Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

The Case for Game Analysts

Many people will complain about the lack of innovation in game development these days – and rightly so. How can it be that new MMOs keep on making the same mistakes that have been made a million times in the past? How can it be that there are so many people with great game design ideas out there yet all we get is Halo 34 and GTA 17?  How can it even be that someone like me can pick up a game and point out various flaws within days of release that the game’s developers apparently missed?

I’d postulate that one issue at work here is that game developers are literally among the worst people to develop games.

Alright, if that sentence sounds confusing to you, that’s because it doesn’t make any sense. Let me try to explain. Having a standard day job for 40 hours a week in combination with social responsibilities and stuff that needs doing already doesn’t leave a lot of time for gaming. Sure you can game on evenings and weekends, especially if you don’t have a family to care for, but you can never play as much as the college students, freelance web developers, and school kids of this world.

Now extend this to game developers, especially those in deciding positions. These people don’t usually have 40 hour weeks but work much longer hours. I’d assume that when people come home from 10 hours of game development their first instinct is not to sit down at their own computers and play some games that the competition made. Sure they’ll play a little here and there and maybe even have some consoles set up in their break room at work for distraction, but they simply don’t have the time to get as familiar with the gaming market as the bloggers and game reviewers on the internet.

I used to think that my ideas on game development would be trivial to someone actually working in the field (and maybe they are) but it is just now dawning on me that those people might not actually know what they are doing. There are all these game studios around the world whose employees know their own games in and out but have a very limited view on what other companies are doing in the mean time. How is the industry supposed to move forward that way?

I’d say that it would be very advantageous for game companies to employ people specifically for the job of game analyst. You need people overseeing the development process and ruthlessly pointing out parts of the game that have already been done better by other games. People who, you know, actually play a lot of games.

Scientists publish papers to let others know about their findings which in turn speeds up further research. Game designers obviously can’t really do that  due to competition, but the results of the “research” done by other companies is out there on the market in the form of their games. All it takes is people that analyze those games and extract any and all features that might be relevant to their own company’s games and present those to the actual game designers.

Now I’m not the first one to come up with this idea, I’ve even applied for a similar job not long ago. Still it seems that very few companies actually do employ analysts and give them enough power to actually influence the game development process. Most game designers start out as avid gamers, but they quickly turn into short-sighted drones because they simply don’t get the chance to look outside their own little box. That’s not those people’s fault, it’s a simple function of available game time. Game designers are doing a terrific job, but without outside assistance they are doomed to invent the wheel over and over again.

  • That seems to make sense. Maybe this calls for a new interview question, How often do you spend playing our competitors’ games? Then again, who would give the right answer: honest people who play a lot and liars who don’t play much.

  • I’d argue that the devs themselves are close enough to the problem to actually be the best people for the job, it’s the policymakers and executive chain that causes most of the problems. Devs don’t make many decisions about the game itself, oddly enough.

    Not to say you don’t have a good point, because you do, just that the management chain is a bigger impediment to good games than lack of game analysts.
    Tesh´s last blog post ..Silly Sets

  • I suppose you’re right Tesh, at least when we’re talking about AAA companies. I’m not quiet about my dislike of Darth Kotick and his ilk (and I’m aware that the issues go far deeper than public faces like him). Yet there are a lot of things being reinvented over and over again that would be extremely cheap to “steal” if only the developers knew about them.
    Executives will never get those, but maybe they could be steered into the right direction if they felt well informed. I know first hand that executives rarely accept that their developers could know more than them , yet they tend to buy analyst opinions on various matters at high prices. A professional game analyst’s word should be able to carry a lot of weight.

  • Very true. Sometimes it takes a third party to really question the status quo. That’s part of why I like being the new guy on a project in its early days.
    Tesh´s last blog post ..Silly Sets