Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tell It Like It Is, Jonathan

More polite than myself, but Jonathan Blow at the Montreal International Game Summit delivers the same basic message.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Facing A Small Little Evil

James P Carse, the theologian and author, once described evil as the need to silence another utterly.

I have argued for individual game designers to be seen and granted direct rights. Their name on the box; the ability to ultimately earn gross revenues (which can only be earned with individual recognition); the creative freedom to move from project to project (instead of being treated as a cog in a game development machine - a process which, by the way, ensures nothing but formula will be made).

In response to vocally fighting for these rights, the folks who gather around the IGDA forums - well, some of them at least - have descended to hurtling their rotten shit at me. And some admins have deleted all my posts (thank God I saved a few to repost here).

It is their shit, but they can't stand smelling it, so they accuse others of being responsible for it. In this case, this shit is the awful implications of having to stand apart as an individual creator and make a name for oneself. A lot of people who believe that work alone can take you to the top - that talent should be removed from the equation - must look at this and be utterly terrified. The idea that the industry might change such that some unknown game designer might appear out of nowhere with a design doc a thousand times better than anything they had done would probably keep them awake at night.

They stand behind excuses like the game industry is too collaborative, it can't work that way, you can't tell from a design document if it will make a good game (a load of shit if I ever heard one), etcetera, etcetera. Well, the film industry has always been that collaborative, and yet film did develop an auteur concept - a development that lead movies out of the swamp of Saturday afternoon pulp culture to the heights of actual, mainstream art. Another excuse: experience is everything. I remember one man telling the anecdote of how he had been working 20 years in a company, but then some new guy with only 5 years of experience was promoted over him. The listener asked the complainer to be honest: you don't have 20 years of experience; what you really have is 2 years multiplied 10 times over.

To Ogre and the rest at the IGDA. You can crush a few postings, but you can't destroy an idea. You can't crush a spirit.

And now, to reinforce your position, as it emerges that design is an art in and of itself, because you have chosen your stance - that it is just like any other labor - you will have to repeatedly crush this idea over and over and over again.

Then one day you will wake up and realize that you were on the wrong side of history. One day that game designer will appear and sell that design document and suddenly the entire industry will come apart. That rotten house you've built will crumble.

How do I know this will happen? It already has. Read up on the history of the studio system in the movie business. The companies originally had the power, but slowly it became apparent the individual creators were far more valuable than the entities that employed them. They simply voted with their feet.

I do not envy you.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Value of a Game Designer...

People, I can see, keep thinking that the issue is to develop independence for a company. That is where I disagree. I think independence is fine, but I want it all the way. I want independence for an actual game designer, not just a company. Independence for the leads.

Honestly, the way I talk is more publisher-friendly than people think. To me, the game company is just a vehicle to make a game.

So far as owning IP, in the current model a development company owns the IP. But what about the value of a name? What exactly is a company? You build this company and you own the IP through the company. What if you want to leave the company? What if you get into an argument with your partner because you want to make Game X and he wants to make Game Y, so your company breaks up? What if the company boxes itself into making only zombie horror games (for example)? Say you leave it, but you own 20% of it, but 5 years later somebody takes control of it and sells its IP to a publisher for a dollar? Then where are you?

See, being part-owner of a company can become a prison if you want to follow your creativity to its farthest ends. You get typecast. You get stuck doing all this company management gobbledygook that is secondary to what you really need to be doing - which is your creative work.

The only entity I know that can really, soundly and stably, own something is a person. That means a name. See, all I want to do is give my own name value. How? Submitting design documents to a game publisher, have us build a temporary company for the duration of production (with other key leads who are just as important as the designer - using the core team/outsourcing model), making the game, letting the publisher get it out there, and then letting myself build a name. And getting that damn name on the box!

And, honestly, the ultimate objective here isn't to own the IP - it's to build a name so valuable that it can command a share of the gross revenues. Or, if the core designer is a newbie, he can command just a basic going-rate up front fee, but, if the game becomes a hit, a piece of the budget for each sequel, a piece of the budget of any movie version, a fee if it gets turned into a novel, and so on. So if Game Designer Bob, Lead Programmer Frank, Art Director Jay, Lead Audio Designer Sam together make a game - a game that is built using their outsourcing companies - at the end of the day Bob, Frank, Jay and Sam get a split of the gross revenue and a piece of the budget for any sequels, and other ancillary spin-offs. And they get their names on the box!

I mean, if you, as a person, are getting a piece of gross revenue, that is stable income (as long as the game sells; as long as its sequels sell; as long as it lives as a franchise).

I know one guy who designed a game for Avalon Hill years back. As you know, Avalon Hill's library was sold to Hasbro at fire sale prices. Hasbro recently released a remake of his game - same game, better components (plastic pieces and so on) - under the "Avalon Hill" name (that's all AH is now: a brand; a *name*). I asked him if he got a piece for that. He glumly said he didn't. But it was his game! He designed it! It was good enough that it was remade - but he got nothing for that. That's wrong.

I'm not saying any noob developer is going to get a piece of gross revenue. But I *will* say that as long as developers are effectively rendered anonymous they will *never* get that. They will be slaves.

So maybe you don't think a name is worth anything. I do. I just want the industry to give the individuals a chance to build their names.

(This post from a flame war I've been in at IGDA...)