Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Stifling Atmosphere of Game Development

My latest comment on Gamasutra - in response to responses where there is the view promoting the typical notion that all things in game development should be standardized (what a mouthful...).

I got an idea. How about trying to make the game industry less like a bureaucracy and more like an entertainment industry? One of the first things to do is stop being afraid that a person might not be a cog in your machine - looking, walking, talking and thinking like everyone else - and start being willing to look at their quality as a potential creator and take some chances on the unusual.

You want to know why all games look, smell, act, feel the same? Partly its because of the cult-like nature of game companies - with their focus on homogenized sameness.

Of course, if we did let go of the homogeneity thing, that would probably mean that (gasp) the game designers would demand their individual contributions be recognized - complete with their name on the box, a demand of a more substantial compensation, the ability to move from project to project as they (as opposed to their corporate masters) saw fit, and so forth.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Lottery Ticket Videogame Company

I win the lottery and get to finance a videogame?

The first thing I do is take the "defined IP" and throw it in the garbage. It is bass-ackwards for the money man to start with the concept and then hire the people to fit the concept. That's like top-down command - the generals in their pyjamas and slippers in the chateaus, separated from reality, while the grunts are in the trenches on the frontlines. The best you'll get is mediocre shit that only knows how to play the game of game dev. (Hey, Thomas Edison, I want to hire you to be the inventor. What's that, you wanna make some thing called a "light bulb". Who the hell wants that? Put it away because I've already got some defined IP here.)

The next thing I do is throw it open. Do a game *project*. Pitch me baby! Whaddaygot that's worth doin'?

No don't like it. Got anything else?

No, don't like it. Got anything else?

Yah, okay that's it. Let's take a look at that one.

This way I haven't hired some mediocre fuck who just looks at game dev as if it's a job - like engineering or accounting. I have his whole body, mind and soul. He's a true believer. It's *his* game we're making.

Now, since it's *his* game we're making, I'm gonna make a deal to reflect that. (Why? Simple. I want to make money. You don't make money making shit. You get what you pay for.)

First off, this game is its own company. The actual games is going to be sold by a separate marketing company (the marketing entity - let's call it the publisher), but it (the game) lives and dies as its own company. It's own venture.

Next, we talk and make a good deal, one that he feels is fair - not one I'm going to put on the table, take-it-or-leave-it. Why? Because I don't want the bullshit you might give me just to work-to-rule. I want your [b]best stuff[/b]. I want your A-game! I never spout bullshit like "Wanted: A designer with passion to take games to the next level; compensation = a fucking salary"! That's horseshit, we all know it. Only mediocre designers like that kind of deal (because they suck). The only way the powers-that-be get away with it is because game designers, for all their talent, have no guts to stand up for themselves and take what is theirs. So the good ones sneak around and hide. I know that. And it's true for you, too. I know you have dreams tucked away in your little designers notebooks there. Dreams you sneak around in the dark with, and hope one day to get made. Dreams you know will absolutely rule, that you are saving for that day, years from now, when you think you might somehow get the energy and contacts to finally *finally* make a game company to go into production (the rigmarole of making a company being a process we both know is an incredibly inefficient hazing ritual designed by the cynical overly analytical types that crush the life out of gamedev - which is precisely why filmmakers don't waste a lot of time managing companies [they have other things to do...]). So to get at these dreams I'm going to cut to the fucking chase and allow you to jump the queue. But I know I'm gonna have to do two things to get that: 1.) listen to and be open to these concepts; 2.) compensate you for them in a way that my risk (burn rate) is minimal, but you get compensated *if* they turn out profitable.

I've already established a willingness to listen, so how do I compensate you?

First, you get average-to-low fee up front (preferably low). You wanna work in something you believe in, you have to take equity, which means taking on risk. (Well, okay... If you're a veteran, or your idea is good [or part of a franchise maybe], you get a pretty substantial fee up front.)

Now, if it sells well, you get a piece or a fee paid for anything that spins off from this concept. You get a fee piece of the budget to any sequels, if it gets turned into a film, TV show, comic book, novelization, training application. You name it. That's what you get. It's fair. So give me your A-game.

Either that, or we give you a piece of the gross sales of the game (though you'd truly need to be a veteran for that). Remember: I'm not fucking around. I'm not interested in you being yes-man to the piece of shit game we've assigned you - I'm asking what you think. It's your chance. (If you hand me anything tired - like an old genre game but with a few extra doo-dads - you're fucking gone. So be passionate and aim high.)

(Hell, if you - personally - have an agent, I'll work with them too. But just remember... Your A game!... I want it. I am not prepared to *actually believe* - like so many suits do - that my own shit smells like roses. So don't dick me around.)

Next, I have only 1 or 2 designers and we prototype. Like for maybe 6 months to a year. Wow! Think of my burn rate! Two people! Do I even need an office to do this? I doubt it. Come over to my apartment dude. Let's make this bitch. I hire high school or university students for some playtest sessions. We're talkin' small flash games or even a tabletop version. I get at the fun. The programmers and analytical types are leery of this: you can't test framerates or polys with a tabletop. Fuck it. I'm interested in the fun factor! If I capture it here, I know I'll be able to duplicate it in the electronic version.

Six months to a year later, I have a prototype, plus a fully-fleshed out design doc. Now I cast to build it.

Of course if six months to a year later we have a piece of poo - the prototype just didn't turn out - well, it gets canned. But not a huge loss since we didn't ramp fully up anyway.

I go to outsourcers to build this bugger into a real finished game. Not offshorers - outsourcers (there's a difference). Gimme your portfolio? This is the IP we have developed, what is your work like? Does your work fit this project? How does your style fit the concept? Don't worry about fuckin' job stability. If you want fucking job stability, what are you doing in the entertainment industry (that's what games are part of) - become an accountant; I don't want you here: get out of my office. I want aggressiveness and passion. If you are hot, I'm willing to cut a deal like I did with the above parties. You manage your outsourcing company, you provide me with the stuff you agree to, you take care of your own internal shit (I don't wanna see it), and get it to me more or less on time (I'm not as much of a stickler on deadlines because my burn rate is next to zilch [my whole game company runs out of a tiny little office]; and I am WAY more concerned with quality than schedules).

How do I cast these suppliers? I trust the magic new thing called - wait for it - intuition! Intuition and perception! Things that analytical types distrust (because they can't be measured with numbers) but which lead to truly amazing new discoveries (and not tediously boring shit which is what analytical types make because they are bean-counters). I don't give a shit about experience. What I want is talent.

What does my company look like? You're right: it's a fucking zoo! All the little scaredy-dweebs who just want to remake D&D or want to make efficient coding processes (instead of effective games) are scared shitless by the creative energy here; but that's okay because they are deadwood and I want them out of my eyesight. My place is a beautiful, low-burn-rate zoo. (Can't say this is what it looks like in the offices of my outsourcers. Maybe the coding outsourcer's place is a friggin' zen garden of quietude - though more likely it's the office of Epic Games, id software or some other middleware provider. But they run their show the way they want to, I run mine the way I want to.) And my zoo is just bursting with creative energy, and - working in conjunction with my outsourcers - turns out something so amazingly new and inspiring you can't help but stare at it in wonder.

When it's over, all the parties go their own way for a break. Some go on to different games - done in this manner again, moving at their (the creators') pace. (Imagine that!) Again - this isn't a gawdamn factory! It's a creative hothouse! A studio, by the actual definition of the word. But we know who we are now. We have worked with each other. I can call them up again, if I find a project that fits them. We are making a game dev community. Which is far more important than a mere company. A community! One that is open, where people feel they can continually bring their A-game out in the open. Where they can try to sell their A-game, instead of sneaking around in the shadows while they eek out a living developing stuff from unoriginal shit concepts that bean-counting executives think are cool but really are garbage.

My marketing company sells the output of this one-project-game-company. And I then the time comes for me to say, "I'm lookin' to do another game! Hey world, show me what ya got!"

And that's how I do it if I win the lottery ticket.

...Or meet a visionary.