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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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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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Quote:


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.


There are also a huge number of games that are unknown outside the designers friends and their friends friends. And just as the music by hobbyists is raw and unproduced, the games are small and uncommercial. This is why you've never heard of them. When I say "the occasional", I mean the occasional one that breaks out and gets noticed (Koyaanisqatsi, for one), because anything else is hobbyist art.

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"There is business in games, but there is also game development for the love of games."

True, and I would love to see more of it. I would also like to see game publishing companies listen to those designers rather than all the morons who think making a great game means updating something that is already on the market with better graphics and more features.

"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."

Seems like him and I got something in common then :D

"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."

"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."

This is exactly the kind of attitude I that bugs me. I simply don't think it is healthy for any budding game developer to think like this. Peter Molyneux wouldn't
be Peter Molyneux if he hadn't gone crazy with Populus in the first place.

As I've said many of the best games I've played are made by people who think outside of the box and makes games because they love them, not cause they think they'll make a load of cash.

Aight, thanks you all. Cool to see some nuanced discussion opinions on the topic.

Best regards,

Madvillain



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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."

This is exactly the kind of attitude I that bugs me. I simply don't think it is healthy for any budding game developer to think like this. Peter Molyneux wouldn't
be Peter Molyneux if he hadn't gone crazy with Populus in the first place.



Agreed. But also, even if you have that "big name", consider that Will Wright came up against major opposition when he pitched The Sims, even though he was even at that time considered one of the greatest game designers in the world. The big name only helps, it doesn't guarantee it.

The only way to really guarantee that your game will not be touched by market forces is to go indie and fund your own game. But even if you do have a publisher and/or marketing putting their hands in your design, you can still remain marketable AND innovate, you just have to know how to work it (please don't postfix that with "in bed").

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Original post by Madvillain
"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."

"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."

This is exactly the kind of attitude I that bugs me. I simply don't think it is healthy for any budding game developer to think like this. Peter Molyneux wouldn't
be Peter Molyneux if he hadn't gone crazy with Populus in the first place.


When Peter Molyneux made Populus, or when Shigeru Miyamoto made the first Donkey Kong, it cost less to make a game, and it took less people to make it, so designers could go crazy. Today, no company is going to give you a big budget and an army of workers so you could go crasy with your ideas unless you have a reputation of a great game designer.

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Original post by Madvillain
As I've said many of the best games I've played are made by people who think outside of the box and makes games because they love them, not cause they think they'll make a load of cash.


On the other hand, many of the games I've played by people who think outside of the box and make games because they love them suck. Just like most of the music I've heard by people thinking outside the box is grating on my ears.

It's easy to make something good: just do what everyone else is doing. These are the tried and true concepts that have already been found to be good. However, to make something great, you have to try something new, which more often than not will fail. Most experiments are "failures". Of course, to quote a great inventor, "I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work".

To have a chance at greatness, you have to risk failing miserably.

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So the risk involved in creating something new doesn't make it worth it? I think that is a very cowardly mindset. You have to be able to stand up for your ideas and MAKE them work. I am always nervous when I exhibit a piece of art, for all I know people can laugh at or even hate it. If i never painted anything but apples and oranges I wouldn't have to worry about that, but where the hell would that take me? To me truly great creation has always been coupled with innovation.
But hey, tastes vary. If progressive music grates your ears and David Lynch films
make you fall asleep then maybe you simply aren't the type of person who enjoys
something twisted or different. Personally, I think there is a good market for
different games, which might not be as big or fanatic as the FPS audience, but good enough to consider developing games for.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by Madvillain
So the risk involved in creating something new doesn't make it worth it? I think that is a very cowardly mindset.


This is fine if it is your money. Most games aren't developed on the developer's dime, though. The publishers aren't in it for the art, they are looking at a reasonable return on the millions that they are investing in a new title.

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Quote:
Original post by Madvillain
So the risk involved in creating something new doesn't make it worth it?


Where did I say that? At most, I was trying to imply that it doesn't make good business sense to keep trying "something new". Romantic comedies are the real money makers in the movie industry. Putting out romantic comedies allows production companies to fund movies that try something new, many of which end up as box office failures (or, at least don't give nearly the bang for the buck that romantic comedies do).

Please don't put words in my mouth.

Quote:

I think that is a very cowardly mindset.


No, it's a very "I'd like to pay the bills" mindset.

Old joke: What's the difference between a pizza and someone "living the dream"?
Answer: The pizza feeds a family of four.

Sure, you get the rare success who becomes insanely rich and famous, but those are much fewer than those whose products you've never even heard of. Not everyone is in a position where the risk is worth it (e.g. someone with a family to support). Some are able but not willing to risk it (e.g. they'd rather eat something other than ramen). Some do take the risk and many of them fail (and becoming famous posthumously isn't likely for a video game designer, considering their medium).

Quote:

To me truly great creation has always been coupled with innovation.


If you go back and read my post, you'll see that that's what I said.

Quote:

But hey, tastes vary. If progressive music grates your ears and David Lynch films make you fall asleep then maybe you simply aren't the type of person who enjoys something twisted or different.


I wouldn't say I don't like twisted. Can't say I'm familiar with the films of David Lynch, but I do like twisted. I love Magritte and Dali, for example. Different, I'm not such a big fan of. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the fact that something is different. The problem is, often an artist will do something "different" and expect me to like it simply because it's "different". More power to you for trying something new, but that doesn't mean the something new doesn't suck.


And one final note: Much of the great art in history wasn't an artist trying something different or doing it for the sake of the art. Most of it was comissioned. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel because he was paid to.

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Quote:
Original post by Way Walker
Romantic comedies are the real money makers in the movie industry. Putting out romantic comedies allows production companies to fund movies that try something new, many of which end up as box office failures (or, at least don't give nearly the bang for the buck that romantic comedies do).


That's the problem with game companies! They keep making "romantic comedies" and instead of investing the revenue in new stuff, they just hoard the money in buckets and make more romantic comedies.

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