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Rant: Games Are Too Easy To Make

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[color="#ff0000"]LANGUAGE WARNING: MA15+ [/color]

If you're involved in any way with the game industry, I'd bet money you've heard someone say "Games are too easy to make these days". If it wasn't uttered by one of your coder colleagues, perhaps it was during kitchen-meet gossip. You might have stumbled upon a heated thread on a game development website full of programmers wailing and gnashing their teeth in righteous indignation. Or maybe you read it in the subtext when Steve Jobs slammed the banhammer down on Adobe Flash, apparently out of fear of a slew of crappy games flooding the market. As opposed to all of the masterpieces that currently grace the iTunes App store.

If we make it too easy for people to release games, then we'll have too many bad games on the market. Right? Isn't that how it usually goes?

Well, I don't disagree with the symptom. It's why I made the snide remark about iTunes. But I'm going to go right ahead and smack down over the insinuation that these bad games are being made by people who wouldn't know how to make games if toolkits like Unity and UDK didn't exist.

In other words: Bad games, according to the sway of conversation, are the fault of non-programmers.

You know what? Get off your fucking high horse.

I'm getting pretty resentful of this elitist and exclusive attitude. Often when it's not being literally stated, it's there between the lines in the way beginners and *spit* *spit* artists are treated with impatience or sometimes outright disdain on programmer centric forums. So I wildly underestimated the amount of code involved in what I thought was a simple action: on no the end is nigh. Yawn. Let me assume by your latest efforts that you wildly overestimated your artistic talents, and we'll call it even, k?

So it's the internet, and everyone's an asshole. I'm not a princess about it, usually, and it doesn't bother me, usually. But today, I read a post on a community forum that seemed laced with derision, entirely constructed to tear down the naive game maker - a youthful optimist, nonetheless - who woe be him does not come from a programmer background. It rubbed me in a way I do not like to be rubbed, and a ranting, obviously, ensued.

I should temporarily shut off the steam and say in big bold letter that I know a few programmers who I worked with in the past who I do not at all refer to in this post. In fact, I can only think of four people I've actually met in real life who do have this attitude. Sadly, one of them was a CEO.

But if you've read previous posts you'd probably know that a programmer colleague, James Podesta, has been helping me with code and design. I have no intention of biting the hand that feeds. I do suspect that he agrees in essence with the fact that accessibility to game development is resulting in more crappy games, however I would hope that he doesn't jump on that bandwagon of artist/designer/daydreamer hate that shovels the blame onto our underpaid shoulders.

It's made more difficult to argue my case here when one considers that improvements have been made to my game already through James' input. Without him, the movement wouldn't feel quite so nice. I would have eventually solved the collision bug, I'm sure, but it's those anecdotal tips and tricks that make the real difference, such as the 0.2 second fall-jump buffer.

But I'm going to use that example to argue that game development should be even easier. We've heard it a hundred times before: Graphics are not gameplay*. Well, guess what, neither is code. OMG GASP, RIGHT? No one gives a shit about your programming. No one in the real world, anyway. Your designers and artists will love you for it, and appreciate how your skills contributed to the product. You can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But if you're going to argue that the polygons I push together are nothing more than a necessary component of the construction, far less than the sum of the parts, then explain to me why your lines of script are any different?

We can probably agree that all our consumers care about is the end product: Does it feel good? Does the aesthetic inform the gameplay? Do I have enough challenge and enough motivation to continue playing?

So all it's about is making good games. That's it. Who gives a fuck how you did it? If you take away the barriers to game development, then you open the door to more people who have a story to tell, an idea to sell, a concept to show off, and a real creative talent to make something entertaining and of quality.

Just because you have the rare technical proficiencies necessary to construct a game, does not guarantee that your game is any good. This has always been the case. Even when programmers were the only ones making games.

* I actually believe that graphics are gameplay, but I'll save that shitstorm for another post.

NOTE: This post is mirrored from my personal blog at http://blog.booncotter.com
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Great post. Do you think though that there is really a bias against artist when programmers slam non-programmers? I think even programmers have a tendency to consider programmers below a certain skill level to be non-programmers.

Games are easy to make these days because of the tools availability - but making FUN games is challenging, and putting the time in to make really polished fun games is what separates the men from the boys. While it's easy to make games, what is lacking at times is the push to work and dedicate enough resources to produce a professional, polished application. Programmers, non-programmers, artists, .. doesn't matter.. a poor result can be achieved by any of them if they don't put in the time.

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No I'm not certain the bias is against artists, but I do feel that way being one myself. The problem with posting a hugely subjective rant is that it'll be hugely subjective! As the colleague I mention, James Podesta, said to me in reply to this blog entry: there's also elitism from the opposite bench. And I agree. I have seen artists screw their noses up at programmer critique, as though a mere programmer could not possibly understand enough about aesthetics to offer input. It is a two-way street, but I can only argue my one way!

Also, you hit the nail on the head: it's about commitment and effort. And I can see why non-programmers might drastically underestimate the commitment and effort required.

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Well said, I actually blew up a bit recently at a poster responding to a topic in Help Wanted -- the topic in question was more reasonably thought out than a lot of what we see and the poster in question actually had a history of completing and releasing games, but this particular responder told the original poster that he thought the project "did not belong here" because they were using Game Maker to prototype the game-play.

I'm willing to bet that almost no end-users would care how the game has been created as long as a) it isn't overly cumbersome to install, and b) it's fun to play, and if these tools simplify the process of creating games and open up the possibility of more people contributing I personally view it as a good thing. There are plenty of games created with good ol' fashioned programming that are terrible, and I've played games made with simple tools like Game Maker or similar packages that have been an absolute blast! Michael nailed it exactly -- no matter the method of creating the game, the important thing is the amount of work and commitment put into creating and refining the game-play experience.

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I'm with you in thinking that games should be even easier to make and that the proliferation of shit games is unrelated to the complexity of creating them.

What I find irksome is your slant with coders, I know you're only arguing it from your perspective but I think that you're being rather unfair. It's not "coders" who have the issue with "n00bs", it's the semi-literate-amateurs who think that it's time they doled out some "advice" from on-high.

I've been a professional ([i]although it's games so make of that what you will [/i][img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/wink.gif[/img]) coder for over 7 years now and have seen what you're referencing many times from all professions. Once our lead designer even told me that as a coder I wouldn't understand _why_ he wanted a piece of functionality implementing in a particular way... that went down... spectacularly, as you might imagine.

I became a coder because back on the Amiga it was HARD to make a game and you _had_ to be some form of coder, even Amos quickly descended into coding, to actually make a game.

It's that investment that people are defending, the - "[i]I've put in hundreds of hours or practice to get this far, why are you thinking you can just use a tool?[/i]" - is the reaction you end up getting from a lot of people be it artists, designers or coders.

After a while almost everyone seems to reach the conclusion that it really doesn't matter, only the end product does... except for a few assholes ([i]be they coder/artist/designer/etc[/i]) but they're assholes, we're better off just telling them, rather than everyone who happens to share their profession.

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Thanks for your reply, NineYearCycle! Of course, it's a rant and the controversy wasn't entirely accidental, but I'm not manufacturing my experiences: I have heard it argued many times that non-programmers are the primary cause of bad games, and as I said in my post I've even been force fed that attitude from a CEO. Very unfortunate :(

I can concede that my experience as an indie developer is limited enough that I'm making assumptions based on a few assholes that the "Games are too easy to make" attitude is shared by a greater portion of the community than it actually is. At times the communities [i]do[/i] seem hostile and elitist, even though it may only be those vocal few. If you've ever tried to learn something entirely new, you probably understand how much more difficult it is to persist when your efforts are treated with derision.

I can't begrudge you your own experiences: I'm sure that at times coders offering input into aesthetics have been given disdainful looks by the project's artists. In fact, a programmer colleague said he'd experienced this a lot. And that's just as unfortunate - quite sad actually, and certainly something I hope I have never done. As creative people, we all have the ability to critically analyse our peers, even if we can't match their technical skills. It doesn't take a degree to be able to recognise that something doesn't look, read, sound, or play well - it just takes experience in our medium.

But I can't say in my experience that I've heard artists complain that "Art is too easy to make these days". Maybe they do, just not to me.

I don't expect to be able to pick up a "Learn to Program C#" book and tomorrow challenge people who have been programming since the 80's. Neither would I expect you to open Photoshop and produce cutting edge concept art. So I acknowledge my limitations entirely. But I do resent the insinuation, whether it's by a million people or just one, that my lack of programming experience means I don't understand the aspects of what makes a good game.

To close, I certainly didn't mean to insinuate that it's ALL programmers, or even most, experienced or otherwise. But I could have been clearer about that point, and perhaps I was being a little antagonistic to stir up discussion: It was a rant, and rants kind of lose their gusto when you're inserting disclaimers and concessions throughout. But I apologise if I caused offense! Thanks anyway for your thoughtful reply :)

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Being able to design and develop games these days is also a positive. Visual artists, writers and musicians coming into it can bring a whole new dimension. Sure there will be a conflict during this transition. There always is when two differing forces come together but I feel it will even out over time. This is what evolution looks like. Same thing is happening with the sciences and in time with all categories. Walls will fall : )

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