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Opinion: Down with Ambition, Less is More

by Reid Kimball on 03/27/09 03:54:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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Rod Fergusson - “I am a believer that if you’re going to make a great game, and there is that caveat, I believe that crunch is necessary. I believe it’s important because it means your ambition is greater than what you scheduled out. Crunch should be driven by the ambition of the team, and not the inaccuracy of the schedule.”

Rod’s argument is a terribly irresponsible one to make. His comments are sure to have an influence on execs and producers elsewhere in the industry given the success of Epic’s games.

Crunch is not a good thing and should never be "necessary". Ambition on paper sounds like a great idea, but based on my own experience, ambition is never driven by the whole team.

Instead, certain individuals within a team drive it and more often than not, they don’t have to do the work to realize their own ambitions. The workload that comes from their ambitions is pushed onto someone who doesn’t feel comfortable expressing their concerns.

In fact, I’d argue that I see ambition hurt more than help. Games today are full of too many incongruous and poorly implemented ideas or mechanics that have overstayed their welcome.

We've all seen games advertise how many weapons, characters, locations, cinematics and endings they have, emphasizing it is bigger and more than their competitors, hoping to convince players that more means better.

Every game I've worked on has started out with ambitious goals, which were cut back repeatedly, while working hours increased. Cutting content doesn't get as much benefit as it sounds like it should. In some areas of the game, more work may be created because content was cut from another area.

Instead of cutting content when crunch begins to creep around, why not just have more realistic goals for the game to begin with? Embrace the idea that your game can be even better by adopting a "less is more" approach. Ask, “Do we really need all this content? Can the story work with fewer this or that? Do players need all these choices? Does this mechanic serve to communicate the emotional essence of the game I want expressed?”

With an approach of "less is more", everything in the game must serve a holistic purpose, not because it's "badass" but because it serves the true essence of the game, whatever it may be. When you do less, the game will have focus, it will be tighter and stand out because it has a strong identity, rather than a bland personality that tries to be everything to everyone.

To that I say, down with ambition! Less is more.

Also posted at my personal blog Reiding...

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