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Developers Demand Games Grow Up

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Posted March 12, 2012 - By Rob Manuel



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Developers took to the stage to close out GDC with their infamous rant session. This year, the rants took on the theme of "parenting" with many of those who first started coding late at night now changing diapers or telling their own kids to get off the computer.

Their message is simple – the game industry needs to grow up. In order for things to change, the developers of today and of the next generation need to act quickly or find themselves in a spiral of mediocrity. But like any parent, they know that their words must be firm, but with a sliver of hope. The speakers on that panel, from Chris Heckler to Jade Raymond, demand change not just for themselves, but for the future of the industry and for their children.

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Graeme Devine (GRL Games)

“We suck!”

The printed words hung up there in the air for everyone to see. Graeme sees an industry afraid of change. With his 17-year old just entering the industry, he fears for her future. Console games only sell three types of games: FPS, RTS, and RPG. Anything else is too risky according to this developer whose games include Halo Wars, The 7th Guest, and Quake III Arena. Publishers take on the often-risky indie developers, but only first their first game. When that second or third game begins to roll out, we often leave our rising stars stranded. And as world of mobile goes the way of freemium, more pressure is put on the developer to deliver content even after the game ships. In the pursuit of the all mighty dollar, we sacrifice substance and variety within the industry.

Graeme concludes that we should bring back the 80’s, a time when games were young and ideas ran wild. Companies like Atari used to embrace new games and new ideas. With the old programmers now the studio heads, we have the power to make a change. Bring back the 80’s!

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Tobi Saulnier (1st Playable Productions)

Even as someone who creates games, Tobi still finds herself ranting at her teenage son about playing too much Minecraft. She limits games to only on the weekend, but still finds herself sneaking down to the basement to unplug the internet. She’s worried about her children and those of his generation who now whose only motivation seems to be through achievement points.

Tobi points out that there are not always negative consequences to gaming. Chore Wars gives players points for taking out the trash or cleaning up the bathroom. Her daughter picked a college where she could be with her Warcraft clan. Tobi asks, “But what ever happened to work ethic?” Badges and achievements now take the place of a job well done. Now even college courses come with quests and experience points. She ends by stating that the gamification of education needs to stop before it ruins a whole generation of children.

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Jason Della Rocca (Perimeter Partners)

Like any good father, Jason tries to keep his kids away from the more violent games. When he’s just collecting flags in Assassin’s Creed, he’ll let his son watch. But he doesn’t just want to watch; he wants to play. With games like Castle Crashers or driving games, his little hands slip and move just barely enough to keep him on the track or out of the reach of enemies. There needs to be an intermediate game, something like training wheels for the young gamer.

Not only does he lack the motors skills, but also the language of video games. We grew up along side gaming as it grew up and mature. Kids entering the market now experience something that’s far more adult than what we played with as child. Though there a project, the Game Canon, that rates the most influential games of all time, we yet to have a list or a curriculum of games for those getting into the industry. As gamer parents, it is our responsibility to come up with a lesson plan to teach our children gamer literacy.

Perrin Kaplan (Zebra Partners)

Perrin’s presents a message that’s both simple and dire – the future of gaming is in our hands. Professionals in the field need to reach out to your developers more than ever. As though who helped to create the world of gaming now, it is their obligation to reach out to those who want to continue to carry the torch. Special programs, education, and internships help to bridge the education gap between those who helped to create the field and those who will carry it into the future.

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Chris Heckler (developer of SpyParty, Spore)

Chris calls it the Dysfunctional Three-Way: players, the press, and developers. Gamers buy the same games over and over again. In a recent forum topic when asked what game they would want to see a Kickstarter for, every person who posted mentioned a sequel. The press encourages and perpetuates the notion of sameness by posting articles about the same games. Games like Borderlands 2 get their trailers cut away frame by frame until there’s nothing left to feed the appetite of the gamer. The developers follow suit by mining the same mechanics and game-types until the world bleeds in a soft earth pallet. It’s this cycle that feeds the appetite for sameness.

Many GDC conventions ago, a developer gave a legendary rant that’s known as The Dragon Speech. In it, the developer recounts the section of Don Quixote where he runs after windmills. After seeing the state that the industry is in now, Chris wonders if he should run in with his own sword. Gamers and programmers need to focus on more variety while the press must act as the conscious of the industry. Without everyone working together, we are doomed to continue the downward spiral into sameness.

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Jade Raymond (Managing Director of Ubisoft Toronto)

We need to grow up. For far too long, the games industry meanders around their teenage years looking for big explosions and more action than you can fit into a Michael Bay film. Jade says that there are still too many topics that seem to be off limits in games today that we face in our own current society. The Arab Spring, class divide, and even internet freedom affect us, but we never see it within games. Movies have taken on such weighty issues yet the industry still avoids the topics of today. Games should be able to put someone in the shoes of the homeless or work in reincarnation into the mechanics. Some games do touch on these subjects, but they’re more often the exception to the rule.

Jade suggests that heavier issues can live within the games we already play. In order to advance in the criminal world in GTA, you need to get arrested and meet with prisoners who can connect you with those in the outside world. Playing as a female in Call of Duty could give you the choice of getting harassed by your teammates or covering up and reducing your movement speed. Even in a game like Splinter Cell, the ethics of interrogation can easily explored between missions. How far will you go to get the information you need?

While these are just examples, Jade points out the power games have to touch and inspire people. Meaning and success doesn’t have to be exclusive.

Developers Demand Games Grow Up
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