Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Game Developers Should Play Games :The Lesson Learned From Reading George RR Martin

There's a great post over at Suvudu: The Lesson I Learned From George R. R. Martin. The author explains how they've taken lessons from exploring some of Martin's smaller works:
The lessons I learned from reading three straight George R. R. Martin novellas played into my own short story writing process, George a silent mentor whether he likes it or not.
The lesson to be learned from this: Most authors, when giving craft advice, tell hopeful writers to read almost as much as they write.

This circles back around to a debate often had among MMOG bloggers. Should game developers play other games? Often times, gamers feel developers should not as it will just lead to clones of other games. However, I don't feel that is the case. If it works for a craft such as writing, it can work for game development.

It's not whether they play, it's the games that developers choose to play that matters. As in the linked article, the author did not go for Martin's big titles. Instead they focused on his short stories, which are condensed examples of what makes his bigger works successful.

This has to be extrapolated a bit for game development as games often comprise teams of developers compared to the general rule of one author per story. We can take the comparison of World of Warcraft and Darkfall Online. If a game developer really wants to improve their craft and input to their team, what game should they play?

World of Warcraft will show them a great game, but how much knowledge will be gained? How much will a budding author learn trying to dissect the entire Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin? Unless they are the next George RR Martin or Blizzard, not much. They'll have a great experience that they want to duplicate or improve. Yet, they will be trying to duplicate or improve components which are above their immediate understanding. It will not work.

On the other hand, if they take some time to explore Darkfall Online they are going to have a different experience. Darkfall is rough around the edges, but has dug out it's niche in the market. Playing Darkfall should allow a game developer to see how staying focused and delivering on community expectations can create a successful game. At the same time, they will find core components which can be improved.

This sort of knowledge often feels missing from bigger developers. I wonder, often, how many of the bigger developers have many core designers that have even played any games outside of the few big titles that hit every year. In interviews, few developers ever mention games outside of World of Warcraft or Modern Warfare 2.

I date back to Paul Barnett of Mythic. Leading up to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), he spoke up in an interview about having to actively discourage team members from playing WoW. Not because WoW was a bad game, but that it gave them poor perspective. Paul Barnett understood that playing WoW lead to an experience that many designers wanted to, but could NOT duplicate.

This is not the post to debate WAR's short comings, but the game misfired somewhere and in retrospect, maybe the developers spent a little too much time playing WoW (I'm generalizing here). I've posted before where it seemed that the internal Mythic propaganda favored blaming Wrath of the Lich King instead of themselves.

There is not an exact science for being good at something. Some great game developers and book authors have come with little to no experience. However, I suspect the majority of good developers/authors spent a lot more time with The Hedge Knight than they did playing Aion.

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