Dungeons & Dollars

Dungeons & Dollars
Gaming at the Margins, Part 4

Warren Spector | 11 Apr 2006 08:02
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The traditional 800 pound gorillas of this business may have all the money and they may seem to have all the clout, but they don't know how to address the problems of our changing world any better than anyone else. Little guys - whether independent or working inside the big development and publishing organizations - can really make a difference in a world where innovation is going to be critical to success.

Endgame 3: The world will end in six years
I have a friend, a writer named Walton "Bud" Simons, who some of you may remember as the Director of FEMA in Deus Ex. Bud's always reminding me that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 - because that's when the world is going to end. Frankly, I think that's kinda silly. But what if it were true? What would we want games to become in the last six years of their existence?

If the world were snuffed out tomorrow, would we be satisfied that our last games had cooler explosions or that we created a more compelling simulation of criminal life? Would we be proud, as the world ended, that we had convinced another half-million users to give us $15 a month to lose themselves in a fantasy world where the most compelling goal we could offer them was killing monsters so they could buy a cooler sword? How would you feel if your legacy consisted of giving people 15 minutes of meaningless color-matching and pattern recognition?

If we just carry on as we always have, I think we put ourselves at terrific risk:

  • We'll lose our audience rather than grow it.
  • We'll stifle our creativity instead of scaling new heights.
  • We'll find ourselves mired in a legal/governmental morass that relegates us to irrelevance.
  • And, most tellingly for those of us of a certain age, we'll find ourselves growing older to find there's no place for us - as developers or players - in an industry unnecessarily geared toward kids.

None of this doom and gloom stuff is inevitable. We're not inevitably on the highway to Hell. However, I do believe we have some big decisions to make. And let's be clear: I'm not talking about false choices, like those in most games. I'm talking about decisions with consequences.

Pick the right direction at the crossroads and the true believers will be proved right; we'll soar to unforeseen heights of success. Pick the wrong direction(s) and we'll blow it and find ourselves marginalized; a niche product for a niche audience. And, as cool as games were back in Ye Olden Times, we've been there and don't want to go back again.

I don't know about you, but I want more from games. As an industry, we're poised to make some of the most consequential decisions of our careers. Let's pick the right paths at the crossroads and ensure ourselves the brightest of futures.

Warren Spector is the founder of Junction Point Studios. He worked previously with Origin Systems, Looking Glass Studios, TSR and Steve Jackson Games.

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