Should you make games based on what the public wants, or based on something inside yourself or your company that you want to express? It’s a fundamental question that cuts right to the heart of game development, and it’s a question that Netease games and its readers took on this week with its ongoing discussion series Dispute (I wrote about a previous edition of dispute concerning copying in game development in China here).
This week’s poll put the question to gamers: what should the driving force behind game development be? The results reveal that while many games want their own desires put first, a significant amount are also happy to see games focus on what’s best for them rather than trying to cater to the whims of the gaming masses:
As with every week, the Dispute section also includes some debate from gaming insiders, but this week the most incisive comment on the site comes not from a game developer but gamers themselves. One featured comment from a 31-year-old male gamer reads:
The people who best understand how games should be played are often not the people with the most money. Nowadays many big developers are focused at every level from research to operations on how to get gamers to spend money while in the game, and how to satisfy a specific demographic of gamers that have money to dig profits out of them. Given that, there’s no way the games [produced by this system] are going to be all that great. It’s a bit like how beautiful soccer stadiums are built to the standards of rich businessmen rather than children who like playing soccer.
The soccer metaphor may be a bit off, but the point about in-game transactions being the primary focus of game development is well taken; that is a plague that we’ve noticed affects many casual games (for numerous examples, see my Weibo Game Reviews series, especially this one).
Another commenter made another salient point about the games industry in China, and in doing so also introduced a much more effective metaphor:
Satisfying players [should be] the result, not the original intention […] worldwide, more people eat at KFC and McDonalds than anywhere else, but would any of those people be willing only to eat at KFC and McDonalds for the rest of their lives? If game developers decide that as long as gamers are happy they’re happy, then the result will be that everyone sees you can make money from doing the same thing, and in the end we’ll all be playing the same fast-food games. Why is there so much nostalgia in gaming these days? Because today’s games are too weak and they only care about what players think, [companies] that just cared about making a great game like the old days are fewer and fewer.
These guys are talking about Chinese games and Chinese game developers, of course, but there are more than a few lessons in here for Western game developers and publishers as well. Although the Western games industry is probably more focused on critics’ sentiment than on player sentiment about a game (higher Metacritic scores mean higher sales) the point about revenue-focused development rather than game-focused development is a global phenomenon, and it’s good to see gamers in China calling it like it is.
(via Netease Games)