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GDC and "Quality" games <mini-rant>

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Mike Bossy


There's already been a lot of buzz from the Nintendo keynote at GDC and I'm sure there's going to be more in the next few weeks following GDC. It's not often a keynote address from one of the big 3 gives people something to talk about but this year was an exception. There were a few points in the keynote that I wanted to comment on.

High value and high quality games

Iwata-san mentioned a concern about the growth in low value and low quailty games. The dig was pointed at "downloadable games" and he pointed out that while Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all care about the quality of their games others do not. The shot could have been pointed at the flood of games on mobile devices, the growth in social gaming or everything in between. While I'm not a huge fan of the clone wars in the iPhone/Android world and the crack farming games in the social networking world I believe that all game developers have the right to make money whatever way they can and make whatever games people will play. The reality is that quality has nothing to do with the platform or the size of the team making a game. Not everyone is lucky enough to have funding in place to make the next big AAA blockbuster and new platforms give the smaller guys a chance to make a living in the industry. The irony of Iwata-san's comments is that the big 3 platforms have plenty of crappy games on them too. It's nice that Mario Galaxy could get a meta-critic score of 97 with a multi-million dollar budget but let's not forget the Wii title Balls of Fury which got a Metacritic score of 19. Where was the Nintendo quality filter then? There is a difference between forcing people to pony up big $ for a devkit license and ensuring that games on your platform are quality and will sell. This same fear mongering abounded in the early days of mobile and casual gaming. The industry didn't die. The cream rose to the top and the crap sank and died. Consumers could still find, enjoy and buy Plants versus zombies amidst the field of other casual Bejeweled clones. The net of the story is give consumers the benefit of the doubt. They will find the hidden gems. Minecraft and Angry Birds are a perfect example of that.

Developers becoming too specialized

A fear of having too many specialists and not enough generalists on a game team is something I completely agree with. It's natural given the evolution of the games industry that we are seeing more and more specialized talents. And while it may seem more efficient to have a team made up of specialists with super defined rolls I believe that it actually leads to lower quality games in both the technical and artistic sense. When everyone is focused on their little part of the game they lose the big picture and games change from being about the fun and being about the delivery. Here on GD I see a stream of posts in the Help Wanted forums about looking for a person for a role on a team or a dev looking for a team. While teams can help out with motivation and can help you expand your knowledge there is a lot to be said about tackling a project all by yourself. Yes it means that your project goals will probably be smaller than a big team but you'll get to have a taste of everything and smaller project goals might mean actually achieving them as well. The most interesting thing about Iwata-san bringing this topic up is that this is less of a problem in the mobile/social/downloadable space where there are smaller teams. :)

The solution is Innovation stupid!!

The big close to the speech was the call for more innovation. The solution to all of the problems of the gaming industry is more innovation! While innovation is a nice word to throw around I think people use it as a crutch. When we're in an economic lull or having troubles in the face of new competition it's because we don't have enough innovation. When you have a game that sells 5 million copies it's because it's innovative. I believe that compared to other fields of entertainment games have had a constant level of innovation higher than anything else. There are big technical innovations like the Wii or Kinect. There are constant small innovations like having a platformer that models meat sliding down a wall. Sure we have plenty of derivative crap out there but so does music or film. For every new Call of Duty game released there's five new albums by boy bands and 3 new action movies starring Vin Diesel. Quit complaining about innovation and start playing more games. There is a tonne of innovation if you just look for it.

The real solution is already here

If you really want to find quality games that are innovative and are built by people who understand all aspects of game development then look no further than the indie developer scene. If the big 3 were really interested in these things then they'd make it easier for Indies to make money on their platforms. It's not a coincidence that Team Meat ragged on MSFT for their treatment on XBLA at GDC and killed their Wiiware version of the game. Sure you have XBLIG on the 360 but can anyone make enough money on that to actually support a family comfortably?

The innovation platform of the future is the PC. And by PC I mean any generic hardware running some flavour of windows/osx/linux. Without an open platform to publish your games on you're stuck at the whim and fancy of the platform holder. The best part is that everyone here can help make this vision of the future come true. It's as easy as making fun and innovative games and actually getting them out there for people to play. We all know how to finish our projects right? :)
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