Saturday, May 26, 2007

$$ and The Movies

One topic that is often discussed passionately amongst game designers is the question whether or not making money is the "main thing". A natural response is "yes" but if someone raises the following question, is it more important then making a brilliant game? Then thee is a debate.

So what do I think? I used to think that with great gameplay, or at least smart gameplay, players would always come. That doesn't seem to be so, The Movies for instance is a very notable example of this not being true. Most reviewers and industry people think that The Movies is an astonishing feat of development in general but design specifically. And despite this, The Movies didn't perform well at all and was far from a block buster.

Why is this? Ambivalent game identity and over-ambition. One of the things I am so impressed by with the movies (and many with me) is how they, from a design perspective, integrated all features into a whole, a very well functioning game. Almost every aspect of all features were cleverly integrated despite the vast amount of unusual challenges design-wise.

However, all this design magic where to be for nothing, since the game didn't sell. The fantastic game design solutions made no one happy even though they were great because the main bottom line of the game wasn't appreciated by the players.

For those of you not familiar with The movies, there are two major features in the game that are equally big. There is a tycoon game and there is a (superb) movie making tool.

Peter Molyneux once promised that "yes you are indeed going to be able to make movies and watch them within the game itself". This statement cornered the design team, the tycoon mode was absolutely necessary to have a game at all, and Peter had promised the movie making tool...

Since the designers (and whole team) where so damn good, they solved the challenges so well that both modes became equals and in effect, competed for the player's attention.

This is something you don't generally want, having your features competing against each other, but rather work in harmony/symbiosis. (I am the first to admit I only draw this conclusion after the movies proved not to be a hit)

One detail that I think stands out as a conflict between the modes is the rating of a movie within the game world. Since it's a tycoon game your movies will bring you the income, actors, sets, food trollies etc provide expense. Now there is also the movie making tool within the tycoon game, so you are free and encouraged to delve into a single movie, directing it with your bare hands and voila, some algorithm decide that it blows and the revenue is 5 bucks.

Why create real art for an algorithm to judge? Lionhead felt the same thing and rallied to enhance the movie making tool to have a stand alone community where real people would judge real art. Once again, great solution, but it further split the two modes apart.

Imagine two people discussing how to play the game.
Run a movie studio, make movies!, hire actors and manage salaries, make movies that are great, but don't earn revenue unless you have hired the right stars, placed a food trolly and provided your main star with botox, but other people might love them! But my studio will go bankrupt! Develop new scenery through R&D! Yeah.. but you don't need that since all sets are available in the sandbox so you can make cooler movies!, Yeah but that won't be real.... Who cares if the movies are cool?, I make movies for real people!, I use the same set for all movies and earn good money, well I only use the sandbox..!!

In the end, all obvious problems have been cleverly solved by the dev team so only the not so obvious problems remain.

If you haven't already, try the m

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