Thursday, October 16, 2008

Third-Person, No-Save, and Consolitis 2

Apparently matters are worse at EA than I thought.

Here are a couple of quotes from an extensive interview given by EA boss John Riccitiello to Gamasutra regarding Mirror's Edge from DICE:

... Riccitiello says that at first, the idea of a first-person game with no shooting seemed risky and made him "a little freaked out" as a concept. In a particular meeting on the title, he was "pushing the bejesus" out of the idea that the game should be a third-person title.

"I was totally convinced that game needed to be third-person and not first-person, because I wanted to see Faith," Riccitiello says. Hence the DICE-developed game’s titular mirrors. "It didn’t have mirrors in it before the meeting -- I got mirrors so you can see her."

And now that he’s seen the end result, Riccitiello admits, “I was really wrong about the third-person thing.”
This raises a bunch of questions. For example, what in the world is the CEO of EA doing pushing any particular creative decision on the people designing a game? If he's so certain that their game design judgement is completely wrong on a matter as fundamental as the game's perspective, why fund their game at all? Did he also insist that Mass Effect be third-person? Did he also insist that Dead Space be third-person? And while he's busy interfering in creative decision-making, what's not getting done at the actual CEO level of business, which is what he's presumably being paid to do?

I respect Riccitiello's willingness to admit error on a creative choice. It's good to see that he's willing to give developers a chance to show him their ideas even when they conflict with his own; it's good that he's able to decide that he was wrong about a design feature and take appropriate action; and it's good that he's ready to acknowledge that error even in a public statement.

But why is he interfering in the creative side of game design in the first place? Yes, of course that sort of thing happens all the time; Riccitiello is not alone in this. And yes, of course when you make a big financial investment you want to exercise some level of control over the product being made with that cash.

The thing is, how far should that level of control extend? Can EA tell a developer what to do? Sure -- it's their money. But "do they have the power" is not the right question -- the right question is "is it wise?" Should John Riccitiello be telling creative leads what to do, especially after recently insisting that EA was backing off from trying to tell third-party developers how to do their jobs? Why, after all that, is EA's CEO still substituting his creative design judgement for that of professional game designers? After giving money to those folks on the basis of their creative capability, is it wise to assume that their judgement is wrong? What message does that send to game designers?

Finally, if Riccitiello was wrong to substitute his creative judgement for that of the developers at DICE, and if in particular he was wrong to insist that they use third-person perspective, does that mean he could be wrong to force that perspective on other games such as Dead Space?

I would hope that this experience would teach John Riccitiello two things: first, that third-person perspective is not right for every game and he should quit pushing it, and second (and more importantly), that he needs to stop interfering with creative decision-making and trust the talented people he's paying to do that stuff.

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