Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

Too Short

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

A number of reviews recently declared Limbo Too Short. Too Short?  What does that mean?  Before World of Goo was released, every other press inquiry asked either how long the game is or how many levels it had.  The motivation behind those questions is as difficult for me to understand as the Too Short judgement against Limbo.

One possibility is that people are so use to asking and talking about how long a game is, that the notion is now simply embedded in our conciousness with nobody thinking to question its usefuless, much less its harmfulness as a metric by which we measure games.

But let’s ignore that for a moment and take the question of length at face value. If I say a game is too short, what do I actually mean to say?  Maybe I mean “I loved this game so much I wish there was more of it”, or “I was disappointed because I felt like it was building up to something that never came”, or even “I’m disappointed that I paid for a game I didn’t enjoy.”

I certainly didn’t mean to say “This game lasted 4 hours and I paid $20 for it, so that’s $5 an hour, which is too much” because this doesn’t take the quality of the experience of playing the game into account.  If my experience of the game was lackluster, playing it is a waste of my time regardless of whether it cost $1/hr or $10/hr.  On the other end of that spectrum, Portal would have been a worthwhile experience for me even at $100.

Saying Too Short is like using words like Should, Good, Bad, etc.  These are lazy words.  Socially acceptable shortcuts that allow people to speak superficially about what they really think and feel.  Using lazy words is not a big deal in casual conversation, or if you’re speaking with someone who knows you well enough to understand what’s behind the shortcut.  But if you write about games for a living you should not take these shortcuts you do your readers an injustice by seeding their mind with a negative predisposition that reflects your laziness instead of helping the reader learn about your experience of the game.

If you’d like to read more opinions about this subject, check out what our friends had to say about it:

Jonathan Blow of Number None

Chris DeLeon of HobbyGameDev

Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games

Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret Games

Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games

Cliff Harris of Positech Games

Chris Hecker of Spy Party

Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games

Noel Llopis

Peter Jones of Retro Affect

Lau Korsgaard of Copenhagen Game Collective

Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules

Greg Wohlwend of Intution Games

Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire

Alex Amsel of Tuna Tech

Michael Todd

The 8lb Gorilla Paradox

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

8lbEA just announced the formation of a new micro-studio called 8lb Gorilla.  The studio will create games for the $0.99 iPhone market and hopes to pump out a new game on a near-monthly basis.

On the Surface

I love the clever name and that their logo isn’t a too-cute miniature primate.  I can see why EA went for this idea.  Tiny teams produce runaway hits on the App Store on a regular basis (FlightControl, Wurdle, iShoot, Field Runners, Trism, to name a few) and EA certainly has talent that would be eager to be thrown into this initiative.

As long as development costs are kept down and the team produces an occasional hit, this model could be reasonably profitable.  In addition, it’s a fantastic proving ground for good ideas.  A tiny game that took a month to develop could, in some cases, be expanded into a full blown game and released on multiple platforms (think Tower of Goo / World of Goo).

The Paradox (I use the terms loosely)

I imagine that EA’s dream is that the studio produces regular runaway hits.  This would actually be the worst case scenario for EA.  If tiny teams produce these hits, it won’t be long before they realize they could make a lot more money by leaving EA and self publishing on the iPhone.  The micro-studio would become a wound through which EA would bleed its best talent.

And clearly, if the 8lb Gorilla doesn’t carry its own weight by at least breaking even, EA is unlikely to keep it running for very long.

Alternative Outcomes

There are certainly ways, however, in which this could be a success story for EA.  8lb Gorilla might turn out to be EA’s rapid prototyping R&D lab, not in itself profitable, but generating ideas for larger games that turn a big profit.

It’s also possible that games produced by 8lb Gorilla would owe much of their success to EA’s marketing muscle, something that individual contributors simply don’t have access to.  EA might still bleed a little talent at first but it would quickly become clear the 8lb Gorilla can’t survive in the jungle without the 800lb Gorilla sitting next to it.

A Parting Thought

Another way in which the 8lb Gorilla can thrive is to take away the incentive for talent to leave.  What if you needed to take a pay cut to join the 8lb Gorilla team, but a significant part of the profits from each game came back as a bonus to the team that made it?  Magilla Gorilla could make $100k a year working on Madden 2012, but he could also make $50k a year working on little games and end up with a $150k bonus at the end of a good year.  If EA could make this model work it has the potential to become a major talent magnet.