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To Play Or Not To Play?
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To Play Or Not To Play?

September 27, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[Developers, including id's John Carmack, Media Molecule's Kareem Ettouney, and Frontier Developments' David Braben debate on whether developers should be obsessive gamers -- or remain outside of the influence of other titles.]

"A strong interest in computer or video games", "a passion for playing games from multiple genres and over many years", "be part of a culture dedicated to gaming".

These are just a selection of the qualities sought from applicants to recent game development job adverts on Gamasutra. These aren't desirables, but must-have requirements.

Anyone without these qualities need not apply. It seems that it is not enough to be a great artist, a master programmer, a first-rate manager, or an audio wizard; you need to have the very word gamer etched through you like a living stick of rock.

But is it really necessary for everyone on a development team to eat, sleep, dream, and breathe games as well as devote their working life to them? Certainly there's a romantic idea of the game developer who devotes their life to gaming.

Living in crunch mode, working in a darkened room, and using their lunch breaks to get another fix of gaming. Stereotype that may be, but many in the game industry do hold the view that to be a game maker you must also be an insatiable gamer.

"Developers should play games," says David Braben, founder of Frontier Developments (Kinectimals) and an avid player outside of work. "The reason they become developers should be because they are gamers. Would you expect someone making films to not have any love or appreciation of films? It would be barmy."


Neil Barnden, co-founder of Stainless Games (Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012), echoes the sentiment: "It is my main pastime outside of work. If I'm not walking the dog or taking photographs, I'm probably back in front of my screen playing something, and I'd say that for the majority of people here it would be the same."

Both Braben and Barnden see that kind of dedication to gaming among developers as having clear benefits for the quality of the work a team produces.

"I've always found the most useful people I have worked with have been the ones who are just fanatical gamers, who play all sorts of stuff, and can instantly look at a game, and say, 'You need to look at so-and-so'," says Barnden. "They may be talking about a game that was made five to 10 years ago, but it did something particularly well -- and thanks to YouTube, you don't even have to play it. You can just go and find various clips that show what they were talking about."

Braben sees having staff with an encyclopedic knowledge of games as a powerful defense against me-too development. "It is vital for developers to have a thorough familiarity with games and to have a love for games; otherwise they will produce games by numbers, and I think there is some of that around," he says.

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