect someone with a degree in mechanical engineering to know some physics.

Paintings and novels are unfortunately nothing like bridges. It's a lot harder to equate experience with competence in fields where the "right answer" isn't a well-understood approach to a known problem. So when a writer is amazing, that's a true marvel, regardless of background, but when a bridge lasts for a hundred years, it's just evidence of competence.

Creativity is everywhere, and there are certainly creative engineers just as there are places that specialize in mass-produced art. While I think the gaming industry would really benefit from game design leaving the realm of dark art and approaching the boundaries of hard science, I'd say Lewis is right here in that good game design is harder to teach, and thus more tenuously connected to academic performance than other more well-defined fields might be.

Just my thoughts, of course. There are plenty of other factors like uneven quality of education and personal drive that makes hiring more complicated than sorting by GPA.

Arthur De Martino
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"Game Design isn't really a skill you can go to university and get a degree in and become good at through education, but it seems to be treated a bit like that. Sure, you will probably be able to avoid making terrible games, but you won't be much better off than some random person who treats game design as a hobby, including the programmers and artists that contribute other stuff as well. "

"Think of it like hiring a writer for fiction. You don't really care if they have an English Literature degree or if they worked as a typist for 5 years, what matters is what else they have produced in that field and if it was any good."

You do realize any competent design (Let alone game design) are about learning theory then applying it over actual games?

Sure this doesn't mean instant good game designer, but it ties with your demands (in which I agree by the way) of having to produce materials and actual games.
Hence the quality of the designer is tied to the individual, like all things.

Lewis Wakeford
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@Michiel

I could have phrased that better, as you are right qualifications alone don't mean much in any field. What I meant is that it's a skill based more heavily on talent than experience, theory and knowledge. No matter how much work you put in it won't help if you don't have that talent. Contrast to more technical fields, where even without talent you can still become competent or even great if you work hard.

Michiel Hendriks
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And what technical fields would that be? If you don't have talent, you will never become a good programmer. Similar thing with QA, it takes skill to find flaws that 1 in the 1000 will find/encounter. It doesn't matter how hard you work, if you don't have the skill or insight, you will never get good.

Maybe your point should be that education in (video) game design isn't mature enough to provide the proper guidance for people to become competent and good game designers.

But in the end it comes down to 1 thing: quantification of quality. There are various models to quantify quality of software, and none of them work properly. How do you quantify quality of game design? You cannot measure fun, you can measure commercial success. But does commercial success of a game equal good design?

Scott Reiling
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Lol.. c'mon people. Some of you act as if just everyone can excel in "technical" fields such as quantum mechanics and algebraic geometry, and that one can just learn AND apply with enough hard work. Sorry, but that is just not true. Many people work their asses off, only to fail in such endeavors. It takes more than hard work; it also takes imagination.. an aptitude for certain types of abstract thinking.

As for having a degree versus not? A degree is no measure of genius, but it certainly is a measure of fortitude and intention, especially in the more "technical" fields. Lol.

And quite frankly, Richard Garriot is right. Most who have played through his games (including the "crappy" Ultimas 8&9) would agree that his games tend to have a richness and detail to the world, that few RPGs match, even to this day. TES series gets some elements right, but remains lifeless because for some (*&^ing reasons, their main story (from Morrowind on) has been beyond attrocious. I play those games not for the main quest, but just to pass time in exploration. Otherwise, they flat-out SUCK. Well, except to the newer generations of gamers, who were raised on such.. fare.

One a different note, what surprises me about the Ultima games, is how they tend to get overlooked as precursors to the greatness of Bioware. There are so many similarities, IMO between the gaming mechanics of Ultimas 6&7, and the Baldur's Gate/Icewind Dale/NvN games.

Of course, those games, especially the NvN games, had static, lifeless environments, in comparison to the Ultimas. But I digress...

Jonathan Jou
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Scott,

I feel like I might be one of those some you describe as viewing "technical" fields as easy, so I want to clarify my perspective, at least. It aligns well with Michiel's point about quantification. In short, industry positions in technical fields are less vulnerable to performance uncertainty than creative ones. This isn't to say writing new proofs is for the uncreative, but maybe crunching numbers is less volatile than making a game fun.

Quantum physics is hard, just as most forms of multivariable calculus are. In fact, there are far harder areas of math where no amount of hard work or experience will improve your odds of success, and I have no shortage of appreciation for the brilliant minds which thrive there. Just as computer scientists continue to seek the answers for truly challenging theoretical computations, I'm sure being an incredible software engineer requires more than mere training.

On the other hand, quantum physics, just like all the other technical fields, especially in their most abstract form, are very prone to having a "right answer." This makes it easy to write tests, and grade assignments. The even more valuable aspect of being 100% correct in most technical areas is that this correctness is inherently reproducible. So when a programmer writes ten programs that compile, you can have some confidence that the eleventh program will compile as well. If that programmer writes poorly optimized code ten times, then you can probably guess how well the next program will perform. As such, an engineering student who gets good grades from an accredited program is subject to much less uncertainty about that graduate's abilities than an aspiring game designer or novelist would.

Can you really be sure that the next novel a writer produces is going to be another bestseller? Is there some rigorous, accurate way to prove it, or at least cheap, easy, sufficiently reliable benchmarks such as simply executing the program?

Such a thing would remove the uncertainty around creativity, and I think that would be a wonderful thing indeed. But as the situation stands, I really think it's easier to predict the performance of someone applying to perform more mechanically verifiable results than it is to come remotely close to knowing if a game idea that looks good on paper will actually make for a good game.

Scott Reiling
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Jonathan, for the record, I "liked" your post, because you give a level-headed, thoughtful response. But, I still have reservations about your opinions.

While it may seem that most technical fields are less vulnerable to "performace uncertainty" (i.e. "success"), this doesn't mean that "certainty" is always clearly defined. For example, one aspect of my work is solving molecular structures of proteins. Even after I go through the process and "solve it", there is always the question of whether or not my structure is the "right" one, because there are usually many different conformations that vary slightly, which could be "right". Determining which one is "most right" is a matter of which algorithms one trusts, which in turn is tied into QM, if one wants to go that far. (Most do not, because it is beyond the scope of applications) For the record, I like this specialty within bioinformatics, because to be "good" at it, one must be at least proficient in the basics of major science disciplines, and programming. Much like being an indie developer, one must have a lot of self-motivation and mental resilience, to succeed. I am just a neophyte in this field, and am humbled by the individuals who are very good at it, and make the difficult to comprehend and assemble, look routine.

My field cannot be the only one, where there is such uncertainty; I would posit that theoreticians (especially in physics) face the same problem. Leonard Susskind encountered similar obstacles, when he was thinking about how to refute Hawking concerning the fate of matter entering black holes. When he finally "solved" the problem (in accordance with the Standard Model), it lead to a whole new way of looking at the universe. And while the parameters in sciences that define success may differ from those nearly intangible aspects which make a great novel, the incertitude still exists.

On the other hand, when speaking of what makes a successful novel, I do not believe that the variables are as ambiguous, as do you. I used to read sci-fi and fantasy in my younger days, more than most. (Can't do that now, because actually having a life gets in the way). I've read everything from LeGuin to Tolkien to Salvatore to Brooks to Jordan. All of these authors are massively reknowned, and almost all of their fantasy novels have similar aspects, which made them very appealing to a reader of the genre. For example, one necessity for engrossing a reader, is to provide a rich background for every major character, and to reveal such over time. There are other points which one may not immediately attribute to the success of a novel, such as current political and socioeconomic climates. There is also the vaguity tied to your example of success; is the quality of a novel tied into its sales? Hardly. The same is true for games. And oh how many high quality games have been made, that "failed" due to sales. (e.g. Planescape Torment)

So the very nature of novel-writing compared to that of scientific discovery, gives the appearance of what you opine, concerning "certainty". Indeed, much of science is based on empirical evidence. But especially at the cutting edge of science, where the nature of reality is being investigated, there exists a gray area composed of the inter-melding of science and philosophy. Here especially, your idea of "uncertainty" is ever-present, in a form. At the same time, writing a successful novel is not a function of many imperceptible qualities.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I know I am supposed to be offended. I know I should cringe at the egoism of RG's statements. But... I just can't make myself feel like I know I should, because deep down I agree with him. This is especially true in the area of quantitative game design. The vast majority of game designers I work with are perfectly capable of reproducing something that has already been done, and perhaps tweaking a few features. Coming up with something novel is very hard, and even if they could it would probably have to be an indie offering since it would be treated as high risk by the AAA players.

Further, universities are always going to be behind by several years in anything but the basics of game design, because game design has to change so rapidly to keep up with changing consumer demands.

Also, I have to note that during RG's time, design was king because technology was not what drove games. The current environment does not breed the same level of design focus because tech seems to always be more important. It still remains to be seen whether RG can translate his legendary design skills into the modern business and gaming environment, the ultimate show of brilliance. His Tabula Rasa product was revolutionary in it's attempts to build community play, but failed decisively in the area of economic and quantitative design, which is a key pillar of community interaction in persistent online games.

Wendelin Reich
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Kim Swift? Jenova Chen? Zach Gage?

Geez, what an idiotic set of comments by Garriott. I have no opinion on the qualifications of people who's job title is "game designer", but I know that there are a ton of well-designed games out there, and they must have been designed by someone, no matter what job title that someone had.

Furthermore, although I am a developer and not a game designer, it appears to me that game design is a teachable skill in the same way that musical composition or graphic design are teachable skills. There's a curriculum, too: books by Schell, Fullerton, Braithwate, and so on. Most of the badly designed games I can think are 'bad' in ways which are fairly well understood, if you look at those books or at examples of 'well-designed' games. Maybe Garriott is right and most game designers he met were lazy, but it doesn't make sense to condemn a whole profession / discipline in this roundabout way.

Lewis Wakeford
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You won't find many composers that cannot play an instrument or graphical designers that can't use an image editor. That's where the difference is. Those people can prove their skills all on their own, but dedicated game designers can't.

I think he's exaggerating a bit and doesn't give enough credit to some more recent designers, Kim Swift being the most obvious example, but I think he has a very good point.

Todd Boyd
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Lewis,

You could have them design a game to be played on a physical medium (like pen & paper, a board game, etc.) and then play a run-through of it. If it sucks, then they are probably not a good game designer.

Robert Lee
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The core basics of game design can be taught, but the discipline extends well beyond simple mechanics and rudimentary storytelling. Lewis drew a rather weak comparison to composers. Designers' instruments are editors, scripting languages, and storytelling/writing. To truly be a good designer, a person needs to absorb everything they encounter. Travel overseas, study philosophy, poetry, religion, psych/soc/anth, science, engineering... A good designer can also communicate across disciplines.

I graduated from the Guildhall@SMU after a philosophy and digital studio art double major. SMU's program was grueling, but well worth the effort. I'm actually surprised Garriott made no mention of the Guildhall, considering his linkedin profile shows he's a supporter. He could have said the industry needs more programs like SMU's. Kim Swift is a DigiPen grad. I've worked with very competent designers from Full Sail as well.

Duong Nguyen
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Garriott did qualify it by saying he never "meet" anyone better than himself.. so maybe he just doesn't get out much? GDC? that's for the common rabble.. to space!

Uzoma Okeke
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Does he actually have to drop their names for them to be great game designers? He gave three examples of his personal opinion. He isn't expected to drop out a whole list.

"I think there's really very few great game designers,"... "They clearly exist, but on the whole, I think that the design talent in our industry is dramatically lower than we need, as an industry."

That sums it up in a nutshell. And I completely agree with him. How many games are modified similarities to other popular games? To be a designer is no easy feat. And he's right: no one can "teach" creativity or innovation.

Alfa Etizado
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While I think he exaggerates both his merit and the absence of good game designers, he does have a point, specially when he gets to that Medal of Honor part. It isn't hard to find AAA games that blindly follow video game conventions without really understanding them.

The games feel exactly like he said, like someone played something, liked it, decided to do a game just like it but with bigger guns, completely missing what makes a game tick. That makes me a bit sad, to see tons of talent and resources tossed into a game that's entirely weak, while incredibly talented people don't get access to all of that. Not that it is unfair, I know it actually isn't, it is just a shame though.

Developers need to learn when to leave game conventions aside, or at the very least try to understand why they exist.

Guillermo Aguilera
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Many designers fighting on the trench with bosses, producers, etc, because have more weight to take decisions, they have close combats bayonete with low budgets, bad programers, nighmare milestones, while he lives on your castle.
made me sick

Andreas Gschwari
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Of course he has a point about design not being a skill that can necessarily be learned, though i still think you can pick up best practices along the way. Design is something that is a talent, you have to have an eye and a natural understand for good gameplay or good level design.

However the rest of his comments are just plain wrong, arrogant and do not consider the reality, in which he might well be one of the problems.

Game designers often have no choice but to come up with ideas for bigger guns and more health packs. Because that is all they are allowed to do in the game they are working on. Due to the creative/game directors "vision" or publisher/studio/marketing demands, that might be all they can design.

Personally i have often worked with creative leads who had no time for original ideas and shot down any outside of the box design concept straight away. They were not interested in ideas that could make the game better, if it did not match 100% their vision. Some of those creative leads were considered to be "big names".

Game designers are at their best when they are allowed to be creative, when they are encouraged by their creative leads to come up with original ideas and to think outside the box. If Garriot has found some bad game designers in his work experience, perhaps that was down to the fact that he did not encourage that, that anything not matching his vision was considered bad design. The names he lists, Molyneux etc, are renowned for this.

I have had the priviledge to work with some creative leads who encouraged my latteral thinking, who did not make me paint by numbers, and as such i have grown as a designer and am now fortunately in a position where i can do the same for others.

Design is not a skill you can "learn" in school perhaps, but it is a talent in many, many people and if that talent is nurtured and given space to grow, we can see amazing things happen.

Mats Persson
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Well put, I couldn't agree more.

Samuel Green
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Anyone played Ultimate Collector?

Chris Lewin
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Let's not forget this was the guy responsible for Tabula Rasa.

benn rice
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which was actually one of the better MMOs

Scott Reiling
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Every played it, Chris? (Don't answer.. it's obvious you have not) Actually, a fairly good MMO, within a sea of garbage.

Please, don't be a sheep...

Brandon Van Every
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I played a trial of it. During the trial, I was not terribly impressed. Not much different from standard MMORPG fare. Didn't "move the needle" in Garriott's words.

Bill P
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Along with Peter Molyneux this guy is the most overrated game designer of all time. When was the last time either of them had a hit game? Garriot hasn't had a successful title for 20 years and Molyneux for 12 years (Black and White being his last actually good, innovative title).

I think he's deluded. Just because he was a 'First' doesn't mean best; he was a developer who also did game design. When he did development and did the first Ultima games they were the only games out there so became popular, but design wise were just a translation of pen and paper RPG to the home computer. Once you get onto the later Ultimate games, they're average when compared with the competition from the early 90's, Ultima IX had nothing on Baldurs gate or Planescape Torment.

Then look at Tabula Rasa, a game he spent 6 years on, redesigned twice and was closed within a year because the design was so archaic and out of date. He didn't even want a PVP system included within it. The poor game design led to the near collapse of NCsofts western franchises and the loss of hundreds of peoples jobs.

Now while he tried to pass the buck on who was responsible, he was ultimately the Lead Designer and Exec Producer I find it utterly hilarious he could possibly hand out judgement on other game designers when he was chiefly responsible for that disaster of a game. For the record I did spend time working on Tabula Rasa and felt extremely sorry for many of the staff who worked directly under him and his clique, who all subsequently lost their jobs, along with many in the Austin and Brighton offices, myself included.

benn rice
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archaic? it had several firsts that other MMOs have picked up on.

it was one of the most unique MMOs ever at the time of its release.

NCSoft also shut down City of Heroes. even tho the game was performing well, and lots of people loved it and considered it to be a quality game.

Uzoma Okeke
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His opinion seems to have hurt a few people. Judging characters like Garriot and Molyneux really comes down to what you look for in a designer. If you are looking for success after success, then you'll see them as overrated. If you look for a person that has the courage to speak about an idea openly, an idea that goes against the normal path and shows how passionate they are about gaming, you'll see a different perspective.

You throw away the justification of your argument of him having a negative opinion of his peers by directing the same disrespect towards him, with less of a message behind it other than "He isn't good enough to talk like that."

Bill P
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"archaic? it had several firsts that other MMOs have picked up on."

It had one, the cloning feature, which was original but hardly some ground breaking design. It was just a save game in an online game. This is why it was archaic, it was built and played like an old RPG game except every quest was a 'go collect X of these'. There was simply nothing else original about it. I knew the game inside and out and can honestly say that and not from a bitter ex NCsoft employee stand point. It just wasn't a very good game and the numbers of subscribers reflected that. It had similar levels to Auto Assault, which actually was a better title.

It was archaic also from business stand point. Garriot didn't want a PVP system in it, which is commercial suicide these days. Scifi MMO but no PVP? He lost his golden ticket to Planetside, EVE and Anarchy Online players wanting something different at that time. Before you say it did have a PVP system, it didn't, it had a shoe horned in system between humans; rather than humans vs aliens which would have been a driver for PVP and long term investment by players. Look at DAOC, the PVP system kept that game alive well past its sell by date.

"it was one of the most unique MMOs ever at the time of its release."
But it wasn't. It had nothing original apart from one small feature. Unique is EVE Online, Unique is Guild Wars 1. Also both highly successful, critically acclaimed and still going, TR was none of these.

"NCSoft also shut down City of Heroes. even tho the game was performing well, and lots of people loved it and considered it to be a quality game."

They shut it down because it was barely making ends meet. I won't disagree that it was a good title but it also wasn't excellent and subscriber numbers were never that high; the industry trend is games lose subscribers over time and never hit that peak just after launch (there are two exceptions, WoW and EVE. You could possible include World of Tanks in this too) and CoH was just on that downward spiral for years and reached that point of its just not good business any more.

Uzoma Okeke, having the courage to speak out about alternatives is one thing and I'd never criticize Garriot for doing so, but his comments are both wrong, unjustified and frankly he has a pretty poor track record for over 2 decades when it comes to actual game design itself. I wasn't disrespectful either, just truthful. Having played nearly every one of his games and actually worked on his last MMO, his ideas have never really been original. At best he puts them onto a new medium and that is all it was.

Rick Gush
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Ha! Big fun. I think game we designers are like alpha male trumpet players. In every orchestra, the trumpet player is the arrogant jerk who thinks he's better than all the other musicians. I for instance, think I'm not just better than Garriot, Brathwaite, and Molyneux, I think I'm far far better. I was designing cool games way before there were even computers to play on. Ha!

One thing peole don't discuss much is that fact that it's never a level playing field. Game design is so much about interacting with the other people on the team, and so little about theoretical design concepts. Game design is pure pragmatism. It's like: Are you fun at the party, or aren't you?

Rick Gush
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BTW, Wendelin, I think making idiotic comments is actually what makes the world move forward. So frequently it's the idiotic statements that are actually the wisest in retrospect. Like when Picasso uttered the at the time considered idiotic phrase "Gee, maybe we don't have to paint like that."
Richard, we've never met, but it would be fun some day. I'm a big fan of yours. Buy you a drink? GDC Wednesday?

Wendelin Reich
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Seriously, idiotic comments make the world move forward? 8-]

Maybe we can find some middle ground: outspokenness makes the world move forward, people who take a stand, even at the risk of being called idiots. I definitely appreciate the kind of discussion Garriott's comments create here...

Matt Wilson
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The guy with his name on the credits to 20 Ultima games, amidst working his 30th(?) RPG in about as many years, is here to tell us that iterating on a beloved game design is the mark of a lazy, bad designer.

Sometimes a stupid, ill-thought series of remarks is just that. We're all human.

Michael Joseph
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"Off the back of his Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter success..."
--

Still 18 days to go. A little controversy might stir up enough publicity to reach some outer stretch goals.

Chris Spears
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Wow, way to grab one line out of context from a long talk to use as a sensational headline at Richard's expense! You stay classy Gamasutra. Glad to see most people are actually taking the time to read the article at least.

Nikolas Kolm
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In what context is that line any better?

He conveniently ignores the fact that a good many Game Designers have to follow conventions, not because they can't do better/different, but because it is demanded of them by both Publishers and Fans.

He also conveniently forgets that knowing who your target audience is, what they want and how to make a game actually be successful and not always taking the most creative route is part of a Game Designer's skillset. Sure, he can say that Designers suck for not designing the way he thinks it is done right, because he can finance his games himself, off of the back of people throwing money at him because of a few good games he made.

Seriously. Any good points he might have (namely that there is a lack of good education for Game Design and the hope that designers should be allowed to be more creative and do more creative things) get lost in the mountain that is his ego shining through. Undeservedly I might add, after his recent "Design Masterpieces".

Michael O'Hair
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"Designers suck for not designing the way he thinks it is done right, because he can finance his games himself, off of the back of people throwing money at him because of a few good games he made."

$10.

Brandon Van Every
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"Demanded by fans" is a cop out.

Richard Garriott
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Gamasutra,
Thanks (NOT!) for the sensational headline! While I appreciate those of you who read the whole thing, to see better the whole context, even still, this article is skewed to make a sensationalist slant. My point was, that game design is the hardest, but also the most valuable skill to build in the industry. That every company lives and dies based on the talent of its game design team, and that as an industry we are not doing so well creating the talent we need in this industry, because educational systems have not caught up in this area as well as programming and art. I was not trying to toot my own horn, rather state that game design is hard. Ah well. :)

Nikolas Kolm
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If Gamasutra took all statements out of context and this is what you intended to bring across, then that's fine.

Honestly, I think one could go about it a better way, but then again, I'm not nearly as much in the spotlight as you are as to have to consider every word carefully, lest some site may pick it up and turn it upside down.

Game Design courses and teachings have to pick up, and more to the point, need to include all the skills that an actual Game Designer needs and not just (as I've seen in many places) some Level Design, some 3D Modeling and a crash course in gaming history. That's just not enough.

Also, excuse me for the snarky comment about your latest Masterpieces, but truth be told, you stand to learn a bit from the Design decisions from the last projects you were a part of before your leave. That's what it's all about though, right? Live and learn. No disrespect meant.

Mike Murray
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With all due respect, Mr. Garriott, there is no context in which "I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am" and "What I'm saying is, I think most game designers really just suck" is any better. You make some good points, but when you make comments like the above, you are guaranteed to step on someone's toes. For someone who made the amazing Ultima IV, you could stand to learn some humility yourself.

You are an example of someone I don't want to become if I ever become famous for my games. Getting a big head is poisonous.

Alan Boody
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I understand completely what you're saying, Richard. But, some of the comments cause people to pause and wonder if this is a ego trip. It's been, literally, well over a decade since you've been a lead (any lead) of a successful game project.

If Shroud of the Avatar is a success then we can take you more seriously. However, if it bombs we hope you release that maybe you're not as good as you think you are.

Now, don't get me wrong. I want to see Shroud of the Avatar succeed, and I want to see you succeed. This industry has a culture of people (primarily, the players) that thrive on the drama created by failure. You see it on sites like MMORPG.com, Massively.com, and sometimes even here.

I wish you luck on your project.

Jamie Fristrom
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Richard, you've been my first game developer hero ever since I took that class in adventure-game-making-on-the-Apple-II from you at Computer Camp in Tahoe while you were working on Ultima 2. I know it's easy to say stupid things in a live interview - but it's also easy to apologize. According to PC gamer, you did say you were better than virtually everyone else you've met--You may not have been trying to toot your own horn but you did. You surely did.--and you did say other people suck. There's almost no context where that isn't asshole behavior. So, yeah, how about that apology. Maybe it would look something like this: "Dear Shigeru Miyamoto, Raph Koster, Ed Del Castillo, Sid Meier, Chris Crawford (and you can go on naming names as long as you want here), and everyone else I've met who is a solid designer that I'm unfortunately forgetting right now, I apologize - I didn't mean to say that you weren't in the same league as I am. Also, for all those game designers who are toiling away in the trenches unnoticed, the ones whom I claimed 'suck' - I'm sorry for that too. You don't suck. You have possibly made some sucky design choices, and you can do better, but so can I. Let's all do better."

Jeremy Tate
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The article is completely front-loaded with this link-bait crap, for my part I ignored it. I get what you are saying.

I get your point, good design comes from a wide field of experience in multiple disciplines, that I think is nearly impossible to teach. It's like software testing, you can't really train a person to be a good tester, they have to arrive at it through a deep sense of customer focus.

It also makes me very grateful that I don't have that kind of spotlight on me, because the overhead of watching what I say and not being candid with people would literally (And I do mean LITERALLY) drive me insane.

Jesus Alonso Abad
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On the sensationalism issue, some of the quoted words are out of place when talking on others' work and efforts, even if they weren't used as a punch-line. There's no way they can be used disrespectfully in a serious discussion. I'm sure most of them are doing their best, just as you probably did when you had their current experience and knowledge.

Leaving that aside, while game design is less objective and prone to well-known methodologies, just as the "community management" skill, I do feel there are proper formation, just like programming and art. I have a masters on CS, and what we learned were the technical aspects, but not "this is the only right way, this isn't". Just like art. what I'm saying is that, in game design, you can be taught on well-known practices to solve well-known problems, but how to use them wisely and which ones to use for a certain game, is something that you only learn through your know-how, your experience. And it's the same with programming, art or even marketing.

I agree that more relevance and better formation is needed, yes, but there will always be a large part of it that is only acquired through experience and dissecting others' success or failure, not at academies.

PS: I'm both a programmer and an artist, and I'm still really far from being a *decent* designer. I know how to teach the computer to do anything. What I don't know is what to teach the computer so the players will enjoy. A designer that knows the internals is better, but design isn't a skill that comes for free with programming or art.

Joshua Dallman
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I shudder to imagine Game Design falling into the hands of those who do not love and intentionally practice it simply by way of educational atrophy. We need more mentorships to increase the talent pool for all and prevent amusement/arcade/early computer game design from becoming a "lost language" no longer spoken. We need mentorship as a given not an outlier for the game design discipline. We need designers drawing from broad design interests in art and culture and not just computers and technology. We need to continue the tradition of Game Design as a Great Art and not just a piece of a profit driven production pipeline. Part of respecting the discipline is acknowledging those who are not truly in it. A job title does not a designer make.

Renaud Boclet
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*The way it came across*, this statement lacks humility, obviously. But having been interviewed a couple of times, I really think he is being framed for a buzz sake. Choosing that one sentence as article headline is proof of intent in starting a flame war, if not a witch hunt. I've never worked on a game with Lord British, but I've pitched him a couple of games (one with the Highlander franchise, the other a 'City Life' sequel). He was nice, he listened, told me what he liked and asked relevant questions. There wasn't the slightest hint of contempt in his eyes or manners. Don't take this "GDers suck" thing personally if it's not aimed at you: if you're any good you know you are, since you're making games and people are having fun playing them ;)

Neeraj Kumar
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Good points but may be not the best way to say it. I am glad you cleared it up later :)

Carter Gabriel
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Mr. Garriott is right. The truth shouldn't be so hard for people to hear. Most game designers suck, and they suck for the very reasons he listed. So what? Why be sensitive and offended about it, when it is so true?

Game Designers do suck. It is an incredibly difficult skill, which requires an enormous amount of time and energy. I get headaches even talking to most so-called "designers" simply because their thought processes are so low level. Heck, you can't even bring up some interesting design concepts to many designers because they will write it off before even contemplating how a design could compensate for the idea's drawbacks.

Richard does not have a big head, he has big talent. Few seem to understand, but this is the perspective of someone who is a great at what they do and knows it because of how poor everyone else is at it. When your thoughts and ideas are at such a high level compared to the (unfortunately disappointing) norm, this is the only way to say it.

I am very glad that Mr.Garriott did not sugar coat (lie) and say Game Designers don't suck. I'm glad he didn't use other words to communicate the reality.

Honestly, if you are very talented at anything- you will often think this way simply because it is reality. Those who are talented, think "the norm" is a bar set pathetically low. Frustration with others is common when they often fail to grasp basic concepts in the area you're talented in. They do not see what you see, nor even attempt to see it. That is why you are talented, and why the average person sucks.

Those who insult people like Mr.Garriott as "big headed" or "arrogant" are probably among the ones who don't understand what it is like to be at such a high level of talent.

People often confuse talent with arrogance, because they do not know what being talented is like. I will be the first to say that one of the most common experiences among talented people in any area of expertise, is disappointment with everyone else's performance. Frustration with, or even laughter at, that which is considered the norm.

Maria Jayne
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Are we talking about game designers or the publishers that control most of the design decisions anyway?

How can a game designer really show their flair for design when they are forced to adhere to so many rigid expectations of what a game has to be in order to be worth making? It can't be coincidence that almost all the great designers started off making games independently, got recognized and hired by big publishers but have since returned to independently designing their own games again.

The problem we had pre Kickstarter at least, is that games were not being designed by game designers anymore.

Mike Murray
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"I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. "

Thou has lost an eighth!

Sebastian Bularca
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The games that are actually good these days are the result of collaborative design. Most of the team is actively participating in the process and the designers are just a part of the team, not the damn "leading creative energy". When there is no team available, like in the case of solo developers, community is always there to act as a team. These are the modern ways.
Beside that, any kind of designer out there, good or bad, is just a lost soul in the dark without a proper team behind. Yet we see all these "stars" talking too much using "I" instead of "Us". So if design is hard, just bring more people in and give them credit. Is that simple.

Mike Murray
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I especially like your comment about designers using "I" instead of "us" or "we." I see that way too much from current successful designers like Jon Blow and Jenova Chen. The media deserves some blame, too.

Gus Stechmann
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have you ever made a game as good or successfull as any of the Ultima games using the "modern method"? no? thought so.

Sebastian Bularca
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Mr. Gus Stechmann, to say that you have missed the point, would be an epic understatement :). Especially the part about the "we".

Derek Smart
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I got nuthin'

Maurício Gomes
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Of course, Richard Garriott never worked with Derek Smart

Carlo Delallana
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One of biggest problems that game designers face in their path towards mastery is respect. It's easy to respect an artist with a demonstrable skill, no average person assumes they can do what an engineer does. But game designer? For one thing our profession faces a common misconception, that game design is coming up with ideas (as noted by Garrott's comment on lazy designers). That all you need to do is clone, that you are no better than your competition (as noted by Mark Pincus).

We are a compromised profession, tasked at executing a formula to minimize risk. Unfortunately, executing on formula is counter to mastery of any skill. If the marching order is "status quo" instead of "challenge yourself" then how does a game designer grow? To master game design requires iteration, to iterate one must be allowed to "fail forward" in their search for a design solution. Very few forward thinking organizations celebrate failure but for the majority of our industry any kind of failure is frowned upon.

All game designers need mentorship. It's a profession that flourishes if approached from an apprenticeship angle. It is both an art and science and we need great teachers, we need great role models. We need those who "can" to reach out to those who are "about to be", to take the necessary risk and hire junior designers and mentor them properly.

I look to my heroes of game design to inspire me and frankly nothing Garriott has said in this interview inspires me. In fact, its the exact opposite. I am once again reminded that my chosen career path is not respected, what makes it equally painful is that I feel disrespected by my own kind. I think it's easy to call out the problems of a profession when you are on a pedestal. So many young designers are looking for guidance, who have a passion for this career. They crave mentorship, they crave the chance to work and develop their skill. The last thing I would ever tell them is that "most game designers suck". Guess what, we all sucked at one point...but we got better, with every failure we got better.

Be part of the solution Mr. Garriott, it's hard work for sure, but it's more beneficial to the profession than just pointing at the problems wishing someone else will fix it.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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I hope everyone who reads this article also reads your comment, Carlo.

Sean Howard
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Just read this after I posted, but I completely agree. The lack of mentorship bothers me. If not one good producer has come of all his insight and experience over the years, that's a failure in my book. When did we decide to stop teaching each other, pushing each other, sharing knowledge and insight to make people better for having known us? It's likely not our job, but it's our duty as human beings.

Robert Tsao
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I second Elisabeth's comment. Very well said, Carlo!

If it's not a lack of respect for the game designer, it's sometimes (in lots of smaller companies and start-ups that are finally testing their proverbial waters with a full-time game designer) a perception problem, namely the non-malicious yet befuddled question: "What exactly IS it that you do, again?"

I think ultimately, what a game designer does is they start up, facilitate, and interpret all the discourse that organically emerges during development of a game as a cohesive whole. At the end of the day, it's the designer's job to formulate some kind of workable signal out of endless noise. This makes game designers an invaluable asset to development, but at the same time, their worth is incredibly hard to quantify even after the game ships.

While there were no quotes taken out of context and we all know where Garriott was coming from, it's still disappointing to hear these words coming from someone I still respect and admire. I'm with you, Carlo. For Garriott's legacy and undeniable foothold in the grander spectrum of gaming, one would hope he could offer some insight into what the state of game design should be as opposed to what it isn't. Incendiary comments like those, regardless of impassioned perspective, help no one.

Carlo Delallana
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Going to take this opportunity to plug the Museum of Art & Digital Entertainment (http://www.themade.org/). The East Bay chapter of the Molyjam was held here and I had the pleasure of observing kids being taught how to program and design their own game. Recently they hosted a pair programming class with young girls between 8-10 years of age.

Places like these are the hope of the industry and game design as a profession. Please consider supporting in any way (donations, volunteering, tec.) to make future game designers less sucky and lazy.

Joshua Dallman
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"They crave mentorship... The last thing I would ever tell them is that 'most game designers suck'. Guess what, we all sucked at one point...but we got better, with every failure we got better. "

My mentor did me a favor better than Mr. Garriott is doing the design community. Not only did he say I sucked as a designer, he said I wasn't even one. It was a slap to the face I will never forget. He was right. That pushed me to become one.

"We are a compromised profession, tasked at executing a formula to minimize risk."

Quit allowing compromise and change the formula. Do it better. Design.

Carter Gabriel
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I applaud you Joshua Dallman.

Instead of being a sensitive little girl who cries that someone "hurt my fweelings" by saying you sucked, you realized "Yea I do suck, so it's time to improve!"

Now I bet you are marked among those who do NOT suck.

In fact, just by making such a comment, I assure you that you do not suck. Having a mentor, means you were taught in the way designers need it the most. The best method of teaching all around, honestly for any skill.

That he said you weren't even one, transcends sucking at being one. That means you most likely are one now.

Then you finalize your comment by saying "Quit allowing compromise and change the formula. Do it better. Design. "

Something only a real designer would say. Props to you Joshua Dallman! And congratulations for not sucking like the rest of the little girls here, who can't handle the truth. Garriott is right, but people here are too easily offended to realize it.

After all... the only way to improve oneself, is to realize one needs improvement. You can't do that unless you accept failure, or "sucking" at something. They were doomed from the start.

Carter Gabriel
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From Joshua Dallman's About Me.

"He re-designed Playdom game Wild Ones and quadrupled revenue which directly generated millions in revenue and is still their third largest game. "


hahaha, I was right! You are a great designer :)

It is funny how the great designers are the ones who agree with Garriott. Seeing as how he's right, it only makes sense.

It is true of any profession, any skill, any talent. The masses are inadequately trained or not talented enough to get by without training. The truly greats, recognize this, and are even embarrassed or disappointed in it when they are still learning. Later, they wish to empower others by sharing what it meant to become a great designer.

Michael O'Hair
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"All game designers need mentorship."

Perhaps most of the suitable mentors are all busy with their own projects, sealed behind walls of secrecy and non-disclosure within their respective houses, and have no time to impart their knowledge to the upstarts who wish to be their coworkers or competitors.

But perhaps a suitable replacement for mentorship is the history of games, electronic or otherwise. There are numerous post-release *ahem* "postmortems" chronicling success and failures of the past. There are game des- er... creators still alive and kicking and writing about their experiences and sharing their knowledge. There are newer game desig- eh... authors(?) doing the same and bringing new perspectives to old problems. With the greater and greater connectivity presented in each passing year, and more and more information being made available, is being lead by the nose (a failing of many modern games, heh) necessary?

We take for granted that we live in the Age of Information, of the internet, a time of knowledge flowing in every direction, freely (or as freely as the contract specifies). The knowledge is out there. Go find it! Go get it! It is now easier than ever to spitball ideas off of each other; for perspective, compare it to decades past. Cooperate and collaborate, if you can. Is that not the purpose of this space on the net of ideas? ... other than shooting down anyone flying nearby and a little higher than everyone else... let the Sun take care of Icarus.

Design of a better internal combustion engine first requires the knowledge of how an internal combustion works. How do you learn how an internal combustion engine works? Take apart different types of internal combustion engines.

"all things with no teacher"
- Miyamoto Musashi

Carlo Delallana
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@Michael - Yes, there are definitely advantages to being connected and having resources to scour but part of the student/mentor relationship is the feedback loop. I'm taking a Unity4 class on Skillshare (shout out to Brandon Wu for teaching the class) and i've learned more through the interaction with the instructor and fellow students than in my solo exploration of the tool.

Carter Gabriel
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@Carlo

You are dead on, 100% correct. Mentorship is where it's at in design.

Design is a philosophy, just as much as it is a science.

Programming is math, Art is well...art.
But Design? That is a whole other ballgame, encompassing all sorts of stuff. It's a talent that can be easily be faked by people who have no business in design.

Complex skills require these mentorships.

"All game designers need mentorship."

One of the most true sentences on this page.

TC Weidner
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I think there are tons of talented people out there, I think the problem is not the talent doesnt exist, its that new talent gets too few opportunities. The industry is 1) one that is very hard to crack, and get into 2) for those who do get into big budget design, often they are limited and shackled to how much true freedom they have. Ex- I mean just look at the author, he has to go to kickstarter to get funding in order to allow for the freedom he needs, and he is well known as they come.
If you look around the mod and indie scene you will see that talent is everywhere in this industry, its opportunity that is lacking.

Mike Murray
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This comment is spot-on. Getting into the industry often feels like a complicated puzzle. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong country, and 20 years too late.

Rachel Presser
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Couldn't agree more regarding opportunity.

The industry's incredibly insular, and getting in often relies on pure luck first and hard work second. For today's young workforce, the barriers to entry just seem insanely high to boot. Ever notice how all the major players pretty much list job postings as positions you essentially have had to be groomed for since junior high? When I was in high school, let alone junior high, there definitely weren't any college curricula dedicated to game design. Now that there are, I also noticed most of them are only offered at private colleges, which locks out many of the people who have passion and drive to make games but simply cannot afford the crushing bills/debt associated with private college. Then again, like Michiel said above, just because you went to school for it doesn't mean you're any good! Plus looking at my dad who majored in music then became a budget manager for the State, then my having two accounting degrees and leaving the financial industry for the gaming industry...degrees also can't set your life in stone.

Then if you want to bypass that and go indie, going indie and just getting a game out is easier than it was 20 years ago but still a damn near impossible way to get established and make a living unless your title's a sleeper hit/you manage to get into a good niche.

This industry's a thug in a cocktail dress, but I'll be damned if I don't prefer it to what I used to have put up with. Until I get perplexed and face-palmy at how some of the folks with the bigger companies seem more obstinate than the managers I dealt with in the financial industry...

Michael O'Hair
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"Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong country, and 20 years too late."

@Mike Murray
Everything is cyclic. The independent hobbyists of 30 years ago who made it big, joined the big boys and girls clubs for bigger budgets and even bigger egos, and then fell from the great height or faded quietly into mediocrity are doing what now...?

Making (somewhat) independent games... again.

What's the point of robbing a bank that contains no money?

Brandon Van Every
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Opportunity lacking? A guy turns a POS Java game about blocks into $80 million, and people are kvetching about opportunity? Go learn something and go do something. You don't need the game industry for anything. You do need some way to pay the bills, so you have enough time to do your game work.

Carter Gabriel
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Minecraft is more about "going viral" and the momentum of popularity, than it is about anything to deal with video games.

Sure, most games which "go viral" aren't total crap. However, it's an effect of marketing and social networking (the internet) along with a heap of luck more than it is about opportunity.

The reason Minecraft went viral isn't about gameplay or design. If it were, then the hundreds of minecrafts before it would have been far more popular. Especially the game Minecraft practically cloned.

Alfonso Callejas
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As a student in one of the programs that teaches Game Design (I'm an artist, but there are several Game Designers among us as well), I can safely say that the hardest-working people I know here are in the level design track.

That Game Designers suck is a broad generalization and subjective. But one thing that is accurate across the board for level designers is the difficulty of breaking in. Getting useful and constructive criticism. Getting mentors and good examples.

Mr. Garriott (and anyone else who is interested), if this is something that you think is a problem I encourage you to look at the different game design schools - and to support us!

Justin Sawchuk
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So what happend with ultima 8 then.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5QzComfZU4

Michael O'Hair
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At the risk of linking to an EVIL SENSATIONALIST STATEMENT-TWISTING GAMES JOURNALISM SCUMPIT DON'T FALL FOR IT, I submit the following:

Eurogamer: Richard Garriott: What went wrong with Tabula Rasa and Ultima 8.
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-12-12-garriott-what-went-w
rong-with-tabula-rasa

Carter Gabriel
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Almost all of Garriott's "failures" can be contributed to the same reason other great designers have "failures".

Notice a trend in a lot of these games, and why they go from "Great sounding Design" to "Unsuccessful release". It usually has nothing to do with the design, and everything to do with big business and business politics.

Tabula Rasa didn't even stand a chance, with NCSoft sending Garriott to space just so they could try to destroy him. Thank God he got justice, and they had to pay him for their evil actions. I only wish it were criminal, and those businessmen were arrested for such heinous deception.

What's even worse, is some other stuff that happens to other developers. Such as the original "Horizons" with David Allen, and the horrendous business practices which resulted around him.
http://webz.us/hz/htm/wrh.htm

Not that these developers don't make mistakes or crappy games (That is all one's opinion, so I won't dispute it) but the trend is common about the "business side" destroying the design. Sometimes before it is even implemented.

Sean Howard
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While I see the point of the article, I think a chance for a good conversation was missed. The education system is definitely not geared toward or equipped to teach these fields outside of proficient use of the tools. However, the real key to anyone becoming "good" at anything is being given the chance, and learning through a mentor, the sharing of knowledge.

If you have never come across some one you deemed "good", that is a failure on all of us. All of these lazy and untalented designers, did we ever share knowledge or experience with them? Did we impart what made us successful, pushed them to question the norm, or given them the tools to cut their own path?

If people are no better for knowing us at the end of the day, we have failed as a person. You don't create the "next big thing" alone, if you can't better the people around you, and share your passion and talent, the project is doomed to mediocrity.

So all I ask, is that next time you see some one struggle, call them out and push them in the right direction, "consider the "why" alongside the "What"". It may not be our job, but it is our duty as human beings to elevate one another beyond what we are.

Jonathan Blow
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Look, you guys are all falling into the trap of Crappy Internet Sensationalist Reporting. Again.

You are being played by bloggers for ad hits. It is a very, very strong bet that Richard said a lot of substantive things about design in the interview but his comments were filtered to sound maximally punchy. Something that is just a small aside gets warped and blown up until it sounds like "HEY I AM A JERK AND I HAVE CALLED A CONFERENCE TO SAY I AM THE BEST DESIGNER SND EVERYONE ELSE SUCKS." Seriously, do you think anyone would actually do that?

You are all being played. Don't fall for it.

Seth Scoville
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"I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am."

That's really all you need to read. Unacceptable.

Mike Murray
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In what context is this a positive statement: "I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am"? If someone twisted his words, then please tell us what he really said.

Many of us have acknowledged the points that Richard made, but you have to choose your words carefully, especially when there are people who look up to you, and read & listen to everything you say. What Richard said seems like a blatant disregard of the effort that game designers put into their games--which, by the way, includes you Jon. Spin or no spin, his statements don't put him in a positive light among his peers.

Jesus Alonso Abad
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I'm afraid he's suffering from the same problem as Phil Fish: Valid points through wrong manners.

He could have perfectly stated their points through much better statements. Just say "Game design is an undervalued skill that lacks of proper formation" instead of "most game designers really suck". You're putting very clearly your point, and not giving any sensationalist a punch-line.

See what I mean? He may be telling the truth, but there's no need to be disrespectful to others' works. I'm sure most designers out there are doing their best to get that proper formation, experience and knowledge to be considered the elite of game design. Telling them "you still suck" isn't less disrespectful and sensationalist than using those words as the punch-line for the article.

Mike Murray
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@Jesus, thank you for speaking sense.

Brandon Sheffield
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I didn't write this article, and I do think it's a bit too punchy, but that's not what I'm here to defend - I'm here to defend the idea that impression-based ad revenue does anything for gamasutra. it does not. so any motivations here above and beyond reporting, if there are any, would not be related to money.

Bart Stewart
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Wow. This whole thing is so disappointing, in so many ways.

1. The headline and description are way too sensationalistic, snarky, and personal, which seems to be an unpleasant trend here lately. How does slanting like this inspire confidence in fair reporting, or encourage thoughtful discussion?

2. How many of the anti- reactions here are from people who aren't designers and don't appreciate what distinguishes a good designer from someone else? How many working game designers disagree with Richard's point that filling design roles by default will usually be less effective than finding people who are designers because that specifically is what they love doing?

3. For those who believe that game design is mostly something that can be taught: what would you teach? Is reviewing good games versus bad games, or memorizing lists of design "laws," enough to turn a non-designer into a good designer? Can innate qualities of good game designers, which distinguish them from people who've backed into the role --- such as an insatiable curiosity about how the world works and a gift for classifying and creatively manipulating conceptual systems -- be taught? How?

4. Carlo, I agree with the first part of your comment. But I think your point about respect is actually supported by Richard's statement (which he's now reiterated) that good game design is as hard in its own way as good programming and good artistry. That observation seems quite respectful of the rare combination of talents required to be a good game designer.

It's because I see good game design as valuable, and good game designers as mostly born, not made (and thus diminished when people back into design roles), that I'm disappointed by the presentation and reaction to Richard's full comments. The phrasing of those comments was pretty strong... but did they really deserve the treatment they've gotten here at a site that wants to serve industry professionals?

Jacob Germany
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#3 Why are "good designer" and "non-designer" binary modes of being? Do you not think there are skills, "laws", rules of thumb, and methods of experimentation that could help novices become better designers?

#3b If there are, truly, innate qualities of a "good designer" (quite a weighty hypothesis), why would you need to teach those qualities in order to improve the design quality of the industry? Do those qualities self-sort in the industry? Richard Garriott seems to think they do not, and I would agree. So if the designers in the industry already either have them or don't have them, how would the inability to teach them affect the ability to teach non-innate qualities?

Sam Combs
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You learn game design just like you learn almost any other craft: by making games. It's like artistic talent: some people are born with talent, but what really matters is the practice. Game design isn't some black art, or something stamped on you at birth.

You don't have to be a programmer or an artist to make a game. Do pen and paper or board games not count? Making rules and systems for fun is a skill that can be taught and learned. But from the quotes in the article, it seems like if you don't know how to make art or program, you'd have no idea how to design a game.

Carlo Delallana
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@Sam - this has always been a big insecurity for me. I am a game designer who cannot code. I do have an illustration and 3D modeling background but I use these skills mainly for gameplay storyboarding purposes.

While I am taking steps to learn how to code I sometimes feel like a second class citizen among other designers who can. It took a while to get over this insecurity and just focus on mastering my craft.

Bart Stewart
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Jacob, I notice that you didn't try answering the questions I actually asked.

The idea that some specific knowledge might make a good designer better is reasonable... but that's not what I asked about. The question here is what external training could take some reasonably bright gamer and make them into a good designer, as opposed to finding someone for a design role who's a designer by nature.

My feeling is that there's no such curriculum that can turn a non-designer into a good designer -- not as a career, at any rate. But I might be wrong about that, so I asked the question.

And Sam, let's try extending your argument to programmers or artists. Yes, techniques can be taught to any random person... but would you rather hire the person who only programs because it's what he was taught (or because no one else was around that day)? Or the person who programs because programming particularly satisfies his natural gifts and interests?

Of course some formal learning won't hurt anyone, and practical experience does matter. No one's saying otherwise. The question is whether to prefer someone who designs simply because they weren't into programming or art, or someone who designs because they love design.

Success is never guaranteed for anyone. Preferring the designer-by-nature over the designer-by-default does not seem to me to be an outrageous idea for trying to improve the odds.

Jacob Germany
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@Bart I hope you noticed, since I wasn't being subtle. Answering the questions seemed secondary to pointing out the silliness of the assumption that there are two modes of designers, good and really bad, and one must somehow spring an individual forward from one to another. Or that the innate qualities of a designer are in any way relevant to the discussion. These are the points I was trying to drive home with my questions. Still valid points that I notice you mostly don't answer.

To answer your questions, what to teach? I would start out with intro classes focusing on playing and dissecting many, many games. Analyzing individual systems, and how those systems interact to form the whole. Analyzing why individual choices were made, what other choices could have been made, and why the designers might have chosen what they chose.

Next, one would probably want to focus on a class or two focusing on taking previous games and changing small aspects to improve usability, functionality, artistic vision, or some other goal. It matters less what's changed, and much more that there is some thought-out justification that factors in the rest of the game design.

Next, one should probably focus on building game systems from scratch. Inventory systems, combat systems, dialogue systems, loot systems, AI architectures, and more. These should be built with preformed goals in mind, preformed restrictions, with a final class or project (if only a single class) focusing on free-form design of said systems.

Next, the obvious progression would be forming games by tying multiple systems together. Doing so again through various restrictions or goals in mind, always justifying what and why every decision was made. This and previous projects would always benefit from open discussion in a class setting, of course.

I dunno, is that enough? I'm sure there's quite a bit more that could be done. Maybe classes on various game design philosophies, like parallel goal completion. Maybe specific classes focusing on narratives, character development, demographics, and other aspects that are tied to game design but not central to it.

This is, of course, still ignoring the idea that regardless of how "innate" some design characteristics are, there are many aspects of being a designer that are *scientifically proven* to not be innate or natural. These characteristics could be fostered, the baby could not be thrown out with the bathwater, and the game industry would improve.

Richard Vaught
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1. It doesn't, but then, neither do the comments themselves, regardless of intent. Any designer worth his salt knows that HOW you deliver a message is just as important as important, if not more so, then the message itself.

2. I'm a designer. I can't speak for anyone else. Filling any job by default is less effective than filling it with someone that is passionate for the role. That is not limited to game design. A passionate trash collector is better than someone just there for a paycheck.

3. I don't think anyone believes it is something that can 'mostly' be taught, only that there are enough skills and tools that can be taught to make a degree worthwhile. On my short list of things that could be taught, design patterns and conceptualization (like Machinations by Joris Dormans), programming/scripting, art and graphics design theory, history, philosophy, religion, upper division mathematics (as applied to game design), cinematography, writing essentials (Character development, Hero's Journey, creative writing, technical writing, etc), game decomposition (i.e. How to see past the smoke and mirrors), music theory(effective techniques for creating mood via audio cues), architecture, psychology, Humanities, etc, etc, etc. There is more than enough to choose from. Most of those tools are multi-purpose. Not only do they help with formulating the design itself, but they also allow us to communicate with people from other disciplines so that the design does not get lost in translation.

The talent, what can't really be 'taught' directly, is learning how to pull of it together into something cohesive.

4. Yes, his comments, as they were worded, warranted the derision they received. Perhaps if he would have said it the way that he did the second time he wouldn't have came across as an egotistical ass. I don't know him, and reserve judgement until such time as I do, but the comment was pretty foul. Having gone to the source article for a read, the piece here on Gamasutra definitely sensationalized it the comments, but those comments were wrong to begin with.

Yong Wu
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I agree with the above posters that the title is sensationalist and that by having it, it stopped everyone from having an useful conversation. If the whole point of the article was to say "Richard Garriot is an a**" then that headline seems fine to me but then I'm not sure what it's doing in Gamasutra. If the point of article was discuss things about Game Designers/Designing then I don't see the point of the headline because the thing that it will do is poison the majority of the readers before they even read the article. After people read that headline they dive into the article with the thought about how X is a bastard and ways to disprove anything valid or useful that person might of have said because you don't like that person or just find ways to hammer that person.

Mike Murray
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Here's the thing though: I read the whole article, and he made good points. But it doesn't help your case at all when you say you're better than everyone else. I would still feel the same way even if the title wasn't sensationalist. You mean to tell me you're OK with that comment because he made some valid points about learning how to design games?

Yong Wu
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I didn't mean to say that I was ok with what he said and I don't like him much in general but I thought in general we were trying to have constructive conversations in Gamasutra. Constructive conversations as in not about who's who and if they are nice/arrogant or w/e but rather about game design and things related to it that would help the industry in general.

Mike Murray
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There actually are constructive conversations going on in the comments section. It's just that when you make arrogant remarks, that will stick out more, making the constructive comments harder to spot. I want to learn from respected game designers; I don't want to hear about how great they think they are, or how everyone else's work is garbage except their own games.

Mark Venturelli
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Wow. Even though I agree there are a lot of posers and wanna-bes in game design, Mr. Garriot is certainly not on my list of good designers.

Jeff Green
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When you make a series of inflammatory, unsubstantiated barbs at an entire industry, I'm not sure how you (or your supporters) can claim a headline is "sensationalist." Maybe next time don't dismiss the work of thousands of talented individuals for the sole purpose of propping yourself up. At the very least, it's just insensitive and tactless.

Further, when the only folks you're offering up as being in the same class of awesomeness as yourself are peers from 20+ years ago, it might be a sign that you haven't been keeping up. I think this is where the fundamental problem folks are having with these quotes. It seems -- seems -- to betray a total lack of awareness or involvement in the many great works, and talented individuals, who have emerged in this industry since the 80s.

If you don't want to inspire sensationalist headlines and angry forum posts, perhaps it'd be better to think first before speaking, and get a little humility.

Brian Kehrer
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The idea of a Bauhaus approach to video game design, or any creative profession, is, I think, correct. We've culturally strayed away from that idea, and toward high levels of specialization, and it has made all of us weaker artists, whether our art is graphical, code, or game design.

Both article edits are a shame.

Garriott stopped by my former studio once just to hang out, ask questions about our work, and share his own designs. He was one of the most respectful designers we'd ever had visit, asked great questions, and was generally very interested in our work, as well as open to discussing the internals of his own works in progress.
He'd also mastered a design skill most ego-driven, junior designers haven't: listening.

Give the dude a break.

Stephen Norquist
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I'll take this opportunity to let everyone know that I'm a natural genius game designer living in the Western suburbs of Chicago. If anyone needs a game designed above Richard Garriott's exacting standards, contact me.

I have no technical skills and limited technical knowledge, but I love games, design, and laziness.... I mean hard work. I feel lazy, but I'm very hard working when put into a favorable environment. I wholly believe that if given a job in the industry I would more than pull my weight, if not lightly push it around (I'm 185 pounds).

It is of my opinion that I'm a bag of talent waiting to be opened, or spilled over.

Wayne Imlach
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Sensationalist headline aside, there are some very strong and unambiguous comments from Richard in the article. The context is very clear. No 'Crappy Internet Sensationalist Reporting' required to twist the meaning.

I can only presume Mr. Garriot has simply worked with very few designers over the years, especially if he can only name a trio of extremely high profile developers as examples.

jean-francois Dugas
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Based on the article and M. Garriot's comment, I still see a missing variable: what's resulting in a good or bad game design?
Is it commercial success? Fan base? Is it innovation?

Sure, taking a working game and adding/changing three or four game mechanisms may be seen as "lazy" but what was the reason behind this? What was the management impact on this decision? As stated, a programmer or an artist may act as a Game Designer too. Did they fought back about it?

For each situation, many questions unanswered. That's what we call in game design, User Cases. Going for the straight answer isn't always the best choice.

I could name a lot of games that is using this technique to produce sequels in masse. Should I say it's bad game design? Why so? If they are making money out of it, it means customers are appealed by it.

Without hesitation I could look back at "good game designer" games and describe them as bad design. However, I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be entirely the game designer's fault.

"But if you follow," he continues, "they generally say, 'You know, I really like Medal of Honor, but I would have bigger weapons, or I would have more healing packs, or,' you know. They go to make one or two changes to a game they otherwise love versus really sitting down and rethinking, 'How can I really move the needle here?'"

This, is the only part of the article where a real good working advice was given. I was hoping to see more of that to back up the sensationalism.

I guess We'll wait for Round 2.

Jacob Germany
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I would agree with some of the underlying points, but mentioning Molyneux as one of the few good designers? I would go so far as to say he's a good, if not great, visionary. He has moments of inspiration that are sheer genius, and transcend almost anything in the market.

But as a designer? He's honestly not that good. From the horrible blackboxing of Black and White's AI to the complete inability to introduce any interesting decision in his levelling vision in Fable 3 (and countless other examples), he makes some really weird (and bad) design decisions that fail to articulate and realize his rather interesting vision.

My point is, with mentioning Molyneux as one of the few "good designers" in the industry, I'm not entirely sure what Garriott's definition of "good designer" really is. Since it's clearly not ability to make really well-constructed low-level decisions that form the game as a whole to make it "good".

stew boyce
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In my experience this is very true. Not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings but I've had the chance to work with a few designers that went to "game design" schools and to be honest they sucked. To me it seemed like they would just throw out random ideas with no thought as to how it played into the game/story/mechanics at all. Not to mention the inability to think outside the box and a strong tendency to suggest the oldest most used mechanics.

It's a downer when the team brings on a designer who has a big ego after graduating "game design" school and then commences to litter the game with shit ideas. Most game designers I've meet have big egos and tons of bad ideas. I know bad ideas are part of the process, they can't all be good but a good designer will see right through his own bad ideas and work to correct the issues.

The designer I work with now had no prior game experience but natural design ability who thinks outside the box and tries to do new and creative things. I do think there are a lot of great designers out there but just because you went to school does not mean you have any natural ability and trust me you wont get by on just what you learn in school. In many trades school is for those who need it, those with natural ability will always shine through.

I also agree it's a very good idea to bring up designers from inside the development team, a designer that does not understand how the internal parts of the game work can also be very hard to work with. You can't teach someone to be a great designer it is very very much intuitive and not so much a learned skill.

Frank DAngelo
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I agree with him, but I think a lot of the problem is that game developers are generally terrible with hiring, especially at the bigger and "better" companies. I've worked at companies where I really questioned the new hires coming in through the door, and wondered how others that have been at a company are keeping their jobs. So I could say the other half of the problem is companies that areretaining people that should obviously be fired due to under-performing, but that NEVER happens.

I'm an Audio Designer, and I've worked at companies where literally people would do nothing but fool around all day and browse the web until about a week before end of milestone. Then everyone tries to crunch, does crap work, and things have to get cut solely because of laziness. I'm not saying I'm amazing (much like Mr Garriott also says), but I know I work hard and that I pour my heart and soul into making games. Sad to say, there are very few others working in the game industry that I feel share these qualities.

The worst part is that I've personally had a very hard time finding work in the industry. I am still looking nearly 24/7 for new opportunities and have been for about 2 years now. Granted I am only 3 years into my career, but it often saddens me that these under-performing individuals are being put in roles I know I would excel at.

I feel the game industry is terribly guilty of hiring those because of networks or those that just have excellent interview skills and portfolios. Addressing the network issue, so many jobs are filled with friends/family/people in their network. However, when choosing a hire from a network, I've seen companies actually forgetting to check if they are qualified! If your network connection is also great at what he does and super reliable, by all means hire him, but I see too many hires done from friendship alone... That's the first recipe for disaster.

Then there is the great interviewers or those that have amazing portfolios. For one, just because you have an awesome demo, doesn't mean you do awesome work. You could have stolen the material outright, had others do it for you, invested 20x the amount of time you normally would be allotted for that task, and many other factors. I've seen people with truly awesome demo materials, but they can't handle REALLY working a day to day 8 hour day. Then there are those with amazing interview skills. They charm the company with their charismatic personalities. Push comes to shove, they get hired because they seem like an awesome person I want to work with, and lo and behold, they either made the whole charade up and are actually quite arrogant/rude, or they are actually a nice person but can't accomplish work well...

I think there are plenty of great game developers out there, they are just not the ones that are sitting in their lofty AAA salaried/benefits jobs. They are the ones going out starting their own companies and making their own games because they actually like to work! It saddens me that I feel this way about an industry and medium that has brought so much joy to me, but honestly, there are just so many terrible employees filling precious spots in game development. How they get there... it still astonishes me till this day. And all while I send another personalized resume and cover letter to a company trying to get one of these precious spots, only to be turned down in favor of someone that I can almost guarantee will under perform - and keep that job as long as he wants... :(

Rob Solomon
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I don't think the problem is the industry. If your work was head and shoulders above everyone else's, then you would be hired already. Looking at your portfolio, I see some scattered audio tracks and sound replacement exercises to existing game footage. There's little to demonstrate that you understand the iterative development process.

I think you should consider doing some small indie projects and demonstrate your design process, because that's how people will see the quality of your decisions. Any student can do a sound replacement reel. If you do music and sound for someone else's game, that shows you know how to work within creative constraints, and you know how these two things fit together. When you write "Often clients will rarely give an audio professional free reign over your work, and will provide specific direction through the production of a music piece or sound effect", it says to me "I hate working for clients".

Good luck!

Frank DAngelo
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I appreciate your feedback. Thank you! I feel that I should point out that I DO NOT feel I am head and shoulders above everyone else. You misinterpreted what I said a bit. I only started my journey into this industry just 3 years ago after finishing school, and naturally I have room to improve. Everyone does. No one should ever be done learning. There are always things that one can improve upon and true genius and skill only comes with time and experience.

However, what I am extremely confident in is my work ethic, my dedication, my enthusiasm for making games, and my reliability. If these things are missing and replaced with laziness, under-achieving, and "experience", what good are your skills?

I feel confident enough to stand here and say that I would not disappoint the company that hired me. I take pride in my work, and strive to innovate, become more efficient, and truly become someone that people can rely and count on. Maybe I am bold to say this, but I feel that few other people I have worked with fit that same mold. I've worked with many people that don't even really play games... That should be step 1.

Jane Castle
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You make A LOT of assumptions and have many prejudices about how most game studios are run given you have only three years of experience.

While I don't disagree that what you have experienced did not come to pass, most studios are not run like you say (Well not the ones that want to stay in business). The same goes for the hiring process. In my experience, if you are good at what you do and have the skills\portfolio\demos or what have you to back it up, you WILL get hired. Networking or being "in the know" won't get you a job in a professionally run studio.

What you need to ask yourself is why you are getting jobs in the types of studios you describe as opposed to the better run studios.

I know it is hard to get a job in game audio and EVEN HARDER to get a permanent position. However as Robert stated in his reply if you truly are as good as you say you are there should be no problem getting a job.

Scott Reiling
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Jane and Robert, unfortunately both of you seem to ignore Frank's message, while becoming curiously irate with what he has said about lazy and or unqualified folks getting jobs.

You especially, Jane, do not bring much to the discussion, and come off with a triple negative at the start of your second paragraph, that frankly makes no sense to the tone of your post. (It almost needs to be applied as a derivative, to understand) In fact, that sentence denotes Frank a liar, when I believe that was not your intent.

Both Robert and Jane declaim that if Frank were good at his profession, he would be recognized, and not experience a dearth of opportunities. What tripe is this? Surely you jest, to imply that such a perfect situation exists, where talented individuals do not get "drowned-out" by any number of factors? (Indie community.. anyone?)

Finally, nepotism other unfair hiring practices occur in every industry, and perhaps Frank has witnessed it more than most, in his short time as an audio designer.

stew boyce
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In my experience this is very true. Not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings but I've had the chance to work with a few designers that went to "game design" schools and to be honest they sucked. To me it seemed like they would just throw out random ideas with no thought as to how it played into the game/story/mechanics at all. Not to mention the inability to think outside the box and a strong tendency to suggest the oldest most used mechanics.

It's a downer when the team brings on a designer who has a big ego after graduating "game design" school and then commences to litter the game with shit ideas. Most game designers I've meet have big egos and tons of bad ideas. I know bad ideas are part of the process, they can't all be good but a good designer will see right through his own bad ideas and work to correct the issues.

The designer I work with now had no prior game experience but natural design ability who thinks outside the box and tries to do new and creative things. I do think there are a lot of great designers out there but just because you went to school does not mean you have any natural ability and trust me you wont get by on just what you learn in school. In many trades school is for those who need it, those with natural ability will always shine through.

I also agree it's a very good idea to bring up designers from inside the development team, a designer that does not understand how the internal parts of the game work can also be very hard to work with. You can't teach someone to be a great designer it is very very much intuitive and not so much a learned skill.

Christian Philippe Guay
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First of all and like in everything, very few designers understand what makes video games super satisfying and how to achieve it.

The current size of AAA devs teams is huge. When 10-40 designers are involved, they all have a different understanding of video games and all design things from a different pespective. They just can't all be top of the world designers. That makes everything less consistent and leads have to adjust the vision all the time. And, they all need to be mentored to improve their skills. And if we can agree that AAA games are getting worse over the years, it doesn't help our current designers to get better at their craft either. At the top of that, the design department is the one that suffered the most from the super-size me phenomenon and they lack proper creation tools. The role and meaning of a game designer position also changed dramatically over the past 15 years.

We literally created a downward spiral.

To solve the problem we would have to reduce the size of our development teams to only 10-50 employees.

William Volk
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The designers have NOTHING TO DO with "moving the needle" here (in AAA gaming). Hence tweeks to existing franchises.

It's the publishers. And I don't blame them.

With these budgets and the limited channel, companies live or die on the release of a AAA game (see THQ).

Do you think an EA or Activision can afford the risk of a completely new title given these budgets and numbers? One screw up (hello Sim City) and bam!

That's why the innovation happens with lower budget fare. As in mobile, casual, social, steam etc. etc. That's where the new franchises will come from.

Michael DeFazio
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sir,
i echoed your sentiments down below (didnt read you comment beforehand) and owe you a "like"

as an aside that's certainly not to say game designers for AAA titles aren't talented professionals, (managing 100 professionals in any field, and especially in an "artisitic" field is an art form in and of itself)

i just think things have changed (in AAA gaming) since Lord British was at the pinnacle of developing games, so perhaps he is directing his comments more towards the "project manager" type "game designers" verses the "been-there-done-that-got-the-t-shirt-in-the-trenches" game designers.

Carl Chavez
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Why are so many people feeling butt-hurt over such an obviously true statement?

Point #1: There are hundreds of thousands of games in existence now.
Point #2: Each game has at least one designer.
Point #3: Many games are revisions of previous games.
Point #4: Most games suck.

Using these four points, one can see that Mr. Garriott is speaking the truth when he says, "Most game designers suck." If only, say, 20% of the games are worth playing, and especially since many designers design two or more games, it becomes obvious that most game designers suck. It is even more obvious when considering point #3, since the "lazy" designers that Mr. Garriott talks about are making slight changes to previously designed games, many of which have bad or mediocre designs.

He ultimately wants designers to be more daring, and to have solid, defensible reasons for their design choices. Is that bad for the industry? Is it bad to be justifiably radical, or is it better to be more conforming to existing ideas due to publisher and financial pressure? Is it bad for anybody to create more design ideas? After all, the more unique design ideas there are, the more they can be cloned, revised, and implemented by mediocre game designers. ;-)

Seth Scoville
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Why? Because he just put out a blanket statement that all game designers (besides him obviously) suck, and because
"I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am." That's why. Every other point he tried to make in the article is nullified by those two statements. And it's his fault.

Christian Philippe Guay
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People can judge his choice of words as much as they want, but it just proves that the level of maturity of the group is no better than high school.

Richard Garriot went straight to the point.

Quote:
''most game designers really just suck, and I think there’s a reason why.''

That doesn't mean he has an ego or anything at all and it doesn't mean he is disrespectful in his statements. It doesn't make his points any less valid.

We have top stop creating worlds around words, otherwise we won't go very far together. Richard either used the common language or he didn't care about being the perfect role model for children that day. That's it and there is nothing more to it.

If we stick to his point, Richard said exactly what needed to be said.

William Volk
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Game Designers don't control the design at most publishers. Think about that.

Carl Chavez
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@William Volk: If anyone is hired to perform a certain job, that person needs to be trusted to make good decisions. Therefore, I would say that part of a good game designer's job is to fight the suits (such as publishers or business-oriented partners) when the suits demand a poorly-conceived design decision that is contrary to what the designer thinks is good game design. A good game designer needs to be able to defend his or her position against the business interests with a battery of notes, plans, and other documentation if he or she wants to maintain design integrity. That's why Mr. Garriott talks negatively about designers who don't maintain such documentation. Designers like that generally haven't really thought deeply about their designs and are just parroting others' ideas, or they're creating weak designs in order to maximize the business interests.

Note that I do not say it's *always* OK for them to fight the suits. Every so often, the suits actually have a decent idea and the designer does not. :-)

Gus Stechmann
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fellow designers, please stop being such cry babies. as far as i am concerned this man has earned himself a jester's license to call me an inferior designer 100 times over, then spit on me and deposit his bubble gum in my ear.

Anonymous Designer
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This looks like an article written by a bad designer. Despite it's validity, a designer will never get anywhere by blaming other designers for their inability to create "good games". The best designers will help others be good.

Anonymous Designer
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The fact that most designers suck (including drop-in designers who are actually artists, producers, programmers, etc.) is actually one of the most challenging parts of being a designer. You have to stop them from getting distracted by the sucky designs, and focused and sold on the good ones.

But even the guy with a million bad ideas has at least one good one.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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Lord british is right.

Daniel McMillan
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>_> This thread reminds of Global chat in an MMO when someone says "WoW was the first MMO". I'm thankful that "There Can Never Be One" <<---(insert Highlander VO here).

In the 80s and early 90s, there was a luxury called, "nobody's done it yet." It was an amazing time, and it is still an amazing time. I've come to enjoy hundreds and possibly thousands of games since then, including 44 MMOs, dozens of console games, board games, numerous social games, mobile games, and card games. While the designer is merely one player on a team - the evolution of the design process is touched by everyone in order to turn a vision into reality and therefore belongs to everyone (and no one single person) ever. To prove my point, allow me to reverse engineer. Just imagine if Sid Meier, Steve Jackson, Greg Johnson, Roberta Williams, Brian Reynolds, Peter Molyneux, Chris Roberts, Will Wright, Tōru Iwatani, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Minh "Gooseman" Le, Ron Gilbert, Erik Yeo, Matt Toschlog, Tom Hall, Derek Smart, Sandy Peterson, (and so many more) never existed.

Michael DeFazio
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Am I a bad guy for agreeing with his sentiment (perhaps not his exact words)

For big 100+ person AAA projects; how much "designing" do "game designers" do? aren't they frequently more "Project Managers"?

To put it another way, if an entire team of people (programmers, artists, level designers, etc.) has to interpret the vision of a single "game designer", would it be unfair for them to expect this game designer to have personally developed/implemented/iterated on many games from idea/concept to implementation/delivery? (whether they be tabletop games, simple RPGmaker games, etc.)

I'd like to know that a game designer can take an idea/concept/vision and understand what it takes to make that a reality (and then iterate on that vision) even if what they produce is rudimentary (from an art and/or programming perspective)

consider me a person who thinks:
pure game designers (Ken Levine, David Cage...) probably get a too much credit when a game is loved (considering they are surrounded by brilliant artists, composers, writers, and programmers)
...and also take too much blame (Dennis Dyack, Brendan McNamara) when a game misses it's mark.

Incidentally I love how indie games (where the "game designers" are the programmers, artists, level designers) have shown brilliance and a purity to a vision since the ones "in the trenches" are also the ones making the tough decisions. (rather than this mythical "game designer who exists "on high" in the clouds.)

(and why I expect most innovation to come from indies in the next decade.)

Brian Moriarty
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Others have been humbled by the sight of Earth seen from space.

Kris Graft
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As this nears 100 comments, I suppose I'll drop in here. I woke up this morning and saw this article, and thought, "Wow, that's a pretty bold headline there." I read the article, read the PC Gamer original, and thought, "Hey, actually this is all interesting and noteworthy commentary." And it was from one of the industry's preeminent game designers. I saw Richard's response in our admin, and I considered toning our headline down, but didn't. It was just a snippet of what he said, but it accurately conveyed his sentiment better than any other option I could think of.

Obviously Richard had an opinion. Perhaps when he said it, it was off-the-cuff and unfiltered. That's way better than a canned statement, not because Gamasutra is _all about hot, hot ad hits_ (in the grand scheme of things an article like this does not move the needle or bring us more advertisers -- if only it were that easy), but because Richard was being honest about the way he felt.

I can respect someone who says something controversial or unpopular. I respect them more when they embrace what they believe, instead of backing down out of fear of upsetting a few people.

Bob Johnson
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Hey everyone knows there is some truth in this. Nothing Dilbert doesn't talk about except replace managers with designers.

Amanda Fitch
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This is why I made AVEYOND. Huge world with a history, dozens of side quests that require you to use your brain, not your sword, an actual story, and the ability to make relationships between unusual characters with funny outcomes. Okay, to be truthful, this is the game I wanted to play, so I made the darn thing.

Kirk Black
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I think Richard is a cool guy personally. Great story teller, however, didn't actually "get" or really care about MMOs which is what irks me; he gets credit for creating Ultima Online and by extension credit for creating the modern MMO genre when he frankly had little to do with the creation of Ultima Online and the creation of the mainstream MMO other than taking credit for "inventing them". It's like Wells Fargo claiming credit for architecting and building my house because they were my mortgage lender. I find it insulting to those of us who are actually passionate and devoted ourselves to building and advancing the state of the MMO genre to have Richard be the public MMO icon.

Jonathan Baron
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You've lost none of your passion, Kirk. Thank god :)

Michael O'Hair
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Elucidation: a game "designer" should have a taste of at least one other specialty involved in the production of a game. Without knowledge of the requirements of a specialty other than building spreadsheets and coming up with ideas, the game "designer" may make unreasonable and unrealistic demands of his staff or inundate them with a list of items that would be impossible to implement within the time limit. Conversely, they will make simplified specifications that do not challenge their staff in the slightest, that may be only incrementally different than the last product; resulting in a product that does not innovate, inspire, or in the worst case, entertain.

The guy who "comes up with the ideas" should have the least amount of job security, since practically everyone else on the staff is just as much or more of a game enthusiast and have more developed and mission-critical skill-sets.

Game design is not "taught" in schools. Design is taught by "designing" things and seeing other people's designs, perhaps even critically examining them. That same knowledge could be gathered outside of a classroom, and would be best pursued during a student's free time.

The first couple paragraphs of the article display Mr. Garriott's long history and experience in making games. Certainly, he has amassed some idea of best practices and functioning concepts for games. But what of the other game "designers" he lauds?

On Peter Molyneux: did a case of feature-gloat sink the Fable games, or was over-promising and under-delivering caused by something else?

On Will Wright: why did SimCity and The Sims succeed while the majority of the other SimGames (not including those Mr. Wright had no direct influence on) fail?

On Chris Roberts: did the realization that money did not grow on trees come too late, or was it an early case of the ills of games with feature film budgets (or vice versa)?

In life, we learn not only from our own mistakes but also the mistakes of others. And there are enough errors abound to ensure that learning is a life-long process. Success should be applauded, but so should failure if it prevents someone else from making the same mistakes.

Addendum: sensationalist journalism is sometimes the price paid for publicity, and may be cheaper and more effective than other forms of advertising. Even muckrakers need food on their tables. As long as something is gained by both parties in the transaction, there is no harm and no foul. Besides, the fans thrive on this stuff, some appreciate the artificial spectacle; just as tabloids keep celebrities relevant past their prime. Without relevance, only a small fan community might pay attention or contribute to a Kickstarter campaign.

Edit: link to Michael Fitch's Pitfalls of the Working Game Designer: Believing the Hype
http://www.micrysweb.com/office/pitfallhype.html
Seems relevant.

Caspian Prince
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I can't dance, but I'm tryin'!

I'm rubbish at making games too. It's taken me about 30 years to realise this.

Simone Tanzi
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well.. he may have a point when he says that most Game designer suck (I would say some game designer suck... I don't know about most).
But in the end this will destroy the figure of game designer, and that's something the industry definitively doesn't need.
Especially when he says that "he believes most artists and programmers are, in fact, just as good at designing games as the dedicated designers are"
I think we have already too much non designers that thinks everybody can be a game designer.
The truth is we may have a lack of good game designers in the industry, but that means we need better game designers, not that anybody can design a game.
Also, we should see how many design suck as a result for poor game design work and how many suck for unreasonable or sub-par requests made to game designers.
We all talk about the great game designers but all of them are respected enough to do basically what they want without much restraint.
It's not like that for everyone.
You can have all the creativity and the gaming knowledge to make great games but when you are told "we don't want to take risks, just copy some successful games and stick with it" there is little you can do even if you are the brightest mind of game design.

Benj Edwards
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Yo momma.

Matthew Buxton
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Interesting read,

Reading through the comments it seems like there is only one I have much beef with. The idea that a game designer should have to make a full game to work with other people. If they can do that why would they want to work with someone who is constantly questioning them, may as well set up on their own.

Respect each other's disciplines, having been a 3d artist, level designer and now game designer it's tough wherever you go.

If there is one reason for crap design, it's that creativity is selectively bred out of everyone in every creative discipline in games.

Who even gets to make new IP? Anyone outside of indie? Please, people just learn to keep their heads down and not take the flack. Ever tried getting an idea into production that wasn't a well trodden rut?

I have seen far more crap orders from "on high" than crap game designers.

Wayne Imlach
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Richard Garriot should man-up and apologise (not simply 'clarify') for the rather ill-thought comments. We get what he was trying to say - yes, design is hard, there's little formal training or methodology available, it used to attract poor candidates for the role. But you don't need to disparage the many professional and hard working designers out there to make that point.

Lord British has been too long secluded in his Tower of Ivory. Do not belittle the poor knight because he owes fealty to fickle lords - not all men can be kings, but that does not make them lesser men.

Jonathan Murphy
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It's a small dream. But I hope to one day troll big, offend, and confuse millions of people. You have inspired me Garriott!

Joe Doe
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After this public badgering, Oprah will be calling him soon...

Richard Vaught
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Just to chime in as a student currently working on my degree, I have to say that this conversation has been discouraging in the extreme, not just because it kind of dogs on those of us that have 'wasted our time' getting degrees, or because it implied that we have only pursued game design because we can't program or create solid game art, but because it is completely derisive of the Game Design discipline and designers as a whole.

Maybe we should say that any programmer that does not produce a hit piece of software solo is shite? Or maybe we could claim that any artist that does not rival Van Gough or Picasso is a failure. Maybe, because art schools can not teach creativity, no one should attend an art school. Maybe since programming degrees do not teach how to imagine new and brilliant software designs no one should get a programming degree? That would be silly of us, now wouldn't it?

No, you can not teach creativity. That is 100% true. What you CAN teach, though, are the skills and technical proficiency needed to give those brilliant ideas landing gear as well as wings. Great game design is a skill that draws from a tremendous number of other disciplines and incorporates them into one single cohesive element. It is as much technical as it is creative. Don't take my word for it. Go pick up Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans. Perhaps you would prefer to take a look at the architectural and psychological theory behind level design. A game design degree will not make you a great designer, and I would be the first in line to deride the current university level curriculum because it is terrible. However, the degree program does provide you with tools that you can use to improve your craft and helps you develop the skills needed to use those tools. If you think any Joe Blow off the street can do it, I would recommend you take a look at all the crap games that are flooding the market and ask yourself why, if so many are being produced, aren't a larger percentage of them solidly designed games.


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