Variety in Games, and How We Lost Creativity

Commercially successful indy film, music, books, and comics all offer a huge variety to the mainstream forms of each entertainment and nearly without-fail have much fewer resources at hand and a higher (or equal) financial bar to clear.

And I think the lack of this happening isn’t even a technological impetus, but a problem of distribution. We’ve all made programs that we send to our friends over the internet that do something nifty, if not a tiny game we thought up and wanted to get an opinion on.

Game makers can do this, but it severely hampers the potential consumer base. (It’s just a matter of customers being technically proficient and knowing what they’re getting into. So few gamers are willing to buy a new game from a complete unkown over the internet. We’re just not ‘there’ yet. Why? That’s another post.) But I honestly think that when the people who made Eets, Gish, Hapland, or even interactive fiction are able to burn (or have pressed) discs and sell them out of the trunk of their car, then you’ll see variety in gaming. Hell, then people will complain about too much choice.

This entire post started out as a reply to something I read over at Brett Douville’s blog a bit back, but I decided to make it a blog post instead. Now that I’m finally blogging, here it is. Brett said:

Lately I’m really interested in how costs can be lowered so that the bar to entry gets low enough for there to be single auteurs, or at the very least, a smaller set of auteurs. I’m starting to wonder if that’s not the way to get more interesting games.Sure, there are means by which single auteur games can get made, but they are unlikely to see distribution beyond a very small group. Interactive fiction continues to be alive, but it’s a small audience and there’s not really a way to make money from it.

I couldn’t agree more on his saying smaller teams could be good for games. It’s definitely possible for two hundred essentially nameless film professionals to make a good movie from a script handed down to them from their bosses in the movie company. There’s a tiny chance it’ll even be a great movie. But you give Robert Rodriguez and a crew of twenty of his guys a camera and you’ll get a movie I’d pay to see without knowing anything about it. It makes perfect sense to me that smaller teams (or those with a more unified vision that they actively care for) could make a more cohesive game. (Given the technical proficiency to pull it off, of course.) It only makes sense that more people on a team means more interpretations of any given aspect of said game, and that more team members are more likely to not be interested at all.

Need proof? I recently read in Game Developer magazine that EALA (EA Los Angeles) is adopting Will Wright’s concepts of “cells” in which during the time no game is being produced, groups of 7 developers form and brainstorm on ideas. Yup. They’ve officially co-opted creativity and taken it away as a tool for the small dev to get a leg-up. It was small dev’s last weapon, but now the fields are truly even and the creativity itself will be judged.