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 Pac-Man  Creator Iwatani's 'Cautionary Message For The Industry'
Pac-Man Creator Iwatani's 'Cautionary Message For The Industry'
June 24, 2011 | By Staff

June 24, 2011 | By Staff
More: Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Design

In a new interview, Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani is worried that "we'll lose our audience" if creators don't "focus on making games that people will remember a decade from now" instead of "maximizing profit."

The interview, conducted by Game Developer magazine editor in chief Brandon Sheffield, is live now on Gamasutra sister site GameCareerGuide.

When asked what the inspiration for the incredible Pac-Man Championship Edition's design was, Iwatani said that he wanted to appeal to players, an described it as "very detailed, yet neat and approachable."

He continued, "The reason I want to emphasize this is that starting last year or so, you've had this flood of very simple games on the iPhone and social networks and so forth. They're very 'easy' games, and by easy I mean easy to design and to pump out by the dozen.

"I think more thought needs to go toward how games present themselves to the user, to how they can be made more fun." He added that his GDC 2011 presentation [GDC Vault video link], a retro postmortem of Pac-Man, "was a sort of cautionary message for the industry as a whole."

As social and mobile game platforms improve, "Making games with this well-thought-out approach to design will help them become loved and fondly remembered for a longer time," said Iwatani.

"When you look at games coming out today, it's doubtful that any of us will be talking about them in ten years' time. We have to focus on making games that people will remember a decade from now, or else we'll lose our audience, probably."

When he looks around at the industry, he sees that many people are more focused on "maximizing profit, at the core of it."

In his view, this is not the right approach for the game developers themselves. "I think that developers need to leave that sort of thing to the management, the specialists in that field, and think more about what games mean to them, and how they can contribute to that. I talked about accessible design, and that's something I bring up because I always think about how players are going to approach the game."

Of course, he recognizes that developers can't function as pure artists -- as any developer of early arcade games, which focused on many of the same tenets as today's social and mobile titles, would. "Developers are creating a work, while publishers are creating a product out of that work," he said.

However, he admits that these two halves must make a whole. "Really, both sides of the equation need to be functioning." However, he said, "Making 'products' isn't something developers should have to worry about -- they need to concentrate on making good games, on really pouring their souls into them."

Said Iwatani, "One needs to consider what the player is looking for at all times. You can get the theme for a game by reflecting on that, and once you have a theme, you can start making a concept based on one or two keywords. You keep these two or so concept words in mind at all times as you design this or that part of the game.

"If you run into a design aspect that's giving you trouble, you put it up to the main concept keywords you've come up with, and you keep it if it works and discard it if it doesn't. That's how you think about it. Developers need to ask themselves 'How do I want the player to think about this game?' They need to be able to say 'I want them to respond like this.' Answer that question with a simple word or sentence. That's important."

The full interview, which also focuses on Iwatani's work in education, is live now on GameCareerGuide.

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Kale Menges
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Spot on. There's a reason Pac-Man still kicks ass after all these years;)

Lo Pan
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Excellent commentary Iwatani-san. The casual market is pumping out cheap, simple, and forgettable content. We need less McDonalds in our games and more Morton's Steakhouse.

E Zachary Knight
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So is the AAA industry. The games industry as a whole is guilty of this sin.

Aaron Truehitt
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Ok guys, let's not take what he said out of context. No where did he say social or mobile games are bad or casual games in general are terrible. He doesn't like that they are being pumped out the wazoo though. Some people don't recognize that value matters and profit isn't always the number one thing to be concerned about. People will catch on. It's only a matter of time.

Luis Guimaraes
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Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Very refreshing hearing this from someone of prominence in the game industry. CE was a fantastic game by modern or classic standards, and it's no wonder why.

Victor Reynolds
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nice...I need to check out the whole article.

Michael Joseph
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Industry is as industry does. Social responsibility for social responsibility's sake is just not a consideration for corporations. Profit is paramount.

There are enough game developers out there unencumbered by corporate greed. If you want to make good games, make good games. But to me it seems futile to wish for all of the big players in the industry or for the small fry crud peddlers to turn over a new leaf and "do the right thing." Some companies will come and some will go. But there is no danger of some kind of mass route of the gaming audience. There may be some shifts here and there but why should we care which companies survive and which do not?

There will always be great games. There are more great games now than ever before. They may not all be massively popular but they're out there in adundance. Some of us however continue to fantasize about a world where only the games we like or deem worthy are available to be shared with the masses.

The only thing that burns me is when certain crud peddlers try to compare their cracker jack plastic rings with lovingly hand crafted pieces of art. Sell your junk, just don't walk around pretending you're one of the good guys. That is my own futile request.

Christopher Federici
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I find it a bit strange that Iwatani is making these claims that casual games are "cheap and easy" and are created to be a "product."

This guy comes straight out of the arcade cabinet era, where games were made so that the average player won't get more than 5 minutes for his/her quarter, but they are so addictive and simple that someone will spend hours pumping in quarters for extra lives. The ultimate "pay-to-play" model.

If he thinks that the words "Angry Birds" won't be heard again in 10 years time then he is severely out of touch.

wes bogdan
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The trouble is that the sheep were led to games by hardcore gamers and outside of COD and other shooters

good luck pushing something like brutal legends,bg and e,physconaughts or strangers wrath over batman,uncharted or infamous. I like my games but i'm just as happy playing Valkyria Chronicles,Disgaea or 3d dot game as a Killzone or halo game. I'm getting journey when it hits psn and wish all gamers valued gameplay over all else because then we'd have more games getting deserved attention and not just the small shooter and sports class that get money each year while games like blur and grid fade away.

R.I.P. BIZZARE -blur went before it's time as did you.

Sting Newman
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Problem was Blur was mario kart in a more realistic coat of paint. Wasn't anything special. Burnout was different, blur not so much.

Joe McGinn
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Music to my ears. I'm all for profitability, we have to stay in business after all, but *someone&* has to focus on creativity and artistic merit. That's going to be the game developers or it will be no one.

Hillwins Lee
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Truth in all his words. Sadly there's not much games that can leave an impact these years, with Portal being the exception

Daniel Martinez
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Staying power becomes a very steep uphill battle with the oversaturation of the market from all directions across the globe.

Marvin Papin
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Finally a Veteran said it, I hope the design will come back to what it was during previous generations of consoles. I remember the N64 games, diversified, fun bringing something new for the most. Ill quote Glover by example. I think this era sees its end when the actual generation arrived. On xbox, still some games where really interesting in spite of a little success like Blood Wake or Vodoo Vince.

Kamruz Moslemi
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This industry is driven by the dynamics of consumerism, so it is always profit margins that drive it forward, not ideals. The difference between the mobile/social/casual space of today and the heyday of arcades is a question of sheer volume.

Back when Pacman originally hit few enough games were being made that the cream could quickly rise to the top and people would give it the attention it deserved. By the by, the same goes for the AAA home console market today which some people here are comically antagonistic about. Guys, give it a rest, I like playing games that cost that much to buy because nothing priced way below that offers me enough to replace that premium experience.

To get back on topic, the current situation in the casual space is nothing like the early 80's arcades, I'd say it is more like the situation on the Atari 2600 just before the crash. There were good games coming out but these were lost in the noise of magnitudes more throwaway garbage being released that diluted the market, making it feel cheap and chaotic.

The only thing sustaining the iOS space today from a similar lack of confidence crash is the differing price structure. Those effortless also-ran cash grabs on the Atari coming out in droves were full priced games. In contrast games on the iOS with an average cost placed below a good cup of coffee are regarded by people as being as disposable as that cup of coffee that could have been bought with the money instead.

the occasional dud does not carry a noticeable sting when it was mere spare change lost. Unlike with console games back in the day which cost a significant amount and which you spent months playing until you knew them by heart people in these new venues are conditioned to munch through the offerings like a mix bag of candy, and the games are designed accordingly.

Of course even amid this decadent chaos the cream occasionally has the chance to rise to the top so there are platform best sellers, but I am not so sure anyone will remember them in 20 years time. Yet who knows, this market is so functionally different from anything else that all bets are off. This whole games as disposable product movement is new and functions different from the games as premium products that has been the order of the day until now. I am not so sure this new movement even needs eternal icons like Pacman was for the arcades.