Ask the Game

My co-founder (and chief creative genius) at Kineplay, Laddie Ervin, pointed out this today and it’s awesome — it’s Double Fine’s Tim Schafer in a very funny bit on pitching his new Kinect game Once Upon a Monster.

Laddie and I have been on both sides of the table over the years. I’ve spent a little more time on the pitch side while he’s been in the decision-maker’s chair more often. We agree that Tim’s video is hilarious — and not all that different from what really happens. We’ve seen plenty of executives act like “cookie monsters” with millions of cookies at their disposal, and there is no shortage of “monster ideas” that can eat through them faster than milk can sogify ’em (in the case of Tim’s new game, it’ll be money well spent — the game looks great!).

Funding decisions, especially in traditional gaming but almost as common in non-traditional gaming, are far more random than what most people realize. Because it’s a creative business, many managers think they’re super-creative and tuned-in, but when it comes to a great game idea, their judgement is extremely hit-and-miss. Why wouldn’t it be? They spend their time managing, not making.

Likewise, developers often think they have the Next Big Game and stubbornly resist changes to their vision. Or worse, they have no vision and will do whatever it takes to get the gig. In both cases their interests aren’t going to align well with funding expectations.

What works best is when the funding monster and the maker monster agree on the initial nugget of a game idea, then hold themselves accountable to it — fill out the design by asking the game. Objectify the idea and ask it about story, art design, scale, mechanics — the exercise is subtle but important. Good fiction writers will tell you that they often see themselves as reporters who tell the story, not creators. This perspective takes the pressure off to “be creative” and especially for a complex and expensive project like a game, it provides a safety net for expression.