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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 Previous Page 3 of 3

Balance within the team is also important for John Carmack of id Software. "Now I've got a six-year-old son, all the video games that I actually play tend to be Wii and DS games with my son," he says. "I play a bit of Call of Duty, but I didn't play it all the way through."

These days Carmack focuses on developing the technology behind id's games rather than getting involved in design decisions. "It would be bad for me to go in and be making design decisions by fiat, as I don't feel I'm the strongest," he says. "I have some ability at design on simple games. The low-level elements of design such as the user interaction, I still think I've got a pretty good handle on all of that.

"But the larger production of crafting the user experience through the entire title and what people expect from different things? I'm not the best person to do that. I'm fully engaged with my programming tasks. That's why games aren't done by three people anymore -- you need more people than that."

He's also not the only employee at id that doesn't fit the gamer-developer stereotype. "There are a few people on the programming side that are more engineer than gamer, but there's still this pride in product at the end," says Carmack.

"I know some programmers that like working on abstract problems and, in general, those aren't the people I want to hire. I want to hire the people that really want to make a product, and want to produce something of value.

"It's not just you're here doing your job, punching a clock. You're part of the creed, part of the process and you're building something that is hopefully going to have millions of hours of game play across the world," he says.

And game developers who are driven primarily by the act of creation rather than a love of playing games is something that may become more common, according to Frédérick Brassard, president of the Canada-based game industry recruitment agency 3pod.

The reason? Skills shortages. "Right now in the industry, we have major needs and major emergencies concerning some positions," he explains. "The consequence of this is that sometimes games companies are more open than before to allowing non-gamers into the company. The skills gap is in almost every area right now: design, programming, and art."

But even if skills shortages force game companies to become less fussy about the gaming habits of their recruits and those less interested in playing games are counterbalanced by other team members, are there any advantages to having staff who don't count playing games as a hobby?

Healey is convinced there are: "There's a positive side to it, in that you are not too influenced. You have a naivety, a childish naivety that can let you do something really exciting. Think back to when computer games were new. The people making those games had no games to look to, and so there was a lot of innovation happening then."

Braben remains skeptical that such naivety is useful: "Are there advantages to not being a regular player of games? I would say among designers, probably not. It may be that they come at it fresh and not be influenced by the way people have done things, which actually is a fair point. But the problem is you will end up more likely than not just doing something in a game that was done umpteen years ago."

He points to the way that there now exists a consensus on how the controls of a first-person shooter operate. It is, he says, a good example of why developers, and designers especially, must know their games. "If someone comes along and messes with them just for messing with them's sake, players would be quite annoyed," he says. "You do need to know where the players are coming from."

But even when developers are dedicated players, there's a balance to be struck, says Satoshi Ito, producer of Sega's Rise of Nightmares. "It is very important for developers to play games, but they shouldn't be playing too much, and it also depends on their approach when they play," he says.

"If you play too much, or if you play passively, you become just another customer -- just a player. You have to be always thinking critically when you are playing games. You should be thinking about what are the special things that have been done to make this game interesting, what are the designs and concepts behind it, and what are the things they are trying to achieve? These are some of things you should bear in mind when playing games as a developer."

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