Gender in Gaming 1: What Do We Want to See?

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about how we need to have a discussion about gender in gaming:* how men and women are portrayed, and why that might matter. It’s a nice idea, but frankly, I haven’t been seeing much discussion; I’ve been seeing multiple opposing camps that talk past each other (when not going for each other’s throats outright). Maybe I’ve just been hanging out in all the wrong places online, but if thoughtful, meaningful discussion on this topic is taking place, I haven’t been lucky enough to run across it.**

So my plan here, with this series of posts,  is to attempt to have that discussion…or at least a small part of it. I don’t want it to be adversarial; there’s no “versus” anywhere. For what it’s worth, I’m also coming into it with an open mind, because I have to; I honestly don’t know yet the full extent of the differences between male and female portrayals in games as a whole, why those differences exist, how much they matter (and to whom), and what any of this means, if anything, the moment we turn off the game. One of my hopes in writing this is that I can puzzle out answers to some of those questions for myself.

I would really like to get into some factual, nuts-and-bolts stuff, like how different consoles and console generations compare in terms of gender representation; I can only hope the math doesn’t get too annoying (yeah I’m playing into the stereotype that girls don’t like math, but I actually don’t like math so DEAL WITH IT OKAY?!), but I want to start with a simple question: What do we want from gender portrayal in video games?

The knee-jerk answer is “equality!”, but I wonder; what does that even mean? Does that require male and female characters to be portrayed as completely the same in all games? Does that require the exact same number of males and females in different roles such as main character, helpful NPC, hostile NPC, etc.? Should the LGBT population be represented in exactly the same proportions as the real world– even in worlds that aren’t our world, but instead take place where everyone is magenta and also a dinosaur? What if the game characters aren’t even people with discernible genders– do they count?

Furthermore, how would we enforce this equality? Quotas? Appeals to conscience? A tax on every male character in excess of 50% of a game’s population– the proceeds of which will go to fund a mandatory week at Gender Sensitivity Boot Camp for grumpy FPS developers?

Obviously, equality is nice as a general, hazy sort of goal, but it’s not any kind of plan; it’s not a call to action. We’re going to have to puzzle this out the hard way. Fortunately, at least for me, this involves dungeon-crawling.

His and Her Dungeoneering

What do I have to do to get this game on PSN? What? WHAT?
What do I have to do to get this game on PSN? What? WHAT?

To illustrate some of the problems inherent in defining what we even want from game gender roles, I’m going to use a semi-obscure game: Ehrgeiz, from 1998. There are probably many better-known titles that I could use here, but I have a personal reason for choosing this game. Playing it was the first time I remember being consciously aware of men and women being portrayed differently in video games.

For those unfamiliar with it, Ehrgeiz was a fighting game for the PSOne whose claim to fame was allowing you to play as Final Fantasy VII characters during the height of that game’s popularity. Beating up Sephiroth with Tifa was fun, but once that novelty wore off, I discovered another part of the game: “Quest Mode,” a random dungeon game that was also included on the disc for some inexplicable reason. Incongruous or not, I enjoyed that mode far more than the main game, and the dozens of hours I spent with it sparked a lifelong love of the dungeon-crawling genre.

In Quest Mode, you could play as two characters: Koji and Clair. There was virtually zero story or characterization, so the only real difference between the two characters was how they played. Koji had superior physical strength, so he could wield the heaviest two-handed weapons; Clair’s dainty hands were better suited to magical rods, and her magic usage was more efficient than Koji’s when using one.

Look at those manly arms! He could strangle a bear with those.
Look at those manly arms! He could strangle a bear with those.

Now, on the one hand, that’s a classic gender stereotype: man is strong and dominates with a big weapon, woman is lithe and crafty.*** However, is that such a bad thing? After all, it’s a fact that men are, on average, stronger than women; more likely to be able to handle a huge sword. Is it wrong that the game reflects that? Granted, I wouldn’t like it if every game relegated women to the magic role (and I would have missed out on the chance to play as so many of my favorite characters!), but Ehrgeiz is just one game; a game that chooses to reflect some of the realistic physical differences that would exist between Koji, a fairly muscular man, and Clair, a slender girl who lacks big muscles.

Clair is quite fit, but I'd put slightly less money on her in the bear-wrestling pool.
Clair is quite fit, but I’d put slightly less money on her in the bear-wrestling pool.

Perhaps it would have been preferable to give players a choice: let us play as either Koji or Clair, with both able to choose either the physical or magical specialty; that way, no one is restricted in what they can do and everyone’s happy, right? Strictly in terms of giving the player options, that route would be superior but…are more options always a good thing?

Now it Gets All Complicated

Often, game characters are defined by their limitations; this was especially true when games had very limited stories (thus the characters were defined by gameplay mechanics rather than dialogue or cinematics), but is still true even today. As it stands, the characters inEhrgeiz are a little closer to being defined characters; you can kind of imagine Koji, the loveable guy who knows what to do with the business end of a massive sword but is a bit out of his element with magic, as opposed to Clair, who makes up for her lack of physical strength with superior skill. Take that away from them, and they essentially have nothing; they’re just character designs that you can slap abilities on.

(At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I think this is one of the reasons why I was a huge fan of Diablo II but couldn’t get that into Diablo III. In Diablo II, the Amazon, Necromancer and Sorceress felt like defined characters that you were inhabiting; in Diablo III, you get a character template that you can customize as male or female. That said, I know the addition of gender preference to that series was widely lauded as a positive thing, so I’m hardly throwing the later game under the bus; just pointing out that sometimes, some players prefer playing a more defined character rather than a make-your-own.)

So, all that said: is gender difference as portrayed in Ehrgeiz– as an actual difference in physical ability– something we can accept in games going forward? It may seem limiting, but it’s consistent with reality; many players prefer that kind of gender difference, rather than having a girl toon that looks like she weighs about 80 lbs. handle a greatsword as well as a huge knight. Of course, in the world of videogames height and weight don’t really matter since it’s all make-believe, so should we strive for making men and women physically equal in all representations? However, doesn’t taking away characters limitations make them seem less like characters, and more like soulless templates? Even if it’s more empowering to see the small girl handling the greatsword with ease, does it break the immersion factor for certain types of games– and is that even a real concern?

It doesn’t really matter in the case of Ehrgeiz in particular; the game came out 16 years ago, and as much as I’d like a sequel, I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed (and thanks a lot, Square Enix).  What matters are the questions I posed above: sure, we want equality, but do we want equality at the expense of realism? Or perhaps equality at the expense of realism is what this particular medium lends itself to, more than anything else?

And if we do think that the “Koji is stronger than Clair” model of gender representation is acceptable in our games going forward, how often is it acceptable? After all, some women are stronger than some men in real life; there are exceptions to every rule. If, let’s say, 50% of games followed the “Koji is stronger than Clair” model, is that too much? Too little?

Back to back, Clair readies her womanly magic while Koji contemplates the fact that he will never know the joy of giving birth.
Back to back, Clair readies her womanly magic while Koji contemplates the fact that he will never know the joy of giving birth.

Of course, I don’t have the answers; I know that I personally have never had a problem withEhrgeiz, “sexist” as it may be, but I can understand why others might. I’m curious what you all think: is it sexist to have a preference for character portrayals that reflect reality in terms of the physical differences between men and women– not just in terms of strength as in this one example, but in other areas as well? Or are the differences between the sexes too nebulous, too controversial, to make “reflecting reality” in video game genders any kind of reasonable goal?

To me, real-life gender difference is really the elephant in the room when talking about gender difference in video games. I don’t think we’re ever going to come to a perfect consensus of opinion on how much actual biology (and all of its many nuances and exceptions) should mold our fictional characters, but I think that talking about it will help us get a clearer picture of where we currently are with gender representation in games, and where we might want to go.

Please feel free to respond in the comments, even if you just want to yell at me for beating up Sephiroth all those times in lieu of proper therapy. Next time, we’ll look at some of the inherent problems in trying to collect data on this topic– by which I mean video game gender representation, not beating up Sephiroth; I had zero problems collecting copious amounts of data there.

*For the purposes of this post, I’m going to be talking about men and women as the sole genders available, since that’s true for the grand majority of people. I know that people who identify as neither exist, and while I recognize they have another perspective here, that’s beyond the scope of this particular installment.

**That said, if you do know of a place online where a good discussion is taking place, feel free to let me know. I’d love to see a discussion that isn’t just dogma-slinging back and forth.

***Actually the whole “men do swords, women do magic” idea is very interesting in and of itself, but I’ll come back to that in another installment.

14 thoughts on “Gender in Gaming 1: What Do We Want to See?”

    1. Yeah, it’s a shame you couldn’t play as Yoko in quest mode. Imagine ripping through all those alligators with her YoYo of Doom:).

      Actually what would have caused me to completely flip out would be if you could have played as Tifa in Quest Mode. *hearts for eyes*

  1. Great start to what promises to be an interesting series of posts. Looking forward to the rest!

    Oh, and I loved Ehrgeiz’s Quest mode too. You’re one of the only people I’ve come across who remembers it at all. I was beginning to think I’d made it up.

    1. Oh thank god I’m not the only one who was into it, lol. I should do an LP of that game sometime– it would be the dullest LP ever, but hey, at least two people would probably enjoy it:).

      I played the hell out of that game, even figured out how to exploit the “religion” system to build superweapons, which is so totally not worth the effort but made me feel awesome nonetheless, lol. Good times!

      Next post coming soon, going to look into what actual research there is, so far, on gender representation in games– honestly not sure what I’m going to find.

  2. I’m a bit late to the party, feels like it’s been forever since I’ve had time to sit down and read blogs, but now that I have some time I’m finally catching up. I’m glad to see that you are writing this series. I think you make a good point of how fictional characters are defined by their weaknesses. It’s what makes them interesting.

    For my own part too much realism is something I rarely want in my fiction, I much prefer irony, exaggeration and sentiment at the expense of realism just as a matter of personal taste. That said, I think the question of should fiction be realistic or not totally depends on the tone of any given story. A grim dark tale of conquest in the medieval ages probably isn’t the place for a little girl in all pink to show up and start smashing everyone with a giant hammer. If that kind of thing happens(and does it ever love to happen in anime) it completely changes the tone of the story. Maybe that is okay, but if the author wants to tell a more realistic tale that is obviously going to ruin his vision. I don’t even necessarily value the creative vision of any given creator even for fiction I like, but I think they should be entitled to it. I’m curious to see how Rage of Bahamut will play out because it sounds like it will be trying to manage something like that.(I’m expecting it to be awful, but would love to be wrong)

    Even stories that rely on exaggeration and irony still have gender representation problems, but I find they are better defined as internal consistency issues. Specially it becomes a problem when gender stereotypes are enforced based off real life when real life gender differences clearly have nothing to do with the story. I can’t think of a good example off the top of my head. Probably because that is the sort of thing I’ll drop a story for doing in any kind of obvious way.

    Lets say Senran Kagura were to add a badass male ninja to the roster that doesn’t get his clothing shredded and is for no good reason much stronger than everyone else. I would have a major problem with that. The mythos of Senran favors women being stronger. If they did that the experience would be ruined for me not because of a lack of realism, but because realism doesn’t fit. That is kind of an extreme example, but I see it as a real problem. Senran actually did the opposite, they added a male character, his clothing does shred and they made a point of making him the weakest character in the series. Some people might find that sexist against men, but I’m totally cool with that kind of depiction. It makes sense in a Senran Kagura kind of way.

    I guess for me the question becomes this: When is realism inappropriate? I think it depends on the tone, but that isn’t a very meaningful answer. Tone can change at the drop of dime and change back just as quickly. Even if we can somehow quantify tone there are no hard and fast rules about how to use it. Personally I never really have a problem with how a character is being depicted as long as it makes sense in universe. It’s when it stops making sense in universe that the fiction breaks and it seems like it becomes a more transparent statement about the author and what he/she might believe. I say “might” and “seems” because it could also just be bad writing or even a bad editor. Because of that the question is trumped for me because the fiction already broke. It’s like a plumber getting mad at a clogged pipe that is shattered in several other places. The water is leaking out somewhere else so the clogged bit doesn’t really matter, the whole thing needs to be replaced. What does it look like when the pipe isn’t shattered? I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that or if it can even happen.

  3. I want to respond to this epic comment, but all I’ve got right now is “yup.” Karen/Lifesong quasi-echo-chamber continues:)

  4. This is looking to be a very interesting series.

    I’m also curious about how much truth there is to how people perceive gender in games. The industry says that someone like me (A male between the ages of 18 and 35) doesn’t like playing as a female character. But truth be told, I’m completely indifferent to it. As I’m rather indifferent to gender as a whole, because I would love to think that these so-called “gender roles” are bullshit.

    I know there are guys who embrace more traditionally feminine traits and girls who embrace more traditionally masculine traits (in my own life, I’ve seen more of the former, but I’d like to think the latter exists). Personally, I don’t like labeling or categorizing things like that. People are just people, just sacks of meat with varying structures. I couldn’t give a damn *what* you are, I only care about *who* you are.

    I wish more people had my mindset. Society at large seems too concerned (even obsessed) with superficial things like “what you are” and “what you can do”. I try my best not to categorize people, and only address them by labels when they’ve made it clear that they prefer to be identified as such.

    Even in this gaming debate, people seem too concerned with superficial things, like revealing outfits or “roles” in a game. Being a “damsel” is only bad if that’s literally all they are. I’ve seen plenty of stories make that role and that dynamic more interesting by changing it up or adding layers of actual character depth to it. Tropes are, of course, just tools. Tools are never inherently bad, it’s just how you use them.

    There are no bad ideas, only bad executions.

    If you argue about characters simply by their tropes and their “roles”, then YOU are the one de-humanizing them. Far more than the developers could have ever done.

    But I think what really gets me is this demand that the industry change. That companies willingly do things that against their interests and force developer hands because of the whims of some butthurt SJWs.

    Here’s an idea. Why don’t they make their own games the way they want? Or buy games they feel support their… idk… their “causes” or whatever. Publishers say there’s no money to be made in catering to these people, and I’m willing to trust their expertise. If you disagree, why not prove them wrong?

    I find it so hypocritical that these so-called “empowered women” are demanding that men solve their problems for them. Companies have no obligation to do things that are against their interests and may lead to their financial downfall. If they don’t see it as a priority, then MAKE it a priority for them… with your wallet.

    I know I’m just ranting at this point, but fuck it, it’s 2AM and I’ll do what I want.

  5. Well, I do think there’s some ground to be critical of publishers. Sometimes I think the pubs make up their minds that there’s no money in something based on their last round of surveys or focus groups or what have you, then say no to games that many gamers really do want. Then when someone takes a risk and the “niche” game sells, then they’re all “oh, the data showed otherwise, d’oh things must have changed.” I’m not a big survival horror fan, but I know there’s a very vocal contingent of SH fans who want more SH games, but the pubs and devs seem to have decided that only action-oriented horror games will sell. Then when a good SH game does sell, it’s treated as some anomaly, as opposed to proof that there actually is money in creating games for that market. I don’t know a whole lot about it, so maybe I’m mischaracterizing here, but there seem to be more than a few instances of this sort of thing.

    Of course, there’s a difference between leveling reasonable criticism at the games industry for arguably failing to notice valid, underserved markets, versus demanding “you have to make games for [X] demographic or else you are horrible bigots who encourage rape culture and DESERVE TO DIE,” and too much of the criticism we see lately seems to fall into that latter category.

    I find the “Why don’t you just make/support the games you want?” argument really interesting, because that’s a kind of argument that everyone seems to pick up periodically and drop like a hot potato the second it inconveniences them. When you tell the radical feminist critics of games to make their own games rather than force others to create for them, they complain that you’re censoring their right to criticize existing games, and forcing them to take on a responsibility that isn’t theirs; so, presumably, they’re against that argument. However, in response to GamerGate, I’ve seen a lot of feminists say things akin to “If you don’t like the feminist spin of the major gaming news sites, why don’t you just make your own gaming sites?”….as if they don’t utterly condemn that argument when applied to them. I have to wonder if it’s completely different people making these arguments, or the same people with really short memories.

    Ultimately I think more and more true diversity will come about as more and more people take advantage of the increasing number of tools available to make games from the heart, but it’s not going to be on any kind of linear, easily measurable curve like culture critics seem to want. It’s going to be uneven, it’s going to favor certain kinds of representation over others, and it may result in some terrible games, because it’s not going to be a unilaterally positive process. But the people who are going to do it are going to be the people who are making games because they want to; not because they want games to be “better” but aren’t really interested in making them. Those people, sadly, will probably never be happy.

    Anyway, I have rambled in response to your ramble, lol– except it’s not 2AM here, so unlike you I have no excuse:)

    1. Yes, the AAA industry has a long history of blatantly ignoring demand that’s right in front of them.

      But that’s an easy observation to make from the outside. We’re not the ones who have to take the risk, so it’s easy to tell other people to do so. It’s easy to look at ALL THIS DEMAND (from our perspective) and think “wow, this is sooooooo much demand, why aren’t they doing this FUCKING YESTERDAY!?!”. But I think a lot of the time, people create echo chambers (especially online) and think that they represent something bigger than they actually do.

      If there’s one thing I trust business to do, it’s do whatever they can to make money. If there really was sizable demand, I don’t think any businessman worth his salt would just ignore it if there was anything he could do about it. Of course, you also have to realize that most higher-ups in the gaming industry know very little about gaming, and have more experience in the “packaged goods” market than the “entertainment industry”.

      So I think that, as with most things, you really need to put yourself in the shoes of an executive of a large company before criticizing them. If they take a big risk and it tanks, that could mean the failure of the company in some cases. That could mean hundreds of people jobless and broke, all because someone wanted a game’s protagonist to be a black, female, ginger, wheelchair-bound, rape-victim with 3 kids to feed or something.

      I can’t always blame executives for wanting to take a safer route when they can. They have responsibilities to both the stockholders that keep them afloat and the people who work under them. If I had so much responsibility, I’d be wary of such risks too.

      SJWs are sad hypocritical meatsacks who will find any reason to never be satisfied with anyone else and continually push everyone but themselves away with their radical and unattainable ideals. Personally I hope they all die alone and painfully aware of how wrong they were.

    2. I’ve been thinking this for a long time, but honestly I question if the demand for big publishers to make the right niche games is just entirely ridiculous. At the end of the day that is what the complaints often boil down to. Players don’t just want their niche game, they want them to be the big production hit everyone is playing.(because then all other games will copy it and it will dominate the market and everyone will become feminist etc etc insert other silly fantasies here) I feel somewhat confident in that because of the rise of indie game development and game development through crowd sourcing. In the day and age where I can find a rhythm game that lets me dungeon crawl to the beat I’m just not willing to believe that no one is listening to the demands of niche gamers.

      I come from a position where 95% of the games I play are niche games, either indie western games or niche Japanese titles. You brought up the survival horror genre. I don’t like those kinds of games and I think we both know that big publishers aren’t making them in any kind of abundance and even when they do they are action games. That said, a few of my friends love those kinds of games and have been trying to get me to play a set of indie horror survival games for a few years now, they do exist and they exist in the form my friends want. In terms of games I do like we have seen the revival of the adventure genre with Dreamfall Chapters and then with the kind of hardcore RPG I’ve been wanting to see in a modern form we have Project Eternity which raised like… I want to say nearly 4 million? If not more than that after it’s Kickstarter ended. I’ve also seen the rise of western VNs becoming a thing, not a big thing, but a thing. Japanese visual novels are also becoming more and more popular. In the last few years I’ve seen big titles licensed for western release that I thought would never be brought over legally if at all.

      Honestly I’m inclined to think this all boils down to two issues. Marketing and realism. First of all I don’t think many people actually want a feminist game and that needs to be stated before I give them the benefit of the doubt and say well maybe a few people really do… But we have a major problem with “feminist game” What the hell does that even mean? Is it like a Christian game? Instead of shooting Nazis you go around putting animals to sleep on Noah’s arc? (this really happened) Publishers can’t make an ambiguous game. It’s actually probably impossible for a high production feminist game to happen without someone first making a feminist game in the first place. The demand of make your own game becomes a lot more reasonable when we look at it like that.

      We have seen feminists attacking gaming for years now and they have yet to champion… anything. Is there a single game feminists in gaming media are actually happy with? They even attacked Mass Effect and called that sexist and other things. Part of the problem is that their demands are unrealistic. Anita literally had a problem with Mass Effect because male Sheppard is the more popular character choice. If Mass Effect isn’t good enough then I’m forced to the conclusion that these feminists need to develop their own game or it will simply never happen. (I say that as someone who refused to play Mass Effect as male Sheppard because I hated his acting)

      The other side of things is marketing. Niche gamers tend to have very specific demands for their games. Making them a part of the creative process has solved two major problems. One being that developers often can’t seem to figure out how to make the games those gamers want on their own. The other being that crowd sourcing and getting players involved in development is amazing advertisement. Dreamfall Chapters and Project Eternity have been successful not just because their fans are generous, but because their marketing campaign through crowd sourcing was a smash hit.

      Meanwhile feminists are busy shouting at Mass Effect for not getting things right. They have produced nothing, The genre of “feminist game”doesn’t even exist. Demanding that publishers make something that doesn’t exist is unrealistic. Even more unrealistic than demanding that niche games be made. Pointing out tropes in existing games does nothing to fix this problem. Feminist gaming is not even a niche yet. On the flip side niche gaming is healthier than it’s been in many years. Feminists could use the same tools to create their own audience and build their own influence, but they don’t. Part of the problem is probably that they don’t really have a niche audience in the first place. Or rather their audience is built around whining about games, not playing them.

      Good luck making a game for an audience that is built around being destructive. It’s important to note that existing game genres are built on concepts and tropes. Simply killing those tropes isn’t an intelligent option. Leave aside the fact that many gamers would be upset if their favorite things vanished from gaming. The way both games and storytelling works is one that is built on exceeding the expectations of their audience. Removing things people have learned to expect from an existing genre is not only dangerous to the reception of the title, but it’s also capable of ruining the experience game developers are trying to create. All of that is to say that if you remove a trope it has to be replaced with something else. If you remove vulnerable characters from your storytelling you are severally limiting the flexibility of your storytelling. The natural way to make this happen in a way that meets(some) feminist demands would be to remove all women and children from games. Unless a game dev wants to create a game where you play as an all powerful feminist marry sue there are feminists demands that are not being met. I could sit here all day listing practical problems with feminists complaints against gaming. Anita in particular clearly has no idea how to make a quality game.

      Okay, done ranting. Back to watching anime and stuff…

      1. I see your point about major companies having little real incentive to make niche games if the audience isn’t huge, but…I think I just mistrust their judgment. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve been watching a major, billion-dollar company pretty much implode from stupidity for years now (I honestly shouldn’t go into detail about it), but I don’t trust their ability to judge the market.

        To put it another way, if a niche is really small and not likely to be profitable, then no; a major games publisher has no reason to expend resources to provide something within that niche. But I think in many cases, these niches are eminently profitable (since there are so many millions of gamers, just a small piece of that pie is still pretty significant), but that gets ignored because it’s so much easier to focus on the “AAA games with muscley-shooter types sell the best,” angle. Which would probably be okay, from a business perspective, if they didn’t then have to expect every single one of those games to make a ridiculous amount of profit to cover the ballooning development costs, which of course can’t happen.

        I admit though, I’m just going with my own judgment here; I don’t work in the game industry, and even if I did, I don’t follow the sales numbers closely. So I could be totally wrong, but my gut feeling is that the major players in the industry are often out of their depth in terms of how to best exploit the market. *shrug*

        1. I think you are right to some degree and that major AAA game companies don’t know how to best exploit their market. Even when they do we have companies like Bioware who successfully release games the vocal majority of their fanbase ultimately hates. I think there is more at stake than being unaware of what gamers want. For one there is a big difference between AAA game producers and the devs that work for them. It seems to me like it’s a fairly regular and consistent thing for talented devs to leave their huge AAA game publishers behind.

          Some notable examples of game companies from talent leaving: Arena Net, Riot Games, Bungie, Infinity Ward, Double Fine, Mistwalker, Red Thread Games and Lionhead Studios all split off from the big money that originally backed them. That list is off the top of my head, if I were to put some work into it I think the list would probably be this huge mess of a thing.

          I think that in a real way the talent in the gaming industry is constantly leaving the AAA publishers behind. Sure some of them just move on to different publishers, but with new demands and such. With that kind of a market place talented devs make for a poor investment. Many other cases the big companies are being bought up by even bigger companies, but the people who brought us the games we loved already don’t work there anymore. That makes me wonder if those companies even have the talent they need to make the more niche games we want. Maybe that is an awful thing to say, but if we can agree they are out of touch it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to me.

          We have game devs like Bungie going off to make their own creative project. They have major AAA funding and illustrate the difficulty of creating something new in AAA space. I just watched the honest trailer for Destiny this morning and silly as it is the trailer illustrates just how hard it is to make a modern high budget game. And I mean… These are the talented devs who know what they are doing and what their audience wants right? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUIvhQPPCRg

          Meanwhile I’ve been playing Terra Battles on my phone. It’s a more polished game with some of the best boss encounters I’ve seen in years and it’s a mobile touch game that otherwise uses assets that could have been created ten to fifteen years ago and… I love it for that! Sure there is the question of well why didn’t they make this into an awesome high budget game instead? And I’m left with the question of well… Why would they? It’s already a great game that probably cost very little to make. They actually are continuing to develop it. On the flip side why would someone even try to compete with Terra Battles when they can work on AAA titles? If the playing field is even then Mistwalker has such a huge talent advantage it isn’t even funny.(If you don’t know it’s the company of the guy who created the Final Fantasy series) I’m not sure what amount this effects their choices, but it seems like it’s an important question to me.

          AAA publishing companies have little to gain by trying to compete with the market their talented devs left them to work on. And if the talented devs can’t make it in that field the big publishers will take that as a sign to stay away. On the other hand the smaller companies don’t have a good reason to try and compete with the AAA publishers either.

          I imagine most of the people who get into making games do it because they love games and have some idea of what they want to make. More and more the internet has created an enviroment where it’s really easy to find and communicate with talented people. This all might sound kind of silly, but I’m just putting two and two together and guessing that has probably had a negative effect on AAA publishers to make awesome games. It’s the type of industry I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t passionate about gaming to some degree would want to get into. If these passionate, talented people can make better games without a huge budget doesn’t that create a whole new practical problem for the industry people trying to make high budget games?

          Personally I think we are just stuck in some kind of weird limbo at the moment and things will get sorted eventually. Gaming publishers will get better at knowing which projects to back and independent companies will grow into a position where they have the ability to make higher budget products.

          I’m not sure about any of this stuff either and really I’m just guessing. I think that if I were a game dev I wouldn’t want to try and make a big AAA title game. Pushing that envelope seems like more trouble than it’s worth. More money to get more things done also means more points of failure and less control over the project. Keep that in mind it’s not surprising to me that the really great, polished creative projects are all outside AAA space. It’s weird to think of this way, but some of the smaller dev groups may actually have an advantage. If we consider games to be art then well… That advantage becomes fairly obvious I think.

          1. Dude, you need to get your own blog going ASAP. My poor lil’ blog CANNOT CONTAIN YOU!

            Lol, anyway I agree that we seem to be in a weird sort of transitory phase right now, and it should be interesting to see where things go. To be honest, I haven’t kept that up to date with indie games (other than the RPG Maker community to some extent), but that’s going to have to change. Whether I end up logging a lot of playtime on them or not, I want to see how these games develop over the next couple of years.

            What would be interesting to me would be if we had another gaming “crash” (which would of course make everyone freak that it was 1983 all over again), but instead of the bottom falling out of the entire industry, it would just mark the exodus of bloated-budget AAA games as the rulers of all the land.

        2. It will be interesting to see how things develop in the next few years between kickstarter and gamergate and anything else that might be going on that is tangibly related to gaming.

          Yeah… I swear these comments always start as a short simple idea. Then I read them when I’m done and wonder where all the text came from. >_> My new blog is essentially setup. I just need to think up something fun to launch it off with. I refuse to let my first post be something super serious which is all I seem to be able to think about lately.

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