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TEAR DOWN THE IVORY TOWER

28 Jan 2010

Rant ahead.

Over time, I've observed the opinions of a fair number of established game designers toward hobbyists and students. Anecdotally, I've seen an alarming trend of xenophobia toward those "outside the industry". It manifests in exclusive behaviors, community groups and internet forums where the key to membership is having shipped titles. As an established game designer myself, I sometimes feel like I'm being herded toward that same ivory tower.

I resist, because I think that ivory tower is shit and I don't want to be there.

Sometimes I'll get high school students, often fans of Warhawk, pinging me by email or on Twitter asking for advice on how to break into the industry, what kind of education they should pursue, where should they set their expectations, and so on. I make a point, as much as I can, of responding to their questions and giving what advice I can. And usually, after that happens, they're really surprised. "I can't believe you actually responded!" they'll say.

Game designers of the world, I'd like you to ask yourselves: why the hell do you let your fans expect you to ignore them?

Is this what you aspired to? Abstaining from shaping the future of your chosen medium because, well darn, you're just so busy going on about your heady academia in your exclusive clubs and expensive conferences and secret retreats and completely ignoring your fans except in that ephemeral aggregate known only as "units sold"?

Make no mistake: you are not the future of video games. Thefuture is the high school kids and college students and bedroom hobbyists and die-hard fans who can scarcely believe the life you lead even exists, and want nothing so badly as to just have a shot at living it for themselves. When they ask you for advice, when they ask how they can put their enthusiasm to use in service of this amazing medium, and you can't be bothered to take five minutes out of your day for even so much as a word of encouragement, you might've just turned the next superstar designer into an insurance salesman, or a banker, or a lawyer. I mean, hell, those jobs pay better, and why would somebody want to put up with an elitist prick like you every day, anyway?

What do you gain from exclusivity? Sure, I realize there are some irritating pests out there. In my experience, they're not nearly as common as you might fear, and nowhere near as disruptive to deal with, and besides, you've probably got a few inside that ivory tower with you already and you just haven't noticed yet. Do you think those aspiring designers just won't "get it"? That they're too inexperienced to understand the sage advice you'd otherwise dispense? Don't forget, you too were once naive. If you made it this far, why can't they?

These are your fans and your successors. They are the people that pay your salary now, and to whom you will one day entrust this entire medium. You have an opportunity -- even, I would argue, a responsibility -- to ensure the future success of games by aiding and encouraging those who aspire to carry the torch.

Okay, cooldown time...

I know there are some of you out there to whom this rant doesn't apply. To those who are willing to help, who'll answer questions and give advice, even if it's just your own experience "for whatever it's worth", even if it's just a few words of encouragement... thank you. You're a model for the rest.

And to be fair, I realize sometimes you get caught up in milestone crunch and the like, and the demands on your attention unfortunately lead to things like this slipping through the cracks. Nobody's perfect. I'm sure I've inadvertently blown off a fan or two myself. I hate to admit it, but it happens.

But at least try. Don't treat your fans and successors with disdain. Take pride in the idea that, by lending a bit of your experience, you might help them become some of the next titans of game design.

I'm pretty sure it's worth it. ;)

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design-essays game-design video-games