Dungeons & Dollars

Dungeons & Dollars
Gaming at the Margins, Part 4

Warren Spector | 11 Apr 2006 08:02
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Not just business as usual
We all know that the old ways aren't working. We sorta know that online and mobile games are important, from a creative standpoint, from a business standpoint, maybe even in ways we haven't thought of yet.

We know new hardware is going to shake things up and people are probably going to want to play games on more than one platform, depending on where they are, which of their machines they have access to and how they want to interact with the game.

We know our audience is changing. We want it to change and grow and be more inclusive.

We know all of this is going to force us to rethink development methodologies.

We know boxed games sold at retail can't be the only way we reach players.

This isn't just a time of consolidation or business as usual. This is a time of change. And times of change, scary as they are (and if you're a game developer or publisher and you're not scared right now, you're not paying attention!), are also full of potential.

Beyond that, we know nothing. There's a lot of talk, a lot of noise, a lot of pontificating. Not a lot of facts. And just as it's silly to tack a tidy little ending on a game, where everything turns out alright because you rescue a princess or kill a demon, I can't quite bring myself to wrap this article up with a neat little bow that answers all questions and brings closure to all issues.

We face too many challenges for that to make sense. So, bear with me through a couple of sets of conclusions.

Endgame 1: Developers are artists
There. I said it. I used to resist even thinking that. To heck with that. I'm too old to be modest about our medium.

But gaming - like books, movies and television - is a medium that represents a coming together of art and commerce. We're out of balance these days. Commerce always seems to win.

We can't continue to let commerce win all of the arguments.

One key to securing our future is, I think, to make sure the discussion, the dialogue leading up to the big decisions we face, doesn't take place exclusively in the boardrooms - that we begin to ask a wider variety of questions than typically gets asked when biz guys and marketers run the show. There has to be someone asking something other than "Will this generate maximum revenue?" or "Does this maximize shareholder value?"

There are other worthwhile questions:

  • "Does this advance the state of the art?"
  • "Does this prepare us for success when players get tired of mugging virtual old ladies?"
  • "Does this enrich our culture or debase it?"
  • "Do I want to be remembered as someone who figured out how to simulate the actual blood spray pattern caused by a shotgun blast to the head or as someone who created a virtual character people will still be talking about 50 years from now?"

Endgame 2: No one knows anything
Lots of people claim to see The Future - it's online, it's convergence, it's console, it's whatever.

It's nonsense.

Figuring out what to do to reach the grand and glorious future we deserve is part business, part personal and, I think (despite the fact that I just spent many thousands of words writing about the future), largely foolishness.

No one knows what they're doing, let alone how to lead us to the Promised Land. And scary as that may be to contemplate, it gives me hope, too. In some bizarre, through-the-looking-glass way, we may be approaching a time when expertise and experience count for less than they ever have, rather than more. Doors may be about to open for people with genuinely new ways of thinking about or doing things.

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