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Kev’s Slog #10

I’ve been watching several presentations from this year’s GDC conference, and some of them are extremely good.  The Game Developers Conference is about people in the video game industry talking to other developers about what they are doing, and maybe they can help others learn from their successes and mistakes.  Some of the presentations are quite informative and interesting.   I’ll try to see if any are worth commenting on in the future, but the presentations are an hour long each so they are quite time consuming.

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Some press, including Jim Sterling, recently blasted the conference for some of the presentations.  One of the worst offenders was called “Monetizing Teens in a Safe and Legal Manner.”  I will admit that looking at that title will make many people feel truly disgusted, as I think that video games are already exploiting fans enough, and now they are going after children that may not know better.

But this proves a point.  If you just read the headline and not any of the context, then you often miss the big picture.  I hate to say it, but that means that Jim Sterling jumped to conclusions and got some of his information wrong.

If you’re wondering, that GDC presentation wasn’t about monetizing teens at all.  It’s about free-to-play games that are targeting all audiences (which there are millions), and telling developers how to put in parental controls and prevent kids from unintentionally spending money.  Unfortunately, yes, many F2P games target children.  I need to emphasize that I do not approve of it.  However, I’m saying that singling out video games for criticism is very silly, because millions of products intentionally exploit children, including animated movies, breakfast cereal, toys, snack food, and fast-food restaurants.

In any case, I think that parents should be more active in their children’s lives and families should establish ground rules about phone usage.

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Alexander Bruce, the creator of Antichamber, talked about his game at the GDC conference that happened last month.  He talked about how he spent seven years working on the game.  There were a number of truly fascinating things that I learned from the hour-long presentation.

You may know that the game was originally called Hazard: The Journey of Life and it was a very deliberate and personal reason for this.  The game represented what he was going through and it’s almost an extension of himself.  Since it was called Hazard for the first four years in development, he didn’t want to change it.  But he talked to many other indie developers who told him that the title didn’t match the gameplay, and it made the game sound like a FPS game.  He then changed it after debating about it for weeks, and this was the right choice in retrospect.

I was surprised to hear that he didn’t actually write to Valve to have the game on Steam.  Instead, Valve contacted him and asked if he would use their platform, thus making his game an exclusive Steamworks title (like Civilization 5 and others).  This was in 2011, two years before he was ready to ship the game.  That’s how much they wanted his game.

Toward the end of the game development, Alexander Bruce started to lose his mind, and I’m not saying that figuratively.  The pressure of making the game was immense and he was literally breaking down.  He had been fighting so hard to get noticed and get recognized by the media and the industry.  When he was starting to get it, it only made him more depressed as all the negatives of fame came with it, such as the fear of failure.  And worse, he spent so long working on getting fame that when he got it, then it felt like he had no goal anymore.

I need to point out that he is not alone.  Davey Wredon, the developer of The Stanley Parable, mentioned the exact same thing–that fame makes you sad after a time, and it’s hard to understand unless you’ve become relatively famous.  Wredon says that he doesn’t like talking about his game anymore and wants to move on.

At the very end, Antichamber was a huge hit.  It became the #1 best selling on Steam for a time, a feat that’s very hard to do as an indie game developer.  Alexander Bruce had the three things that every person wants:  He was incredibly rich.  He was famous and respected by his peers.  He had dozens of awards across the industry.  You’d think that having the holy trinity of success would make him very happy, but it didn’t.  It broke something inside him.  He had the kind of mental breakdown that is frequently exaggerated on TV, where he would scream at himself in a mirror.  He said that it’s hard to understand because most people can’t see a downside to wealth or fame.

At the very end, he had a Q&A session.  He only answered five questions, but the shortest one was the most powerful.  “Was it worth it?”  Alexander Bruce paused for a second and gave a very interesting answer.  He said that if it was a year ago, then he would have said that he wasn’t sure.  But now that he’s gotten help and he’s doing better, then maybe it was worth it.  However, it’s unclear if Alexander Bruce will ever design another video game ever again.

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