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Unite 11: Gazillion's Brevik Asks 'What Would Nintendo Do?'

Unite 11: Gazillion's Brevik Asks 'What Would Nintendo Do?'

September 29, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

At Unity's Gamasutra-attended Unite 11 conference in San Francisco, Gazillion president and COO David Brevik urged developers to prepare for the next "golden age" in games -- saying that we're right on the cusp of several.

Brevik, who has been making games since 1991, was co-founder of Blizzard North (Diablo, Diablo II). He is currently president and CCO of MMO publisher and developer Gazillion, having joined the company to work on its upcoming Marvel Universe MMO (you can read a Gamasutra interview with Brevik about that project here).

His keynote was about "evolutions in our industry, and how they create platforms, and where we are going," in his own words.

With that breadth of experience, he believes he has identified what goes into making a "golden age" for a particular platform. "What is a golden age of development?" he asked. "Platforms go through a cycle, in my opinion."

"During the platform [cycle] there's this juicy middle... [when] a lot of tech and a [special] time come together to create something special."

For example, with the Nintendo Wii, it launched in 2006 to massive popularity -- but that was not the golden age, as launch titles can rarely take advantage of the platform, and in that specific example, supply constraints lead to a shortages of the console, limiting its audience.

However, by the time hits like Wii Fit, Mario Kart Wii, Super Mario Galaxy, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii were being released, the console was well into the full flower of its own golden age.

Why target the Wii as an example? Because of Brevik's motto for game development: WWND, or "What Would Nintendo Do?"

"This is something you have to keep in mind when you're developing," he said.

"They build quality software knowing the hardware... They understand the strengths and weaknesses of the hardware... what limitations they have and what powers they have, and they integrate that with their design in a very whole fashion."

Their games may not be cutting-edge from a technical perspective, but the publisher always turns out "something that runs well and works well."

"They keep the audience in mind at all times, and focus their design on what their audience wants out of this game, and don't deviate from that. They won't add some large segment to their game that isn't focused," said Brevik.

"Most importantly -- I can't emphasize that enough -- they have fantastic game designs integrated with the core platform. They create games that the game design revolves around the device itself. This allows them to create games that would only work on their platform."

Inevitably, however, "the sun sets" on the golden age. "There are lots of sequels but they've gone past the juicy middle, and the cycle begins again."

The question in Brevik's mind is: "how do we get to these golden ages and capitalize on these things?"

New hardware, technology, and even software can usher in a new golden age, he said. "It's because the game industry is always evolving, changing, and there are always new things going on... New concepts like the internet and Facebook, and now, obviously, tablets."

"I call these evolutions in design... They can be anything, hardware stuff like networking, graphics, input." But they can also be, said Brevik, "distribution, biz model. You wouldn't think these would create new platforms, but they do create their own type of experience ... Do what Nintendo would do and create with these in mind."

The evolution of networking in games, for example, went from LAN, to internet, to client/server. Graphics went from arcades, to consoles, to PC, to laptops, and smartphones and tablets as core target platforms. Input evolved from the arcade and Atari 2600 joystick to control pads, the mouse and keyboard, then the DS and Wii, and finally multitouch.

But the biggest evolution in his mind is, of course, free-to-play. "As a developer, this was always a dream, I would do this for free if I could feed my family... This is the ideal. People laughed at me 15 years ago when I said this!"

Brevik said that it's important to bear in mind that just because a game is free-to-play, "it doesn't put a cap on the player's dream of spending as much as they want."

So what are the next golden ages, in his view? These are the places "where you want to make a mark," Brevik suggested.

- Console quality browser games. "What's exciting about this is accessibility. We're on the edge of this and it is really exciting."

- Tablets and phones. "This is the future of computers, and where computers are really heading." They have a slew of functions to consider, said Brevik, so it's a great example of a place to wonder, "What would Nintendo do with this device?"

- Cloud and multi-device gaming. "This is a really exciting prospect. Here is the ability to hook up to your game from a variety of sources... You can play on the iPad, and someone else can be playing on the browser."

- Free-to-play "Getting people to try your game -- this is another barrier to entry. True F2P should be able to play the experience for free. Don't give people an excuse not to try your game."

In closing, he urged the developers in the audience to "control your destiny."

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