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Responding to the Question Of The Week on Chris Crawford's eye-opening rhetoric condemning game innovation, professionals from Obsidian, Harmonix, Crystal Dynamics and more talk back.

Quang Hong, Blogger

June 22, 2006

35 Min Read

Our latest Question of the Week asked our audience of game professionals, referencing one of the more controversial Gamasutra articles in recent memory:

"What examples of innovation (in design, business, or other areas) do you think disprove the notion that the game industry is not evolving as quickly as it should be? Or is Chris Crawford right?"

With this in mind, our professional game developer respondents expressed their thoughts on the current state of innovation in the video game industry, and Chris Crawford's eye-opening rhetoric. Personnel from companies such as Harmonix, Obsidian, Crystal Dynamics, NCSoft, and many more gave some varied and excellent insights and opinions - particularly interesting sections are highlighted in bold.


Chris Crawford is right, but at the same time, the game industry is evolving through experimental game design. Independent game developers, like myself, are part of the game industry, whether bloated suits like it or not. We (independents) are the ones who are doing the experimental game designs online. And our games are played! Ed Averett, the creator of K.C. Munchkin once said "The Internet solves the biggest roadblock to game designers, which is distribution." It is through the Internet where our experimental games are being distributed to gamers.
-Trevor Cuthbertson, N.R. Computronics Ltd

In the area of immersive, emotionally-powerful storytelling, progress has been painfully slow. The notion that computer-based interactive entertainment must be a "game" and must adhere to specific game genres has diminished what could otherwise be a lucrative branch of entertainment that would attract a new audience. I believe there is a massive audience out there waiting for the experience of being “inside” something like a television series or movie. Call this new form of entertainment a maximally immersive story world sim, where it's never shoved in your face that this is, after all, only a game. And where great minds work to make NPCs as seemingly alive and affecting as possible. In order to achieve this new form of computer-based entertainment, there must be the will to do it, and there must be a willingness to include professional storytellers and dramatists in the design process. Whoever achieves this first will become wealthy and will go down in history as the person who started a new renaissance in storytelling and the next evolution of drama.
-Randy Littlejohn

Of course Chris Crawford is right! But does it matter? Yes, the verbs in games have solidified and remained the same for some time. Games. The word reminds me of sports. Which incidentally also share a lot of the verbs we use to describe rules and actions in our games: jump, shoot, run etc. Are anybody complaining about the development of sports being stale or non-existent? I am all for innovation, it is dawning on me that innovation for innovation's sake just might not be the holy grail this industry should be chasing. Perhaps this is what games are?
-Marque Pierre Sondergaard, Heroes Team

I think Chris is right that we've gone through a long period of "me too" products. However, it seems to me there is a breath of fresh air coming from several directions. The Nintendo DS is fostering some very innovative (and successful) games. Microsoft's Live Arcade business model has created a channel for smaller, lower-development-cost games to be marketed profitably at much lower price points. And the Wii controller promises revolutionary new game UI.
-Michael Dornbrook, Harmonix Music Systems

I don't think it's a matter of evolving as quickly as it should. This industry has matured. Just like the movie industry, our industry now churns out mainstream products that appeal to the widest possible audience, with only one thing in mind: revenue.
When consoles hit the market in the mid / late ‘80s, it killed originality and risk taking. Nintendo's "seal of approval" meant that only games that were good enough (read: mainstream) would make it to market. Becoming a developer was prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Since consoles are closed systems and home computers were merrily PCs running Windows, bedroom coding died overnight. Ironically, it sounds like Nintendo is trying to reverse this trend by making Wii cheaper to develop for. Still, an individual can't just pick up a Wii dev kit and start hacking away. Although I applaud Chris' initiative, in the end, it all boils down to money. This industry will never go back to its roots as it has become too big a business.
And even if a publisher does take a risk and puts something original out, you can bet that it will get zero to no marketing thereby sealing its fate. Chris' product (because that's really what it is) will target developers in order to make money. And round and round we go... Where's the love...?

First of all, who decides how quickly the industry "should be" evolving or innovating? That's an entirely subjective measurement. Along the same lines, who decides what is innovative? The industry has no objective standard for innovation so again it falls down to personal belief.
To answer the spirit of the question, there are several recent games that demonstrated innovation in various categories:
-Emotional Innovation: Shadow of the Colossus . Rather than the mixture of triumph and relief from frustration you find with most games, Shadow added elements of sadness and loss. You felt bad for the poor beast you just killed as well as a sense of victory.
-Level Design Innovation: Psychonauts and Shadow of the Colossus . Shadow's mechanic of turning the level itself into the boss battle was genius and incredibly engaging. Psychonauts presented its levels as internal mindscapes, allowing for truly unique and fun experiences exemplified by the milkman, disco and Napoleon levels.
-Mini-game Innovation: Warioware and Brian Age both innovated on the pace of gameplay giving us entire games made up of very short mini-games.
-Story Innovation: KOTOR2 's character influence system gave your interactions with party members new meaning. Interacting with characters in the world became more than just a method to dispense quests. Your influence with them would change who they were as a character as well as eventually turning them into Jedi if you chose.
-Experience Innovation: Earth and Beyond was the first 3D MMO to award experience for more than killing monsters. Players could level up their characters by exploration and trade.
-Interface Innovation: The Nintendo DS touchscreen and stylus are huge innovations resulting in some truly unique gameplay experiences. Trauma Center and Big Brain Academy are just two examples of how this mechanic is currently being used.
I think the major failing with Mr. Crawford's argument is that he is looking for revolution in the game industry and masking that desire by calling for innovation, which is present. If Mr. Crawford is seeking revolution, I'd invite him to apply for a job in the industry and demonstrate what he is looking for through actual work rather than commenting safely from the sidelines.
-Brian Heins, Obsidian Entertainment

I respect Chris Crawford. I admire the work he's doing on storytronics a great deal, but is innovation dead? I don't know about that. Part of me wants to agree, militantly, but part of me disagrees to the same amount. The risk-averse atmosphere of our publishers is certainly killing our success and the lack of original titles is making the market bored, but is innovation really dead? No. Innovative titles still happen, as rare as they are. It's not the end of the world, yet. Ask me again in 10 years, though - if we haven't found a way for our industry to take more risks and release more games that don't rely on tried-and-true formulas, we really will be at the end of our reign.
-Adam Maxwell, NetDevil

Games have evolved just as fast as the technology that is driving them. Not only that, but games are creeping into more common everyday aspects of life. Some surgeons limber up playing games, the military is using them as training aids. C'mon! People have to keep in mind the industry is roughly only 30 years old (marked by the mainstream playing actual video games, not pinball). The average age of a gamer is 29 for a reason. His logic is flawed. Is every movie released today filmed digitally, with CGI effects, and in 3D? Thankfully, no. And thankfully, games only need about 6 or 7 verbs to get the job done. Hey, if a limited lexicon worked for the cavemen, it should surely work for his descendents.
-J Kelly, Sea Cow Games

Chris Crawford is somewhere in la-la-land. His statement that game innovation is dead is downright wrong. Look at games like Loco Roco, Brain Training, Eye-toy, Nintendogs, Spore, Guitar Hero. That's just some of the more high profile titles. Sure, the majority of games are not trying for innovation but for good, solid craftsmanship. Is that a bad thing? People have favorite movie styles, book genres, music themes, food ingredients... Why not the same with games?
-Soeren Lund, Deadline Games

Nintendo seems to be the only one really innovating at the moment. It's taking the risks, so hopefully it'll reap the rewards. So what is Chris Crawford doing, I mean besides complaining?

The game industry's artistic depth has been evolving steadily, but its artistic breadth has advanced much more slowly, in fits that are few and far between. The game industry explores gamers' favorite subject matters in great depth: for example, no other art form explores spatial combat action more thoroughly. The action-gamer is quick to draw distinctions between Quake, God of War and Resident Evil, since – even though all three games consist mainly of killing and avoiding being killed in a 3D spatial environment – the action-gamer is a connoisseur, and appreciates the different approaches these three games take in exploring this subject matter. Chris Crawford is not interested in spatial combat. No amount of innovation applied to deepening and splintering the spatial combat genres (of which our industry has many) will get Chris interested in these kinds of games; for this we need a new genre independent of spatial combat (or military strategy like X-Com: UFO Defense, or resource management like The Sims, or any of the many existing genres the game industry can rightfully be proud of expressing so well). Since the game industry almost never really funds genre-creating experiments that end in noble failure, it also usually fails to evolve in artistic breadth with successful, compelling and truly new genres.
Should the game industry keep enriching and splintering existing genres with depth-oriented innovation? Absolutely; our sizable audience really appreciates these kinds of interactive aesthetics. Should the game industry expend significantly more time and money experimenting with new genres of interactive art, and thereby inspire non-gamers like Chris? Absolutely, and I applaud Mr. Crawford for doing just that.
-Nathan Frost, Crystal Dynamics

I can't think of anything that fundamentally contradicts Chris's point, actually. I am working in the world of MMOs now, because I think the chance for breakthrough is highest in this genre. The design goals here are fundamentally different from what they have been for most of the history of computer games development.
When we get to the point where players can actively share a variety of rich, interesting story experiences with each other, online, in real time, generated by their in-game activities, perhaps we'll have come up with something fresh at that point. I remain a firm believer that most "player storytellers" are not particularly good at it, and that we need to find a way to expand the narrative experience in a game to a level of professionalism that we are just beginning to understand on the visual and spatial side in the medium.
Most of the efforts along these lines continue to be either radically amateur, or fundamentally misguided by too much reliance upon the construction principles for narrative in non-games media. There is perhaps one company out there that "gets" this, but they do so only within the confines of a single-player game. The real ambition is to figure out how to embroider narrative expectations into something like an MMO, in a form that feeds effectively into the dynamics of an ongoing social gamelife. No one has even started on this project, yet.
-Steven Wartofsky, NCSoft

Seems like as long as I can remember, I have heard this. And not just about games either; television, movies, music, even books and plays before them. How does lack of innovation account for games like Katamari Damacy, Brain Age, or Guitar Freaks? I cite these as example because they also happen to be smash hits, but there are others like Shadow of the Colossus, Prince of Persia, and the upcoming Spore. To say that games today are mere rehashes flies in the face of the very history of innovation, which has always been about synthesis of new ideas from the ashes of the old. I think if anything, we have simply developed an impatience for continuing innovation in healthy steps, a knee-jerk reaction to short-term trends, and an inability to detect innovation when it actually exists. I can tell you from the trenches that, due to competition and community, innovation is alive and well today.
-Robert Martin, Amaze Entertainment

There are examples, of course, like Katamari, Guitar Hero, Loco Rocco, Spore... But they are few, much less than one would expect from an industry based on innovation as the primary drive. He has a point - a strong one - and I must agree that I would like to see far more in terms of experimentation than what's actually available or under development.
-Henrique Olifiers, Jagex Ltd.

The Wii controller and the touchpad/stylus setup for the DS are both examples of new control schemes that are expanding the ways we play games. The DDR pad and the Guitar Hero controller are more focused examples. Games that stand out in my mind for innovation include Guitar Hero, Nintendogs, and of course Spore. I also believe there's a lot of life left in the existing types of games. We're not just rehashing old content. We're innovating and improving on it. Games that come to mind as excellent in that regard include Oblivion, Shadow of the Colossus, World of Warcraft, and Civilization IV. From my point of view as an AI engineer, this is a very exciting time to work in the industry. AI is getting better every year. This may not be as obvious because the AI is sort of behind the scenes, but the improvements are there and they're very real. If you compare the intelligence in a modern strategy game to what we got in, say, the original Warcraft, it's just amazing.
-Kevin Dill, Blue Fang Games

It seems a bit presumptuous to believe that any industry should be evolving at some particular rate. I should think that the game industry is in virtually the same state as many other maturing industries, with larger companies consolidating their position and looking more for acquisition than innovative research and development, and with smaller companies fighting for shelf space and taking chances to try to stand out from the crowd. Other similar industries are in exactly the same state (e.g., digital audio and video production, traditional gaming industry (non-computer), etc.). Having said all this, I would think that the evolution (indeed, revolution) of the game industry will be its migration towards and through the next paradigm shift, when performance makes an order of magnitude change. It is the innovation in these areas (e.g., physics processors and AI processors), if anywhere, that is most likely to drive the next shift in the industry.
-Todd Morin, VideoMagic Technologies

If I wanted to talk to other people in an interactive storytelling environment I'd play D&D. But then again, perhaps Mr. Crawford would classify D&D as a victim of 're-branding' within the video game industry. Or I could be sporty and play a game like Counter-Strike that has a thriving competitive community with teams across the globe talking to each other over voice communication software like Ventrilo, discussing strategy and making friends/enemies over the Internet. Mr. Crawford says that interactive storytelling translates into meandering along in a social environment without an established plotline, and then proceeds to lambaste a game like World of Warcraft, that has some of the most fulfilling social interaction provided by a game and offers up game mechanics that have enchanted gamers from China to the US to Europe. In this game, the players become the citizens of the world, and can choose to role-play accordingly. My question to Mr. Crawford is: What's so innovative about Storytronics that we haven't seen in a good D&D game?
-Ryan Daly, Filament Studios

What Chris was primarily doing in that interview was advertising his new engine and business model. The aim of this advertisement was to touch on the occasional indie developer who feels the same sort of revolutionary spark and might want to create content with Storytronics. If you take him too seriously you're bound to be infuriated, because there are plenty of innovative projects going on in the industry and the indie scene. Cloud, Play With Fire, Braid, Nintendogs, Trauma Center: Under The Knife; plenty of games are innovating with pure gameplay. As for interactive storytelling, Crawford's monolith isn't the only project, I'm aware of at least one AAA studio that's exploring social play for the next-gen, and there are at least four independent projects going on that attack the problem from different angles, one of which I'm fortunate to be directly involved with. Crawford calls for revolution over evolution, storyplay over gameplay, interactivity over immersion. Evolution happens in punctuated jumps that look like revolutions, good storyplay requires mechanical framing that can still be called a "game", and immersion, while not the soul of a system, is still an important part of the experience, especially if you want your story engine to see mass success. Storytronics will certainly foster interesting experiments and perhaps masterworks, but it's not the whole story.
-Patrick Dugan, True Vacuum

I was at the talk when Chris Crawford said the games industry is dead. I originally became interested in the industry because of Chris Crawford on Game Design (a fantastic read by the way). However, I now believe Chris Crawford is blind to the realities of the industry. There is innovation everywhere these days, just look at some of the games being developed on Gamedev! The number of games being created that are innovative in some facet or another is astounding. Now I know the argument can be made that there is nothing groundbreaking, or truly innovative coming out now or in the past few years, but here's the thing. We, as an art form, are young; younger than any other art form by years and years. Did painting ever endure 10 year spans of little or no innovation? Has music ever been stagnant for a period of years or even centuries? I believe so. In comparison, we are the most innovative art form on the history of the planet. Within a 20 year span, the state of both the art and the industry has transformed dramatically, to the point that someone involved with it 20 years ago, may not recognize it today (Chris Crawford).
-Derek Ehrman, Full Sail

As much as I would like to disagree, there is a lot he says that I feel is right. However, as much as I respect Mr. Crawford, I can't help but feel that that primary goal of that interview was to be a "commercial" for Storytronics. Unfortunately, I think his comparisons to the movie industry were way off too.
Currently, the game industry is running parallel to the movie industry in the way it markets and the types of projects it pushes. Hollywood is constantly putting out the "same ole, same ole". Many production houses simply are not willing to put forth the kind of money it would take to make certain movies that fall outside the norm. It is the independent houses that get these movies made.
The game industry is running the same way. They feel the risk is too great to spend on development of a game, just for it to end up losing the company money. In the end, it is still a business and companies do not operate too well when they lose money. So they lower the overall risk by doing what has been proven to sell. I think it is very telling in how he refers to interactive storytelling as being this great thing, when he says it has been worked on for 14 years and they have yet to have anything that really works. Unless I am misunderstanding exactly what the goal of his project is, it feels like he is trying to recreate the wheel as a way to be "innovative". After all, video games are inherently "interactive stories". Now most stories are far from being Hemmingway in quality, hell, not even King quality, but they try.
Unfortunately, as long as people continue to buy these re-hashed games, the business mind of game companies are going to follow the money. In the end, it is not the lack of ideas, but rather the company "money men" who veto and form those original ideas into something more mainstream and normal. Besides, with people like Will Wright out there doing their thing, I don't see how anyone can say that "nothing" is being done.

On the whole, I would agree with Chris. But there have been a few outstanding exceptions that I'm sure are being pointed to by everyone responding: Spore; Oblivion. And that's about all that comes to mind, currently. We all know the problem. We need investors to fund the game, and investors are interested in a sure thing - based on previous successful formulae - and getting their investment back with interest. There just isn't any money in genre-breaking, which leads to a fetid industrial cesspool.
-Travis Lackey

Innovation isn't dead, but it isn't exactly thriving either.. The monster publishers have grown a bit conservative. Sequelitis. Let's cure ourselves of this, please. New ideas with excellent follow-through is the only way out of the rut created by repetitive iterations in game design.
I don't think the problem is a lack of innovation. Certainly, innovation is around. But the market is already massive, and that push towards wider audiences has shifted the flow of money in the direction of the familiar and easily accessible, which is ultimately the least innovative.
On the hardware side of things, gaming has maybe never been more innovative. It is incredible how many progressive and difficult problems are being tackled with the newest hardware solutions. This almost forces innovation as software people must try new things and use hardware in different ways than they have previously. Almost. Often the first software for new hardware is of the mindset "Well, let's see how these new devices handle our old IP."
Perhaps the most important contributor to progressively more innovative game development will be the increasingly versatile nature of the new consoles. The coming generation of consoles will be a monumental leap forward in gaming.

In my opinion, Mr.Crawford seems to have mixed up innovation and revolution. As for revolution, I almost agree but am still not sure because of the Nintendo Wii. As for innovation, I would like to ask Mr Crawford where should I put Indigo Prophecy, Half-Life 2 (for physics gameplay), Katamari Damacy, Spore, Assassin's Creed (for interaction with environment), Shadow of the Colossus, Civilization 4 (I think it is pretty innovative even though it is a sequel). Yes, Call of Duty is just another shooter, but has anyone experienced being WWII solder in such an immersive manner before? Isn't it an innovation by all means?
-Taras Korol, Abducted Artists

Chris Crawford is absolutely right! The industry has been this way for the last 10 years at least!! The ONLY area of gaming that has seen substantial improvement, which isn't necessarily the same as innovation, is graphics and many "new" games are even missing the boat here as well. I suppose one could argue that music and voice have also improved, but again, improvement isn't necessarily innovation. The gameplay experience has pretty much seen no innovation for a long time now. An RTS game today plays almost exactly like RTS games of the early ‘90s, simulation and adventure games are virtually non-existent today, FPS games don't play any different, the RPG formula hasn't changed, and arcade/fighter games are as arcade as they've ever been – they all just have new/better graphics! Anyone who argues that innovation has been happening needs to understand that innovation is more than just doing one little thing a little different. Innovation is making the entire gameplay experience more satisfying for experienced gamers and more accessible and enjoyable to new gamers. AI, difficulty settings, damage modeling, inventory controls, story telling, even interfaces are all areas that aren't seeing much innovation, and there are undoubtedly others. So yeah, Chris Crawford hit the nail on the head.
-John Gwynn

I've been following Chris Crawford for a while now and have an adequate grasp on what he is trying to say here. You have to understand where he is coming from when he makes bold claims of an industry completely devoid of anything new or fresh. Of course, as this QofW will surely confirm, we have had what most game players and developers would consider innovation. Most responses will probably bring up Katamari and Nintendo, and rightfully so in your context, but Chris is talking about a different kind of innovation here, a different context, and I think miscommunication is occurring because of it. I'm not sure why he didn't explain it in his interview or the GDC rant but Mr. Crawford has written in the past about play spaces and how they are more varied than usually taken advantage of. Almost all 'games', as we know them, remain entirely in a spatial play space. Moving, throwing, and grabbing along x-, y-, and sometimes z-axes pretty much sums up the industry right now.
Chris Crawford has taken up the challenge of developing play within the emotional space, which is so foreign to the current concept of a 'game' that he has had to completely break away from any association with the game culture.
There are no spatial x-, y-, z-axes in a emotional play space, instead being replaced with axes such as love, fear, and trust, and instead of moving through just one system of coordinates at will, there is a separate system for each character that refers to every other character that is 'navigated' though a dialogue with said characters. This is only an emotional space, one of many other types of play spaces that are just waiting to be experimented with. Chris Crawford was one of the first and is still one of the only people to even attempt such a venture.
This is the type of innovation Crawford calls out for and although his methods of education may be incendiary, it cannot be denied that this is an exciting new front with possibilities no one has even thought of yet.
-Jacob Gahn

There is tons of innovations in the industry, that's not a problem. Sure it's going really slow but I think Crawford's argumentation is flawed. The game industry does have a lot in common with Hollywood; there is big budget production, hit or miss successes. There is tons of awards for both of them and the video game industry does not lack in encouragement for the independent developers. We even have our own legends, like Steven Spielberg or David Lynch in Hollywood. The game industry sure ain't as mature as the film industry but it's not as old either.
I see so much people involved in making the industry better, the IGDA, the GDC, the Montreal Game Summit and all the others shows I don't even know of. Crawford is really trying to pigeon-hole the whole industry into a small bucket but it smells too much like a marketing plan for his story-telling machinery.
With Nintendo's Wii and DS, with mobile games and Microsoft's Live Anywhere, there is a lot of new stuff even though most of the productions are remakes of older game. But that's just another point we got in common with Hollywood : they love remaking old films! And it works.
So comparison with Hollywood is not a strong argument in my mind. The game industry is exactly the same as any industry. And by the way, I don't see the story-telling industry evolving fast either. Anyway, in my mind, that's still just a niche in the game industry that is not more or less worthy than anything else. We all need to have an open mind and some respect for every innovation that can be tried. Interactive story-telling is not different and there's no reason to try to place it apart from the rest. By the way, I wonder why Crawford is still participating in gaming conferences and round tables if he thinks he doesn't have anything to do with the game industry anymore?
-Kevin Trepanier, Gameloft Montréal

He's right. Aside from the business and creative angles of this issue, part of the problem is the technology we have to work with. At the moment, creating any sort of meaningful content requires an enormous effort from a team of people. This is partly due to the software/content creation tools currently at our disposal. The nature of C++ requires a programmer to describe things in excruciating detail in order to get anything meaningful on screen. Building a character animation requires an artist to detail bones, movement etc., which takes too much time. The hardware we have to work on doesn't help either: nice graphics, but not much CPU muscle we could use for general programming issues. It seems as an industry we are cutting down trees with blunt saws.
We need to invest more in tools and techniques that reduce development time and relieve developers from mundane tasks (how many times do we have to write database code?) so we can get to work on the things that attracted us to this industry. As an industry we need take time to sharpen the saw.
-Amonn Phillip, Nokia

Think about other industries, for example the movie industry. Other than new special effects, there is not a lot of innovation that comes to the mainstream audience. Also the music industry changes a lot but doesn't really have a big net gain in innovation, every succeeding generation is a counter-culture of the previous. If you think about these industries, change may take years. But gaming is one of the few industries that can bring innovation to the mainstream. After all, what's the point of innovating if no one sees it? Think about all the innovative music sub-genres that few people listen to. Rehashed movie-based games aren't the ones going to the top-selling list, it's games like Nintendogs and Brain Age. That's what's so great about this industry, the innovative titles aren't some unknown game winning first prize at some unknown game festival, they are games that your mom would know.
-Mayuran Thurairatnam, Avocado Overboard

I don't agree with everything Chris Crawford says but it should be clear to most developers that there is a lot of truth to what he says about the lack of innovation in the game industry today. The biggest vacuum of innovation is in gameplay design. When you break down the average mainstream video game into it's core gameplay components (stripping away the "garnish" like story, cutscenes, dialogue trees, fancy graphics, 7.1 audio, AI etc...) videogames basically boil down to the same standard FPS shooter, strategy, RPG or platform game we've been playing for the last 20 years. The vast majority of games adhere to one of these molds and may claim innovation in the form of slight variations on a basic component of the genre blueprint. A lot of these games have even less gameplay depth than their predecessors. Not only do most games base themselves on one of these basic blueprints but on every project I've worked on, designers lend themselves to pilfering design concepts from other high-profile games. Leading to directives like: "We're going to make this game Halo for the PS2" or "This week we're going to implement the control scheme from Half-Life 2, the control scheme from Zelda didn't work out." even if these design concepts don't fit within the context of the game. What this amounts to is a lot of cookie-cutter games that all look very similar (how many games at E3 had giant crabs or a first person perspective of a big gun or an MMO world full of elves and dwarves?). Gameplay is definitely not evolving at the same rate technical innovations are evolving.

Chris Crawford takes up a very important point about the industry, that we're in fact producing sequels on a conveyor belt, and that every "new" title is a copy of a copy. But in the same time, he fails to see the small innovations that are being carefully embedded into each new game.
Yes, we're evolving slowly, where the main sales point for each new game is the "improved graphics", and not "improved gameplay". We need to take a step away from that and realize that the game industry needs risk takers, and not a statistically correct formula for producing good sales. During GDC '05 Will Wright spoke about player created content, and noted that player stories will always be more powerful than scripted stories we try to tell the players. I find this very important and the more we allow the gamers to make their own choices, and allow them a much broader interaction within the game itself, the more they'll feel immersed in the actual gameplay experience. Warren Spector summed up my point with excellence when he said in a recent interview: "The key for me is not to preplan every step of the player's experience. Putting players on rails, even if it does result in an emotionally compelling experience, seems like kind of a waste of time. To my mind, if we can offer players a choice, if we can let players make a decision, we should always do so. And then we have an obligation to show players the consequences of their choices and decisions. The game should unfold differently depending on how you play, how you solve problems."
Finally, I would like to point out that Chris Crawford isn't really creating a game here. He himself states that it's misleading to refer to it as a game, and that the kind of people who like games will most likely not enjoy his "interactive storytelling". Hence, his complaints about the game industry as large, seems like misdirected, because he hasn't taken part of the industry for over a decade, and will most likely not take another part in it ever again.

Both statements are true. Let us recall that there is an extremely large "game" industry that does not, as radical as this sounds, use computers, but in some cases ships very large numbers of copies. For example, the Dutch translation of The Settlers of Catan shipped a half-million copies, and this was after German and several other versions were available. These strategy games are not exploited for computer use, yet represent enormous amounts of innovation and evolution in the complete game industry, as witness evolution in the Spiele des Jahres winners over the past decade. There is a very large 'Eurogame' industry that produces multi-player family strategy games (more sophisticated than e.g. Risk; for computers we need a bit of hardware innovation so four or six can play cheaply with private screens in the same room) with straightforward rules, play times of 1-2 hours, non-controversial themes, and demanding strategies... that would be available as models for gameplay. Those models are not being exploited much in the computer game industry, though note www.gametableonline.com. Tom Vasel and I are just completing two books (Contemporary Perspectives in Game Design with study problems is about to appear from Third Millennium) on related design issues. Similarly, while there are many military combat computer games, the impact of the board wargame design field on computer game design texts is rather limited. Thus, there is a great deal of evolution and innovation, but Crawford is arguably right that his segment of the game industry (computers) is less innovative.
-George Phillies, WPI

Around 1995, when the industry realized the existence of the "casual" player, the format of games changed radically. The long, hard and obscure games of the ‘80s were replaced by much more accessible, shorter and easier titles. Ten years later, we have 2 billion television viewers, 1 billion Internet users but only 1-200 million gamers. More than ever, gaming as a media is threatened: it can no longer pretend to be the ultimate electronic entertainment.
For that reason, the format of the games is going to undergo another radical change to address the hundreds of millions of non-gamers. Games which require a commitment of tens of hours will no longer be the dominant form. Instead, new gamers will turn to games that allow shorter sessions, or that are coupled with a strong social experience.
In fact, this shift has already started. The proof? The Internet policy of the console manufacturers enabling developers to publish smaller games easily, web-based game portals that reach millions with simple concepts, MMOSG (social games) which address new audiences, mobile gaming, the many new forms of multiplayer gaming. All of this contributes to a complete renewal of the game media. There is a strong, tangible effort to create a new gaming paradigm.
-Jerome Cukier, www.gamethink.net

Konami's Bemani series evolved music games past Simon. Dance Dance Revolution takes a simplified approach to dance steps and makes it into an aerobic exercise that's actually fun. Beatmania and Beatmania IIDX show how a sequence mini-keyboard can be fun and super-challenging. As for the evolution of gaming? Sequels are made when they sell well, and stop when they sell poorly. Selling well means it's pleasing the target audience. All that means is that the industry is too slow evolving for Mr. Crawford and his peers. I actually think that games are getting a bit derivative. However, Chris Crawford is being overly pessimistic. It's almost like breaking the sound barrier. If you believe it can't be done, it won't be done.
- Robert Gauss, US Army Developmental Test Command

He is right in regards to most big budget games. Innovation tends to be the exception that is tacked on to a proven formula. I'd say the funds given over to blue sky research (and the expectation that they must return something) form the main limitations to innovation. The idea that Crawford brought forward, of Hollywood 's wide spreading of funds to generally promote innovation, is a model that would greatly benefit the industry. With more money now flowing in and more rehashing of old ideas being done, it seems this will be a natural progression.

I would disagree on his use of Hollywood as an example of innovation in story telling. One could parallel distinct similarities between Hollywood studios and game studios throwing money at the next sequel/sure thing and passing on the risky/different. More often than not, it takes someone out of the mainstream to attempt what hasn't been done. The majority of what's holding back the industry is how the gamer interacts with the game. Wii is a small step in the right direction but more has to be put into how a gamer interacts. Immersion should be the next frontier to conquer. Some of what Mr. Crawford said is right and I feel the industry is close to being able to make significant changes with innovations that will allow new levels of interaction with games as well as increases the AI. Until then it's still a joystick/keyboard and a TV/monitor.
-Matthew Barry


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Quang Hong


Quang Hong is the Features Editor of Gamasutra.com.

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