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Monday, May 22, 2006

Comments

Mirik Smit

I don't see what's wrong with tagging a license to a good game, Mass Effect could easily have had the Star Wars license and would've rocked just as much if not more possibly. Certainly it might sell more with that license and the quality product it will become?

Obviously a license resulting in a bad game is sad for the consumer, but if it's done right, why not.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Success = Ability + Opportunity.

GreatBritishProducer

Lists are worthless ... thanks to Knotmag for this summary:

Labeling something as "the greatest" only feeds into the idea that individual tastes aren't as valuable as the majority opinion.

I think you are being somewhat unfair on licensed product. Licensed product will prove itself time and again at retail. For children, licensed games can provide entry level awareness of gaming culture which is surely a good thing?

A small list of successful licensed games:
-The Chronicles of Riddick
-Indiana Jones
-GoldenEye 007
-Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
-Finding Nemo
-Ghostbusters
-The Simpsons: Hit & Run
-Harry Potter
-The Lord of the Rings
-The Hobbit
-The Thing
-Alien vs. Predator

There are many others (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_games_based_on_licensed_properties) and yes, there is a lot of dead wood in there but this surely this is not the fault of the license? Is it not the fault of the relationship between games and other mediums or industries? Other industries are only at the fringe of understanding game development.

Jare

"I don't see what's wrong with tagging a license to a good game"

If the license is relevant, it's great. Most of the times, the way it works is "tagging a game to a good license". Sometimes even the "good" part is missing (Reservoir Dogs? WTF!)

Robert Howarth

I'm surprised Bioshock won so many awards. They really took a leap of faith on that one.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Games development is no different to any other field of human endeavour. The weird thing is, game development is supposed to hang around an understanding of strategy, yet, most game developers are poor strategists. In large part, I think, this is down to the implementation emphasis of the games industry at the expense of people development.

Looking at a Bioshock interview, I could clearly see how the developer was chasing technical and recognition achievement. This wasn't a bad thing in itself but struck me as being a little unbalanced. A step back from these goals would've helped create space for more creativity and resilience on the part of the developer, making for a better outcome.

Whether we’re talking of Eastern-European immigrants to America creating Hollywood’s so-called golden age, a generation of politicians, comedians, and technologists creating similar booms in other times and places, the thing that leaps out to me isn’t knowledge or skill, it’s experience. The instruction of chastisement may be useful but, ultimately, people learn from their own mistakes.

The overall state of the game industry isn’t too hot but, really, it’s a different profile in different places. The issues facing the American, European, and Asian game industries aren’t the same. Globalisation and the dominance in our perceptions of the American game industry and society should distract us from this. Same fundamentals, yes. Same situation, no.

As with a lot of other issues, I think, peoples character and how they communicate is key. For example, most comments in this blog tend to be people airing their views with little glue between any of them. People have their perspectives and stuff does percolate across, but there’s something lacking in the interaction. It has an atomised quality. How is this a good thing?

Innovation and creativity, like marketing and communication, ain’t the same thing.

Better people make better games?

GreatBritishProducer

In short, no. What games have you shipped Charles? What is your direct industry experience of game development?

I have been in this industry for seven years and I have worked with pioneers and shipped a number of products as an external and internal Producer, all varying in quality. I have witnessed time and again terrible 'people' make successful games. (If by people you refer to peoples attitude, behaviour, respect toward others?) By successful I refer to innovative, creative and high selling products.

As for atomisation; one does not need an underlying philosophy for opinion to be valid. Ridiculous.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Enough and enough, if you want to know.

I'm not going to argue the points. You want to roll with them or you don't. We'll see which of us is the more successful in ten years.

Jay Kyburz

Bioshock is winning awards because its fresh and interesting. Put a starwars license on it and it's not fresh and interesting.

Game mechanics are are such a small part of what makes a great game.

Scott Miller

>>> Bioshock is winning awards because its fresh and interesting. Put a starwars license on it and it's not fresh and interesting. <<<

Exactly.

GreatBritishProducer

I'm already successful.

And interesting point, Jay.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I'm already successful.

Then why am I wiping the floor with your ass? KAPOWWW.

Exactly.

If history is 70% of the communication package, it figures that attaching an established license to a game is going to have an impact. I could trot out all the other factors which are achingly familiar but that would be tiresome. The license and game mix works or it doesn't. It is useful or it is not. I mean, if licenses and creativity can't go together why are YOU posting here? Think about it.

Jare

"Bioshock is winning awards because its fresh and interesting. Put a starwars license on it and it's not fresh and interesting"

KOTOR would be a counterexample. It's all in how you do it, I guess: "make X and slap Y on it" is rarely the best way to achieve satisfactory results for both X and Y. "Make a great X that exploits the value of Y" is probably the right philosophy to create a license product. But then the realities set in; Y's stakeholders don't know much about X, but they impose a number of values and decisions about what X has to be. Or the constraints about Y (say, release date) extend into X but this fact is not accounted for. Etc etc.

But really, Bioshock is an indirect license, in the sense that for those who know about games, it's clearly associated with System Shock; same with Supreme Commander and Total Annihilation. All previews mention the heritage of these games. So, they use a game license in an indirect way to boost the interest of the gaming industry. Would Bioshock get all that attention if it wasn't the spiritual successor to System Shock? I don't think so. Perhaps with time it would have emerged as a great game, or perhaps someone with a big voice would have spotted its intrinsic qualities and given it more exposure.

So, a game based on a game license is more likely to become a great game than a game based on a non-game license. BECAUSE it is based on an already successful game, and synergies are more likely to occur, as opposed to figuring out how to fit "Y license" on "X game".

Charles E. Hardwidge

Ha, ha. Boom, Boom.

Great comment, Jare!

Anyone, here, think Basil Brush could be a runner? Could be the new Sonic...

Freakhead

The problem is most of the big publishers are so short sighted. They look at the next quarter or next year instead of 5-10 years down the road. The execs are after their year-end bonus or quarterly bonus. They don't care about 5 years from now. Same with Wall Street. So that's why movie licenses are attractive to these types. They are more of a quick cash grab. And if the game fails you can blame it on the license instead of yourself. Perfect for an executive type.

I don't think that works forever. It will just go in cycles. Folks will get tired of the license crap. They will see through it. Then the publishers go away from it . But they'll be back to doing the license thing. There's too much easy cash out there for 'em and the public will forget. 5 yr olds will be 15 yr olds and they will say I wish they'd make a game based on Star Wars (or actually the big movie of that future point in time.) How wrong they are.

GreatBritishProducer

I'm enlightened, Charles; really. Anyway ...

... Original IP's are now perceived by publishers as an investment. A strong IP can result in alternate revenue models; as strange as it seems this is a radical shift in publisher perception.
Pitching games has become increasingly demanding which in some cases has forced developers to rethink their development strategy. It is little wonder a handful of high profile British developers have been accepting deals, because they come with a silver platter.
Do the demands deserve to applied to all games? Probably not, but this only reveals the persistent immaturity in our industry. I'm certain in another 5 years IP's will be accurately categorised to support games that don't necessarily come with a golden ticket.

Charles E. Hardwidge

You're good at pointing at out issues, GBP, but I don't see many solutions coming from you. It's easy to play the attention accumulation game but to grow capital on better terms requires a better approach. Like Scott, you've got to start thinking outside your own bubble if you want to help grow the game industry in a more sustainable and fairer way. The alternative path I examined, earlier, is one way of helping mitigate the difficulties with licensing and deals in general.

Bad deals are a symptom of institutionalised thuggery. The real issue is how people treat each other, and that's more than a cash investment question. Both of you have the knowledge and skill, but slagging off the industry or trying to make me look small are a really poor show. It's a waste of both your talents, a losing path that only gathers more trouble as you roll along. By setting a better leadership role, this will be avoided and a better quality outcome achieved.

I've seen successful companies go bust for this single reason. The last one to think they were smarter than me went from being a listed company at the top of its game to a debt ridden asset stripped shell within two years. Nobody, absolutely nobody but me saw this coming. It struck me as being as obvious as daylight at the time. The same is true of any structure, be it a person, organisation, or nation state. By pursuing the capital growth route and not developing better quality relationships, publishers weaken develops, developers produce worse games, and people waste personal opportunities.

Without people, there is no deal. Period.

GreatBritishProducer

Indeed, Charles. I cannot produce a game without understanding the value of people; unfortunately others do think otherwise and sometimes, these 'others' are the ones who make the ultimate decisions within a company, and effectively devalue the role/strength of a Producer as well as the talented individuals that are the team.
This is a terrible epidemic in development; the unfortunate reality has required clandestine production methods which ultimately prove themselves when the project goes Gold on-time and to quality. It it not an exaggeration to call such action Machiavellian and I'm certain I'm not the only Producer who acts with the allegiance of his team in this way.

I'd take and guess at Scott's situation and conclude that there is no way he can maintain motivation for his company people without recognising they are people first.

I've seen references to Leadership in your previous posts, and this is by no means an attack; but if you have such a handle on it, why don't I see you on the front-line of development, in the public eye, defining the future?

tommynotty

Charles,
I have noticed you are very active on Scott's board and offer what seem to be some pretty definitive statements on what the games industry needs. I applaude your willingness to speak out, particularly under your own name, as many of us in the games industry prefer to dwell on public boards under anonymity.

However for the life of me I cannot say I know what you do and what your contribution to the games industry has been. You offer many anecdotes of companies, or situations where you were the one man in the room to see the problem while all around were willfully ignorant.

I'd be most interested in hearing some more about your actual background as it would help add legitimacy to your statements.

tommynotty

Oh, and in order to stay on topic and address the post,

I'm currently going through the process of trying to establish an original IP so have had hands on experience of where Publishers currently are in trying to source original IP. My impression is that Publishers know that their reliance on licenses and franchises is a problem, they know they have to change but they many don't know how.

The status quo has existed for years and been supported by exploiting licenses and franchises, in many cases is unable to switch to assessing and nurturing original ideas, because its much the same people in the chain, from biz dev through production to executive, who have survived in the past by taking the 'safe' bet.

One specific improvement that Publishers could take would be to give biz dev more responsibility and seniority within the company. Most biz dev people we have dealt with are very low down the chain. They are great people, very enthusiastic about games but they are raw, often young with little industry experience and hence lack the power of advocacy within their own organization.

I know its his blog and so this is a pretty naked compliment, but I would love to come and pitch a Publisher and find someone like Scott as our entry point. Biz Dev is the first gatekeeper and should be recognized as the very important position it is.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Some interesting comments there, GBP and TN. I think, they neatly highlight what you do and the challenges of change are constant wherever you are, and how these things have a measurable impact on the bottom line.

I read Machiavelli’s Prince years ago but have always considered the Discourses the superior work. Since then, I’ve found the Tao and related works to be more mature and rounded. It’s study is useful many contexts, including product and marketing.

Thinking of business development, it’s crucial that people and companies are fit for purpose in the long-term. I think, this is especially important in the United Kingdom, where relative size of companies and home market is an issue.

I reckon, things are getting better, just that Rome wasn't built in a day, etcetera. Great stuff. Keep up the good work!

Jason Smith

My opinion on any internet discussion is not to use 100 words when a dozen will suffice. I enjoy Scott's, and a few other thoughtful posters' comments too much [...slightly inflammatory section deleted by Scott...].
And by the way: this is my second post on this forum and so I have not yet "done a great job," "of touching on licensing, quality of product and relationships, and character" as you claim Charles.

With regards to original IP I agree with Scott, as he is [obviously] one of the few people on this site who actually has a wealth of experience both developing and shipping games. 'Nuff, said.

AdamW

One thing I find interesting in your list of original IPs, Scott, is how uninteresting most of the actual IP is. With the sole exception of Bioshock (kinda inescapable in an RPG), does anyone actually give a crap about the stories or characters of the other games? I don't think so. That's really not the point of Spore, or Gears of War, or (heh) Guitar Hero 2. Which leads me to suspect that possibly the point is more subtle: outside certain event games and genres, successful and interesting games tend to be so more because of game mechanics than because of IP issues, and having a licensed IP tends to skew the development process, making the IP more important than the game mechanics. The classic failure of a licensed game is to do all the IP stuff well - beautiful, accurate graphics, all correct plot points, in modern times maybe the same voiceover artists as the movie / TV show / whatever - and then to have extremely dull, cliched, derivative or just plain bodged gameplay (i.e. actual game mechanics). I don't think therefore that the issue is "original IP beats licensed IP" but "IP isn't very important"...which is a point you've made on other occasions, but not in this article.

Charles E. Hardwidge

You make some very astute points there, Adam, neatly highlighting the value of content and gameplay contributions to the narrative. The same issue exists with other IP, like books. People can and do get hung-up on key points that twist the outcome in undesireable directions. This is where Kubrick had it right with Lolita when he said he never did remakes.

It's a bit of a tangent but I don't think licensed versus original IP is the issue. The real issue is how people deal with bringing these factors together into a single whole. Like any other strategic enterprise, I believe, examination and teaching of these issues will test developers character, or fundamental approach, and result in better outcomes in the long-term.

That questions like this are being asked and discussed strikes me as being, perhaps, one of the most interesting changes over the past few years. My take is the overall wave of game development is moving forward, and each of us in our own way are caught up within that as well as making our own contribution. A lot remains to be done but the overall drift is good.

Differences and issues aside, we're doing alright.

Michael Labbe

I'm sure Scott knows this, but the industry is typically bullish about new properties at the beginning of a console generation cycle.

It is no coincidence that EA has announced its support for original properties just as the Xbox 360 is beginning to pick up momentum.

Scott Miller

Adam, the sole reason I also preach that licensed IP will do poorly (versus original IP) is that licensed IP does not usually have compelling game mechanics readily inherent to the IP. That's why I always point to Spider-Man, for example, as a great cross-over IP, because of wall climbing, web swinging, and web attacks/shield -- all of these IP hooks are natural gameplay hooks, and unique and fun, too.

So yes, it's the game mechanics that matter most. No question about it. And licensed IP rarely (1 in 10,000!) has a naturally compelling gameplay hook to allow it to make the cross-over.

If you go back to all my posts on this topic, you'll see I've stated this one way or another each time.

AdamW

Scott: yep, as I said, it's a point you've made in the past, but not in this post.

and duke, I love the list - saw it linked on Blue's. I suspect Scott doesn't love it so much. :) (i could add to the list that at Mandriva, we've developed and released 19 mainline releases - not counting side projects - and it'll likely be 20 by the time DNF is out.)

Charles E. Hardwidge

Scott, not to be a pain, but if can deliver on your committment to edit the less useful comments from that topic, that would be appreciated. You acted more swiftly when daft comments were made about you and it would show some consideration if you acted with similar haste when others are concerned. In any case, I don't think I'll be commenting here again. Thanks.

Scott Miller

Charles, I will zap those comments now. I was in Europe for a week, and came back swamped with things to catch up on.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Thank you Scott. I’m glad you’ve been able to resolve this outstanding issue. I’m not happy that my comment style is as understandable or approachable as it could be. With more time and less of me getting in the way, I’m sure, your topics will return to their usual high standard. I have enjoyed our conversations but would like to spend more time on practical issues.

Scott Miller

I'm working on a good post about the making of Prey. Just have been snowed recently and need to find an undistracted hour to finish it. Once Prey is released, I'll find more time for updates, for certain.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I understand your difficulties. These are all interesting opportunities for learning and doing better. I'll look out for your essay on Prey. I've sent an email to your Games Matters address which helps round off a few thoughts, and provides a few relevant links you may find useful. You've done well, Scott. I look forward to seeing everyone look forward and create more success.

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