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Madvillain

Game Designers And The Mainstream

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When I read books about game design/writing on forums, it seems to me that a lot of people working within the field are aimed at selling their games. At first, that doesn't seem weird at all, but perfectly natural. After all, who doesn't want their game to sell? On the other hand though, if you compare video game designers to say, movie directors, musicians and painters you will find that the attitude is very different. Some of the best music that I've heard is progressive avant garde made by people who honestly doesn't care how many copies their records will sell. These people are not afraid of breaking conventions, blending genres and experimenting in general. They simply don't feel that their work has to satisfy anyone in particular. The same goes for a lot of people working with film and art. But with game designers I can't help getting the feeling that they are always trying really hard to satisfy their players rather than themself. And for that reason I think that many games that are being made today feels very unpersonal. I would even go so far as to say that this is the reason why games generally have a hard time evoking the same feelings as a real good movie or painting. This is not to say that there haven't been many thoughtworthy, personal and interesting games out there over the years. Katamari Damacy for example, was probably one of the weirdest titles last year, and most designers out there would probably scrap the idea of it because it simply doesnt sound like something that would sell. It might not be the best example, but I for one would defintiely like to see the game development industry moving towards more personal games. Sorry about the ranting, but I would really like to see what you all have to say about all of this. Whats your thoughts? Best Regards, Madvillain

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I think you're overestimating movie producers and musicians. It's a business, and business can't stay in business without making money.

Sure, there is the occasional art film or avant-garde music that aren't commercial, but there are also games that aren't designed for commercial sales (freeware/demoscene) and they can get very original.

If you're looking for game designers who are trying to go past the norm and create something new, you'll want to check out the Erasmatron (www.erasmatazz.com), Rag Doll Kung Fu (yes, it did get released commercially, but was definitely a labor of love for the developer), the games in the IGF and Slamdance, and the website www.gamesareart.com, which is a forum for people who believe in the future of games as an art form.

There is business in games, but there is also game development for the love of games. It's not different in the other media. See the "summer blockbuster" and the "boy band" for details. Void where prohibited.

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Which particular game designers are you refering to? As lightblade suggested with his reply, the game companies that ignores the potential sales of their games tend not to last very long [smile].

The equivalent of the progressive avant garde musicians would be the hobby game designers; those that are making games purely for the enjoyment of it. However, once you start thinking of earning money from your game, having your customers enjoy your game is far more important than your enjoyment of it.

However I also think that most game designers are building games that they enjoy, rather than considering purely the marketability. I think this is why there's such a glut of similar looking games on the market. It stands to reason that the sort of person who would be attracted to designing computer games would be someone who really loves existing games. It also stands to reason that someone who loves the existing games would base their designs on the games that they love. Hence you end up with a billion WWII FPS games, hordes of RPGs with identical characters and plots, and a zillion clones of the latest "big thing" (all the Doom clones, the Quake clones, and the Grand Theft Auto clones). It's also why I think the game industry focuses a bit too much on the "hardcore" games, rather than the more casual market (where the real money is).

Of course, designers also have the problem that their publisher's marketing department can step in at any time and demand that the game be modified to appeal more to the mass market, such as what happened to Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Smaller developers often get very little creative freedom in what they do; they get given a licence from a publisher and told to make a particular game out of it.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Indie developers have a bit more freedom in making the game they dream about, because they can operate on lower overheads and can live off lower sales. Some of the really big name designers can make whatever game they like and people will buy it (because those guys know they stuff). Other companies like to make quirky interesting games, as the pay-off can be great if you hit on the right idea (Katamari Damacy is a good example.) Even some of the big companies try to do this too: Nintendo introduces a couple of new game concepts every year to expand their vast collection of game brands.

So I feel that as long as the game industry is a business, the designers have to treat it as one. That doesn't mean you have to ignore your game passions, but it does mean you have to be conscious of the market and plan accordingly.

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Business is always about profit. If you can't make a profit, you lose, close down your business, and live on the street. There is no second chance.

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Writing a game (even a bad one!) takes a fair amount of expertise in a number of areas (story/world, programming, and art). So, those that have the skills required to create a game are already well on the career path of a game developer, which makes it all the more likely that they see it as a career ie. they would like to make a living from it.

And note that playing in a band, and filming with friends generally offers the immediate reward of fun, while slavishly drawing tile-maps and fixing null-pointer bugs alone in front of a screen is substantially less enjoyable.

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I agree with all that's been said here.

There's also that a painting/sculpting artist doesn't need anything else than himself, his talent and his materials.

But most games, to be produced, need a team of talented people, varying in size according to the game; and this is killer.

And gathering a group of friends to make a band is somehow much easier than a team to create a game (I tell you by experience), probably because of the immediate reward that's been mentioned, and some factor I can't think of right now. Same applies to making home or B-films.


Quote:

Sure, there is the occasional art film or avant-garde music that aren't commercial, ...


This is so not true! 90% of all music and films are extremely non-commercial. You just probably never heard of them, as well as everyone else in the world outside the artists' friends and their friends' friends.

People who like an alternative genre of music and are not bound by the limits of what's commercial and easy to listen to have so much to listen to that they could spend their whole lives on eMule and not even scratch the surface of what's out there for them. Same with games.

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I think part of the problem is that video games aren't "art" in the way that painting, film, etc. are "art".

For one, video games aren't timeless. Citizen Kane, Cool Hand Luke, and On the Waterfront are still great movies. Are Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Brothers still great games? I wouldn't think so. Also, there's the problem of finding something to play these older games. Switching video formats is much easier than switching executable formats.

For another, video games still have to be fun, but paintings and movies no longer have to be aesthetically pleasing to be considered art. For what it's worth, I don't like this, but it's true. For the most part, System of a Down makes me want to stick a Q-tip in my ear and keep pushing after I feel resistance, but the fans tell me how deep the lyrics are and how much meaning is in their songs. Point is, there are people who will listen to a song/watch a film that isn't beautiful and has lots of meaning, but I don't know anyone who would play a game that isn't fun no matter how much feeling has been put into it.

On the other hand, film, painting, music, etc. are generally considered works of art and are, for the most part, well understood media. Games are generally considered toys and it isn't a very well understood medium. This means that "How to make a painting that'll sell" can be disguised as "Proper painting technique", but the same doesn't apply to games. For example, compare painters talking about balance in the image and game designers talking about balance in the game. Similar concepts, but viewed very differently.

And, as others have pointed out, indie games do exist, but 90% of them are crap (just like 90% of the "avant garde" in other media is crap).

Oh, and, from this forum's FAQ:
3. Topics to Avoid
Are Games art? Art is a highly subjective term, therefore everyone is likely to have widely differing opinions on the subject. Finally, it doesn"t really make much difference whether it is art or not, so discussing it seems doubly pointless.

This topic seems dangerously close to that [grin]

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FYI, the creater of Katamari Damacy said in an interview that he doesn't really play games because they weren't interesting or fun enough for him. Actually he does play some games, but finds the fun experience to be all too similar, and would rather play stuff that is really surprising to him.

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If you have a name like Shigeru Miyamoto, Peter Molyneux, or Sid Meier, you have enouth freedom to go wild with your game. If you don't, you better go safe and make a standard FPS/RTS/RPG before you get fired.


The movie and music industries have more big names than the game industry. That's why it looks like there are more creative.

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