The games industry is alright… maybe

Last week we attended the Game Connection. We were there to pitch The Path to games publishers to get an idea of the commercial viability of the project from their perspective and to see if we couldn’t find any help with publishing the game to retail (rather than exclusively online).

We had 30 minute meetings with both small and big games publishers and with representatives of the three console makers. Presenting a game like “The Path” to them was a very interesting experience indeed.

The Path is not a typical game. It is made very much from an artistic vision and is very uncompromising in terms of gameplay. In fact, there is hardly any. Simply because we didn’t feel such rule-based interactions helped to express our story. On top of that, it is an intensely sad and dark tale that perverts the player’s motivation to play.

Needless to say that some of the companies we met were freaked out by our demo (or FOBD’d as we started calling it). It was extremely amusing to see managers of these big companies go pale in the face.

But what was even more remarkable, and the reason for this post, was the incredible amount of positive response that we received. Contrary to the popular belief that this industry is conservative and risk-averse, we found many publishers to be quite open to what we were trying to do and willing to help us achieve it. In fact, they almost invariably made the same remark about how refreshing it was to meet designers who create out of artistic motivation. Apparently, these days, it is very common for developers to be mostly interested in sales.

We are not being naive about this. We know very well that the personal enthusiasm of the people that we met on the show, does not automatically translate to a business collaboration. But what has become very clear is that the industry is (getting) ready to publish all sorts of experiences. This is very different from our previous intensive encounters with publishers some 3 years ago. I guess it is the success of casual games, the Wii and the DS, MMOs and web 2.0 as a whole, that has made them see that the “games for gamers” dogma is not the only way to be commercially successful.

Now all they need is more developers who are able to meet this demand.

Jonathan Blow’s Design Reboot

If you’re a game designer, you should probably listen to the lecture Jonathan Blow gave at the Montreal International Games Summit.

Not only do the opinions expressed sound similar to our own. It’s refreshing to hear these points spoken out loud, and so eloquently illustrated.

Contrary to us, Mr. Blow still firmly believes in games as rule-based challenges to achieve a certain goal. But he posits that the learning required to engage in such an activity should be worthwhile. A game should teach us something interesting. And game designers should be aware of what their game is teaching players.

The latter could be a serious problem as the quality of games is currently almost exclusively judged by whether a game is fun or not. This is where Mr. Blow’s tremendously insightful analogy with drugs and fast food comes in. He advocates designing games with rewards that are intellectually nutritious and not simply addictive.

Doing so will not only improve the quality of life of the player. But it will also open up the interactive medium to being capable of addressing the many different types of content that have made cinema, literature and music into the dominant forms of entertainment and enlightment that they are today. Mr. Blow urges game designers to design with the intention of making something “worthwhile or deep or interesting”. Something that is oddly very rare today indeed.

A recording of the talk is available from his website.

The Path is an IGF finalist!

But, it’s official: I have bad taste.

Fez The Path World of Goo

Only 3 of the IGF entries that I found noteworthy made it into the finals. Not Penumbra, not The Night Journey, not even Venture Arctic or Virtual Villagers. Not Fatal Hearts. Not Masq. I truly suck.

The good news is that The Path, also on my list, did make it! We’re up for “Excellence in Visual Art”. The other two from my list are Fez and World of Goo. Congratulations!


Tale of Tales at Game Connection

Game ConnectionThe Shining

We’ll be at the Game Connection this week, in Lyon, talking to many many publishers. Mostly about The Path.

The concept behind the Game Connection is to create a business convention for publishers and developers in the video game industry, so that they can network and meet one another personally. We strive to create an environment for them that is comfortable and provides the best possible atmosphere for doing business.

This means two and a half days of back to back half hour meetings with almost 40 companies. Wish us luck!

Games and values, designers as authors

Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum have started a project that reminded us of things we have been saying in the past about the importance of authorship in games.

The “Values at Play” (VAP) research project assists and encourages designers to be mindful of what values their computer games promote. We would like to see a diversification of video game values to include positive principles like equity, creativity, diversity, and negotiation, along with the traditional tropes of violence and machismo.

I’m not sure what form this “assistance and encouragement” will take. I’m secretly hoping for some “violence and machismo” in this area. And I’m not sure if the current generation of fun-obsessed game designers will care (or will realize that they don’t). But I think it’s important to put this issue on the agenda. Perhaps in the past, it was ok to design games as if they were footballs, or pogo-sticks or ping pong tables. But, like it or not, with the advances of technology (and new forms of game appreciation in the public), games have become an expressive medium. And, as a designer, you better be aware of what your game is expressing!

Visit Values At Play!
I’d especially recommend the short snippets of interviews (from Tracy Fullerton and Celia Pearce amongst others). Hope we get to see and hear more of these.