The article of the day was this incredibly insightful look into the mind of John Riccitiello, CEO of one of the biggest powerhouse gaming companies of the contemporary gaming age: Electronic Arts. Add to that equation some very powerful writing by the great Stephen Tolito, and you got a fascinating read. The article is difficult to sum up because in typical Tolito style, it touches upon so many different points. But there are a two things that stand out, and I will try to summarize those here.
The most important point in the article is that fact that most gaming CEO’s actually don’t play video games at all. That is the practical equivalent of the President of World Bank utterly disinterested in global economies and the international monetary status quo, or if Micheal Dell was actually a cyberphobe. It makes little to no sense that someone who is responsible for a gaming behemoth have such little interest in playing said games himself, like when Activision’s Bobby Kotick told a gathering of developers that he doesn’t play video games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that is like if Steve Jobs kept promoting the iPhone, but used a BlackBerry instead. It’s retarded to realize that some of the biggest minds in the industry are merely driving the companies towards financial success, and they have no actual idea of what makes a game memorable, or, at the very least, fun.
Another point was somewhat along the lines of what Gordon said a couple of days ago about returning to some of his favorite MMOs, only to find them bland, almost prehistoric by today’s standards, and in some cases plain irritating:
“It’s not just Everquest that I’ve had this experience with either. Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot were the same. I adored them when they first came out but when I briefly tried each of them again a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t get past how terrible they looked, how frustrating their UIs were and annoying the grind was.”
– Gordon, The Point Of No Returning To MMOs
Riccitiello resonates these view in his own way:
“When I played games a decade ago or 15 years ago, I was a lot more forgiving,” he told me during our interview this month. “Part of it was, if you could sort of simulate [something] in software, almost anything, it was the first time you saw it. If you could just pull off the technology and engineering, you didn’t necessarily need the same artful insight, and you certainly didn’t need the polish. A lot of it, if you remember games going back to like GoldenEye on the N64, is that we remember them as a lot better than they are.”
Stephen Tolito, The Unexpected Gamer Who Runs EA
Both viewpoints essentially cover the same debate. Video games have evolved in every facet, from gameplay, to technology, art direction, sound design, graphics and so on. The change has been so markedly drastic in the last decade, that if we were to go back to our favorite games from just ten years ago, we would be sorely disappointed because our sense of what makes a game memorable and fun and exciting has metamorphosed over the course of time.
I have one recent example. With the imminent release of StarCraft II, I decided to load up my StarCraft I Battlechest and replay the campaigns for the original game and its expansion, so I am fully in tune with the events leading up to the second game. What I found instead was a dated game with bland graphics, poor level design and cookie-cutter units with predictable gameplay. Bear in mind that the game was truly revolutionary when it first game out, so much so in fact that it is played competitively to this day. But I was turned off. After about an hour into the Terran campaign, I was typing in cheat codes to skip missions themselves just so I could relive the story without trudging through the trouble of actually playing the game.
The bottom line is that what was the norm yesterday is no longer true today. What once excited us about a game visually is no longer acceptable. If we see clipping errors or graphical glitches in a game like Crysis, which, until 15 years ago, was an unimaginable technological feat, we immediately feel turned off by the ‘lazy’ developers. We take things for granted. We nitpick. We comment on the most anal aspects of gaming, that until a few years ago, didn’t even exist. Are we being too harsh? Maybe, but that is the price of evolution.
We are at a stage in video gaming history where titles are visually richer, the stories are intricate and complicated, the gameplay is revolutionary and complex, and the bar is being perpetually raised higher. It is a time of great innovation and inevitable letdowns. And as the evolution shapes and morphs our experience and expectations, so must our criticisms evolve to better guide the ebb and flow of contemporary video game development.
Apparently almost none of the CEOs of major gaming companies actually play video games. That’s like if Gillette had kept an unkempt beard. Or the Ford didn’t know how to drive.
“Could you imagine, say running a book publisher if you didn’t read? Or running a movie studio if you don’t watch TV or go to the movies?”