Saturday, December 20, 2003

Playing Mogul

New York Times

All about the video game industry today, from the perspective of Bruno Bonnell, CEO of Atari. At one point the article discusses how Bonnell considers the "lesson" and "ethics" of a game before greenlighting it. I gotta say: that'll kill ya. It's not a terrible thing from a moral perspective, but you can pass up great ideas that way. And great ideas are how video game companies survive. Any company that vetoes the next Grand Theft Auto because of it's lack of ethics or a lesson isn't long for this world.

It's not that you need missions that involve killing gangsters' wives and making it look like an accident (an early Vice City mission), but you do need realism, and a lack of limits. After GTA, gamers are only going to be satisfied with games where they can do what they want. It's not that they will always do bad things, but it's fun to know that you can. So even if missions aren't structured around bad behavior, it's pretty important to make bad behavior a possibility.

Note that this argument only applies to games like GTA, it's clones, and massively multiplayer online games. Sports games, puzzle games, etc, are still insulated from some of this influence (although it creeps up in debates over things like fighting in EA's NHL games), and can survive with a sense of ethics and lessons. But since EA controls the sports market, and the market for puzzle and nintendo-like platformers is declining, most game companies will soon find themselves in the lurch if they can't compete in the realism market. And, for better or for worse, competing in the realism market requires the possibility of bad in-game behavior, and even the possibility of getting away with it.

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