Veteran industry executive laments changing publisher/developer relationships
Gordon Walton, in talks with GamesIndustry International, believes that publishers see developers as ”replaceable meat puppets,” and that Activision’s business strategy will end in “catastrophe”.
In the industry for 35 years and counting, recently laid off VP and executive producer for Playdom, in Austin, Gordon Walton isn’t happy with the current publisher/developer dynamic.
“Just because you made it for yourself, and your team, and they all think it’s cool, doesn’t mean a damn thing if customers don’t think it’s cool,” he said when talking about the need for consumer feedback every step of the way.
In an astonishingly candid interview with GamesIndustry International, the industry vet discussed a disparity between the old way of doing things, and a radically transitioned new method, which doesn’t place enough value on “coherent teams” of proven developers.
“A shocking thing about our business is how little attention and value is put on coherent teams,” said Walton. “At a certain level of abstraction at almost all game companies, there’s almost no appreciation at all for the team dynamic. ‘They’re just replaceable meat puppets,’ and that’s never, ever true. The value of a coherent team that knows how to work together is not on any balance sheet. So they regularly destroy really good functioning teams and then remake them with all the inherent risks that come from remaking a team. Even people who’ve advanced in the game business to the higher levels, who actually know that shit, seem to forget it. It always shocks me. If there was a Making Game Companies For Dummies book, that should be the core of it – how important coherent teams are.”
He also talks about how alienated publishers are from their consumers, claiming that ”Most of the big companies I work for think about the consumers like a faceless mass, and not about people.”
Walton placed huge value on alpha and beta preview versions of games, saying that he “always went to alpha as quickly as [he] could,” going on to explain how bias working on the project could compromise the end consumer product, without proper feedback:
“I would recruit people who were interested in the topic and I would have forty or fifty people playing my early game and giving me feedback, because you can’t see the forest for the trees when you’re making the game.”
The industry veteran also philosophically dissected the fundamental differences between high production values, and much cruder visuals, saying that in the past ”the games were more imagination and less exposition,” whilst now “it’s more exposition and less imagination.”
“It’s challenging, because people are just not as engaged if their imaginations aren’t engaged.”
In a strange comparison between The Sims 1, 2 and 3, Walton said that “[The] Sims 1 was bigger than Sims 2 and bigger than Sims 3,” despite being “the least high res,”
“It gave you iconic stuff instead of expository stuff. And you were listening to that simulation, making up what it meant in your head. You were looking at their tiny little animations and you were putting the emotion in there.”
For the full interview, head to GamesIndustry.biz to read about how Activision will end in catastrophe, and Walton’s other thoughts on the industry.