Thursday, December 13, 2007

American Game Designers Less Creative?

According to this story, Nick Button-Brown of EA Partners believes that European game developers are more innovative than American studios, while American developers are more focused on financial results:

"There's more creativity in Europe than there is in America," said Button-Brown, speaking exclusively to at Game Connection. "The Americans are much more refined in their processes, it's all about the money. There are less chances taken and there is more money being thrown at developers in the US."

"Taking less chances means there's less failures, but I can't see the US having ever come up with Grand Theft Auto."
Well, that's... interesting. :)

I have to agree that there's a serious bottleneck in U.S. game development when it comes to AAA games, and the name of that bottleneck is "publishers."

As the people who control the money, of course publishers get risk-averse when they're handing out $20-50 million dollars to some development studio to spend three or more years making an entertainment product. If that money came out of the dividends of your stockholders, wouldn't you be cautious in how you spent it? Wouldn't you do everything you could to try to minimize any risk of failure, even if that meant suffering from sequelitis?

But three things: firstly, just because the money people are unwilling to fund novel gameplay ideas doesn't mean that there are few U.S. developers with novel ideas. There are, I think, plenty of people with interesting new ideas for games even if those games aren't getting funded for development. Fortunately, the relatively free market nature of U.S. commercial activity enables the creation of lower-cost development and publishing opportunities as embodied in Multiverse and Metaplace. Making it easier for smaller developers to publish their work should expose more of the hidden creativity of U.S. game developers.

Secondly, even European publishers want to make their money back. So they'll tend to be risk-averse as well, and for big (read: expensive) games will favor doing whatever appears to have worked for somebody else recently, even if it's not "creative."

Finally, while it's not a trend by itself, the critical and commercial success of Valve's Portal suggests that it's premature to discount the creativity of U.S. game developers. Perhaps more importantly, the independent game development scene in the U.S. is doing quite well, rivaling the demo programming field in Europe (and perhaps more than rivaling European developers when it comes to actually releasing complete games).

On balance, I think it's a little early yet to count out U.S. developers in the international creativity sweepstakes.