This is an industry driven by creativity, by passion, and above all else by love. We are not in this for the money or for the fame, but for the singular belief that between the lines of code, the pixels on the screen, and the presses of a button, there is some deeper meaning to all of this. This meaning is why we are here. So how do we achieve the meaning in this industry? The first step is to understand that there is more to the games industry than what we have here and now. This industry doesn’t care about people or the games or even creating great entertainment. The industry today is focused on one thing and one thing only: Money. So how can an industry that is so focused on money care about what the medium can really achieve? The answer is that it can’t. We must relinquish the threads that hold us bound to the utter belief that the things that make the most money are the things that change the world. If one game can touch just one person, and make them realize some truth in themselves, it is worth it. If one game can make someone look outside and see the world in a different light, it is worth it. We cannot be in the business of making junk food games anymore. The industry cannot support another company making french fries and hamburgers. We have got to bring the world a new experience. This experience must bring people together instead of pulling them apart. We cannot afford to make more junk food. The time has come to make gourmet cuisine. The purpose of this document is to set out the core tenets that define the future of the games industry. These tenets are so fundamental to our operations that they dictate the people, the work environment, and the games we make. This document is the first spike in the ground for building a railroad. We must embrace these principles and infuse them not only into the programming, the art, and the design, but also in the way we live our lives.
1. Focus on meaningful experiences instead of “fun” experiences.
The games industry so far has been too focused on creating “fun” experiences, without realizing that the idea of “fun” is too restrictive. Think back to the last time that a book or movie changed your life. Maybe it was just a simple sentence or a phrase that resonated in your mind. Maybe it was a character that you identified so closely with that you were sure that it was you. Maybe it was a story that touched you so deeply that it made you re-evaluate your place in the world. Most people wouldn’t describe these experiences as “fun”. Meaningful experiences are created by telling stories and developing characters. How many games can you truly say have changed your life?
2. Create interactive entertainment not games.
There has been a lot of debate about whether certain interactive entertainment is a game or not. The real question that should be asked is “Is this entertaining or not?” If something is entertaining, it does not matter whether it is considered a game or not. Even the most successful PC game of all time, The Sims, has been described by its creator, Will Wright, as simply a toy. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether interactive entertainment is considered a toy, an interactive movie, or a game. What matters is that it provides a quality form of entertainment for people.
3. Gameplay and technology must serve to tell the story.
The games industry, up to this point, has focused so heavily on gameplay and technology as a justification for themselves. No other form of entertainment relies so heavily on the medium that it is built on. Imagine if the core entertainment from a book was the paper that it was printed on or the grammar used in the sentences. Imagine if the core entertainment from a movie was the film that it was filmed on and the playback device. This is the current state of the games industry. Stories in games have always been added in order to show off the gameplay and technology. It is no longer possible to make games where story takes a backseat to gameplay and technology. Everything about the gameplay and technology must serve to tell the story. With books, the grammar and paper facilitate telling a story. With movies, the film and the projector facilitate telling a story. Games are a new medium, but they must conform to the same principles as other entertainment mediums.
4. Favor telling one good story instead of multiple average stories.
It is better to be good at one thing than be average at everything. In the same way, one memorable story will stick with a person for the rest of their lives, but one hundred average stories will be easily forgotten. It is clear that we must focus on quality instead of quantity. There is too much emphasis on nonlinear storytelling in games, but nonlinearity often hinders the creation of a more meaningful experience. Allowing for nonlinearity automatically allows for the possibility that some players will have suboptimal experiences. In most cases, even the optimal experience comes a distant second to a decent linear story. Good stories need to be crafted and well conceived. Events in the story must happen for a reason, and the choices that characters make must help to define the character. Imagine if, in the movie Titanic, the main character Jack decided to save himself instead of Rose. It may still have been a great story, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good of a story as it was with its original ending.
5. Create the illusion of choice instead of providing actual choice.
The best way to present a linear story in a nonlinear way is to give the player the illusion of choice. To do this, certain choices must be so compelling that the player does not want to make any other choice. The game must take an active role in directing the player down a path. Just like a movie director controls what the audience sees in the film, the game designer must control what the player chooses in a game. This is an integral part of crafting the story and the experience. Providing the illusion of choice allows for the player to feel in control of the experience while still ensuring that the experience is the optimal one. Replayability should be provided through the desire to relive a meaningful experience instead of through the creation of more options. People reread books and rewatch movies precisely for this reason.
6. Appeal to niche audiences instead of the mainstream.
Appealing to the mainstream market often leads to a diluted product that appeals to no one. The current mainstream market in the games industry is the teenage male. As the games industry matures, more of the market will shift away from this mainstream market. We cannot afford to ignore these niche markets because they will soon become more important to the games industry than the mainstream. The key markets that are emerging are: women, young kids, seniors, minorities. It is imperative that these markets be addressed by the games industry. While there will always be the mainstream audience, niche audiences have more room to grow and provide a less competitive space for expansion. In order to appeal to these niche audiences, new distribution methods will need to be explored in order to reach the target demographic.
7. Create “emotive” gameplay instead of “active” gameplay.
Gameplay in games often focuses on “active” experiences. For example, shooting all of the enemies in a room or scoring a goal in soccer. Active experiences almost inevitably appeal at some level to a fight or flight mechanism found in nature. The problem is that the emotional value of such experiences is often not recognized. Instead of focusing on the action, games need to focus on the emotions that they invoke in their players. A shift in design processes must occur. Games have only touched the surface of the human emotional spectrum. If games were a genre of movie, they would all fall into only a few categories such as action and horror. In contrast, movies and books cover many other genres such as romance, comedy, drama, and tragedy. These untapped genres represent different emotional dimensions. The games industry needs to realize that there are many more emotions to explore than just action.
8. Generate value, not money.
It is essential that the games industry generates value instead of money. Money will come to companies that generate value. On the other hand, companies which focus solely on generating money will find that the value of their product will degenerate over time. This phenomenon occurs in all mediums, but it is especially prominent in the games industry where licenses and sequels have become the standard, and original IP has become the exception. Any company that does not continue to focus on generating value is setting up a bubble that is bound to burst.
9. Construct a common shared experience.
Games must serve to bring people together instead of pulling them apart. Whether a game does this or not is independent of whether it is massively multiplayer or single player. A single player game can serve to bring people together by creating a common experience that people can discuss with other people. On the other hand, a massively multiplayer game can serve to isolate people from each other due to the fact that people who would normally meet in real life only meet virtually online instead. Games should not discourage real life interaction; they must encourage it. For example, movies are a very individual experience, yet they still facilitate a common shared experience. Games must strive to provide this extra level of interaction beyond the game itself.
10. Innovative themes create innovative interactions.
In order to attract the niche audiences, the games industry will need to explore new and innovative themes. By exploring new themes, even old gameplay mechanics can be totally different. For example, pressing a button to shoot a monster is the same mechanic as pressing a button to flip a burger. By placing the button press in a different context, new meaning can be mapped onto the button press and a completely different experience can be achieved. Thus, even if innovative mechanics are not created, the creation of innovative themes can justify the use of an existing mechanic. The games industry relies heavily on themes of fantasy, war, and sports. There is much more room for exploring themes beyond these.
The games industry is still young and has a lot of room to improve. The current state of the industry is similar to where the movie industry was in its early years. Right now games emphasize what is new and different about the medium while ignoring the very real potential that they possess. People are still impressed with new graphics and basic interactivity. Similarly, the early days of movies emphasized motion above all else. In order to reach the next plateau, the games industry will have to mature beyond the spectacle. It is clear that we are on the threshold of a major change in the industry, but without a strong push, the industry may stagnate. More than anything, it is essential that we foster the creativity, passion, and love that drive this industry. This is what makes the games industry great. This is what makes the games industry worth working for and worth fighting for.