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Aug 12

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MTV has an interview with John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, where they ask why Will Wright’s name would not be on the box of Spore. He answers:

 In music it’s typically a writer and a band of four. With films it’s a couple of lead talent, actors and actresses, a director and maybe a cinematographer. With games it’s typically 30, 50 100 people that make these things and they’re all integral to the process. So I’m absolutely in favor of bringing forward the teams. But the team dynamic in creation of our product is quite different than other forms of entertainment.

Basically, his answer is that teams make game, so it would be unfair to credit just a few people on the box. When asked about why, then, Steven Spielberg’s name is on the box of Boom Blox, Riccitiello backpedals:

Look, there’s business relationships you make with creators from time to time. Clearly Spielberg’s support and help and design of “Boom Blox” was great. We’re working on another title with him. And there are people who bring their sort of entourage of fame with them. At times that makes sense to put their name forward. But the truth is, behind “Boom Blox” there was a team of people, incredibly dedicated, talented people. And at times I can get a little frustrated when an individual is pulled out when I know how hard and how much innovation the rest of the team brought to the table.

So the real reason is that Will Wright isn’t famous enough to sell copies of the game while Steven Spielberg is. It’s the same reason Mark Ekko and 50 Cents (of all people) get their name on game boxes while game developers don’t. I find it sad that we have to resort to having to look at outside celebrities to market our games because publishers don’t feel promoting talented individuals.

I believe promoting individuals would be very positive for the industry. I don’t believe it would reduce motivation within teams — would anyone refuse to work work with John Carmack or Warren Spector because they’re famous? I think most people see working alongside a famous developer as an honor, not as an annoyance.

Promoting individuals would also put a human face on games. Humans naturally care more about other humans than about faceless corporations. Everybody knows there’s a huge team behind each of Spielberg’s movie, but they still care about him because he’s a creative force behind the movie. Nobody cares about PR representatives, yet they’re the only people publishers allow to talk to the press most of the time. I don’t think games will truly become mainstream until the public can put faces on the games, like they do for movies, books and music.

Perhaps most important of all, having famous developers would make it easier to market original games. Between a game you know nothing about and a game by a designer who’s work you liked in the past, you’re more likely to pick the latter. The name of the designer becomes a brand that helps sell the game — like Spielberg’s name is a brand that helped sell Boom Blox. American comics are another media where little promotion used to be put behind the creators and that forced them, like for games, to focus on extending previously succesful franchises. It’s only when creators like Frank Miller and Allan Moore became famous enough that truly original work started being more common. We need to do the same for games to end the deluge of sequels.

Mind you, I don’t think game developers could become as famous as actors, but they certainly could become as famous as novelists, and that would be a big gain.

Aug 6

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“Final Fantasy XIII” is gaming’s greatest oxymoron - sequels are used and overused a lot in gaming. One of the greatest challenges when making a sequel is how to add new stuff for  experienced players while still keeping it approachable for new players. If you keep adding new features, you’ll soon get a game so complex that new players are overwhelmed by it.

Magic: the Gathering and Final Fantasy are two franchises with a long history of sequels and expansions. Both handle this problem the same way: by removing content. Every Final Fantasy is different from the previous ones: new things are added, but the last title’s additions are rarely kept. Same with Magic’s many sets: new abilities are included, but the previous set’s disappear.

If you’re making the sequel to a game that’s already pretty complex, getting of old stuff to make place for new features in often the way to go. Removing possibilities for the player can actually change the game just as much as adding new ones. Removing the sniper rifle in a FPS could change the gameplay massively, for example.

It can be hard to convince people that removing features in a sequel can improve it, but it actually becomes essential after a few titles to keep complexity in check. When designing a sequel, it’s better to ask yourself “How can I create an experience that’s different from the previous game?” rather than “What features can I add?”