Games more like films? Let's hope not.
October 30, 2007
No gaming site on the internet is more valuable to me than Gamasutra. Aside from providing fanboy-free industry news and features, Gamasutra has attracted a stable of talented writers whose penetrating focus on game-design issues is unparalleled by any other site. I like Gamasutra, but I don't always agree with Gamasutra.
In Shaping Your Community: What Films Did, Games Must Do, Andy Robertson argues that game developers should cultivate closer ties to their audience, taking a cue from "how films have capitalized on their enthusiasts and wider public following." As examples he sites Peter Jackson's blog-style interaction with fans during the pre-production phase of The Lord of the Rings; as well as the Firefly fan support that made it possible for creator Josh Whedon to make a feature film (Serenity) out of a canceled TV series.
...the film industry is now painfully aware of the need to enable audiences to have a sense of ownership of the entertainment they buy. There is no better way to establish buyer loyalty, or in fact to deliver a compelling experience, than to share the film's development and production process with the consumer.
Certainly, such a system can work well. Valve's creative process has been fueled not only by listening to users, but also hiring them. Portal and Team Fortress 2 both owe their existence to modders and student designers inspired by Valve's games and tools and later hired by the company.
But not all creative teams work this way, nor should we insist they do. Many developers are notoriously secretive about their work, and a great amount of community building occurs as enthusiasts of the next Castlevania or Metal Gear game speculate on what's to come. Designers like Kojima and Igarashi play on this fan anticipation, doling out bits of information, and teasing with trailers that may or may not contain actual game content. Does such an approach diminish loyalty in a franchise or enhance it? Blizzard takes secretiveness to another level when it interviews prospective employees without revealing the game the interviewee may be hired to work on.
I suggest turning Robertson's suggestion upside-down. I want to see film studios 'zip it' more and chatter less. It's nearly impossible these days to see a film with no prior knowledge of key plot points or story arc. Advertising has so completely penetrated every aspect of my existence, the last thing I want to do is socially network with a studio that's leveraging my "ownership" of the project as just another mechanism designed to ensure their movie opens big.
The best way to deliver a compelling experience is to create a compelling experience. "Buyer loyalty" may help explain the phenomenal box office success of Jackson's Lord of the Rings, but what if those films had dwelled a bit less on fan-friendly CGI-driven battles and a bit more on developing who all these people are? Did fan access to Josh Whedon make Serenity a good film?
I don't think Robertson is suggesting this, but I worry when the accountants tell the artists how to make their work accessible or relevant or popular. We need more games that don't look like what we already know. Where are the focus groups or fan clubs for those games? Sharing the production process with what Robertson calls "the consumer" may not be a bad idea per se, but we should be under no illusions about the games this system will produce. More Halos (and perhaps better Halos) but fewer Shadow of the Colossi or Darwinias. And, yes, video games will more closely resemble Hollywood. Is that really what we want?