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Sports Games and the Creative Delusion

A post about sports games developers being overlooked when studios are looking for new employees

Anthony Kyne, Blogger

June 19, 2015

9 Min Read

A few years ago I was out of work for a small period of time (5 months). When I finally found a job it was with a company that thought paying staff was optional. Luckily I jumped ship and moved into the publishing world with P2 Games for a short contract that took me to the end of the year. In the end though I had to up sticks and move to Canada and HB Studios (where I still am today) to get back working on and developing games on a day to day basis.


When I originally lost my job at Eidos, I didn’t think I’d have a problem getting another development job (I was the lead designer on a game that was getting 8 and 9 out of 10 reviews and I had 13 years experience in Design and Programming on some well known games), but it took 16 months to get another and a move to another continent.

Recently my ex-design, production, creative, coding and studio management partner for many years, who has a way bigger name than me in the industry, lost his job. Now it’s happening to him, so much so he’s contemplating taking a job outside of the games industry.


It’s not a case of us not getting jobs that we’re being interviewed for, it’s the fact we don’t even get interviews that I find puzzling. I thought it was my CV for a while, but I got it checked over and it was fine.

We’ve made games over the years together and individually as head of production and creative leads that have

  • Broken the mould and have now become standard

  • Created worlds with hundreds and thousands of AI that people are immersed in

  • Created procedurally generated AI that people still talk about years after playing, like they were real people

  • Made every users experience with the game unique so much so they create stories, diaries and fan sites about them

  • Made grown men cry, angry and elated from procedurally generated events

  • Had famous people mention our games in press conferences and interviews.

  • Sold millions of copies and won awards

Looking at that bullet pointed list above we shouldn’t even need a CV, we should be as sought after as much as a Warren Spector or Sid Meier - but we’re not. Instead my buddy - a hugely talented guy - is taking a job outside of games because he can barely get an interview!

Maybe it’s discrimination, I thought. I’ve been in games since I was 18 and worked on 40+ titles so maybe people think I’m over 50. I’m only 37 though so I started stating that on my CV or including a photo. It didn’t help so it can’t be the ageism thing that people go on about.

We're not even part of any of the minorities, so we can't even clutch at that straw. Plus we’re both nice guys, who don’t have bad reputations through the industry. So why?

Then one day it clicked, we make sports games! In one of the very few job interviews I went to while I was out of work, at some two bit facebook game company that is now no longer, I was asked by one of the interviewers “Have you ever made a proper game?”. Seriously!! The guy had worked on a couple of Facebook games that didn’t do well and he asked me that! I smiled and said “I created football game of the year a few years ago, I created games that appear on people’s top 10 games lists all over the world. Do you not class those as proper?” He replied “Well they’re not very creative!” - This coming from a guy that had ripped off The Sims and Farmville in the worst possible way and put it on Facebook!

I’ll admit it I love sport, especially Football and Golf, but I’ve made great games that shift 5 million plus about Baseball and American Football, two things I have limited knowledge of. I also love other genres, if you take a Iook at my steam/psn accounts (Brothers, tale of two sons, Batman Arkham City, GTA 5, Call of Duty, South Park, The Sims, Civ V, Fez, Sunless Seas, Papers Please, etc) and I watch films and TV other than live sporting events and surprisingly talk about other things. I constantly think about the gamification of all kinds of situations I’m in or in the films I’m watching. I’ve just always worked on sports titles as that’s what has been offered to me and enjoy working on them.

Looking back over my experiences and talking to people I’ve worked with that have come from other genres to work on sports I’ve found there are a couple of preconceptions that happen. The biggest one is that a lot of people don’t believe that making a sports game is that hard or creative. Well think of it like this, it’s surely easier to create made up worlds that most people will never experience. How many people know what battle in the Middle East is like, flying like a bat, jumping around an ancient city as an assassin or casting a spell on an elf as a wizard? Not many. But everyone has kicked a ball at sometime in their life, knows how humans will act in certain situations and know that David Beckham will never play for Dartford. These are very rigid pillars that if you don’t adhere to you break the users immersion in the world you’ve created immediately. But with those worlds you have to be very creative and move the needle from what’s already out there. Creativity is making a user feel an emotion with what you’ve created and immersing them into that world with unique and unintrusive ways. Saying sports games aren't creative is like saying other genres are just blowing stuff up and copying what you read in comics.

There is no one way to complete something in any of my 38+ released sports games, the user is free to do whatever they like against an AI opponent that wants to win as much as the user and is not rubber banded to the user's ability. Look at something like Deus Ex, one of my favourite games of all time, it’s lauded for having the ability to play the game as you like but it’s limited in comparison to something like Championship Manager. We have to create realistic decision making without scripting and we have to create a world where everyone is out to win and not provide easy routes for the user.

Secondly I think that as a lot of people in the industry that think they’re above sport. Magic the Gathering, no problem. Board Game enthusiast, come on in. Sports guy, not so much! I don’t know if this is a reaction by people that always felt left out at school because they weren’t particularly athletic or it’s a belief that if you like sport you won’t fit in (I was told that was a reason I didn’t get an interview at a reasonably large UK studio a few years back). If that’s the case that’s disappointing.

So what I’m asking is, don’t overlook a CV just because the applicant has only worked on sports games. We’re creative guys with huge ability and lots of fresh ideas. Don’t push us aside for the same old, same old. You might be surprised -- we could add an extra “creative” dimension to your game.

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