Console design is pushing away customers - Jaffe
Too many barriers to instant gratification; players getting better experiences on portable
Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe believes that home consoles are pushing away users through bad, restrictive design choices that delay the game-playing experience.
Checking for new downloadable content, updating software, cut scenes and the time between turning a console on and actually playing the game are just some of the problems that turn customers to more immediate portable experiences and social networks, said the outspoken designer.
"Portable game time is going way up, but why? Those of us in the console space are actually making choices that push our customers away. The time it takes to power on your console and be in the game playing takes too damn long. The gap of time from pressing 'on' to actually beginning to play is getting longer and it's annoying customers," he told an audience at GDC.
"Cut scenes, installs, updates, load times, system boot-up times - a lot of the stuff can be designed around. For me there are times I've wanted to play a new console game but I just don't because I don't want to deal with all the ramp-up time. Maybe that makes me lazy but look at all the other stuff that's competing right now for my leisure time.
"The one thing that they all have in common, the best thing, is that all of these pretty much have instant payoff. Literally seconds after thinking about doing these activities I can be doing this activities. Why would I put up with 3-15 minute wait times when I can be entertained otherwise, instantly?" he said.
These delays were tolerated in the past, said Jaffe, because console gaming was the better experience, but the evolution of portable, mobile and social gaming now rivals a traditional home console.
"If we're talking sheer fun factor, for the first time handheld, mobile phones, internet games, they're just as good, in some cases better - and in all cases cheaper - than the console options," he said.
"If I've got 5-30 minutes to kill and I want to do something it makes total sense that I'm going to reach for instant gratification. The gameplay on my DS, PSP and iPad is just as good as it is on my console."
Jaffe reeled off a list of possible solutions to some barriers, using tech and design choices to avoid annoying the player and turning them off from the experience.
"Can anything be done? What about if you have a disc in the system and there's a save file on the hard-drive for that disc, the instant I power up it shows me a prompt and says 'do I want to go to my latest save?' If I say 'yes' it bypasses everything - hardware logo, dashboard, XMB, game logos - all of it, and I'm in the game much faster.
"Another thing is, why can't - if it's technically possible - I have a sleep mode on my consoles like I do on my Mac and I do on my game devices. All I have to do is hit a switch and within seconds I'm back in the game."
To applause from the crowd he also called for a limit to the number of updates a game should have over the internet, forcing better design and completion of a game before it's released.
"Hardware manufacturers, I feel, should only allow 1-4 updates to the software per game every year. And none of them should come in the first one or two months of the game shipping. When I first started in the business the games we shipped was our last chance off the bat.
"If game developers could make it work then, we can at least make sure games don't have to be updated the same f**king week they hit shelves, thus causing more wait times for the consumer."
Discussing game length, he called for shorter games - not titles that are artificially lengthened to justify a high price point.
"Some of these games on console are just too long. They run out of gas in the first four hours and they should - I want them to. I want to finish stuff and feel a sense of accomplishment. I want to go from start to end of a story in a weekend.
"Ultimately what happens is these console, story-based games putter on for 3-12 hours just because the business model demands it. With portable, most of them focus on the purity of play and not story, it's less of an issue. And a fluid pricing system is acceptable for portable and phone games and story-based games on those platforms are shorter and can be priced accordingly."
And he saved his final criticism for multiplayer gaming on console, that according to Jaffe, has upped the number of players online purely for the sake of it.
"Competition I feel is best when it's one-on-one, and worst case when it's small teams versus small teams. Console multiplayer has lost sight of this just because technically speaking they've been able to. Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should do something.
"The spectacle of a massively multiplayer war will never get old, but the experience of the game in such a battle usually just feels like just chaos to the player. But console games rarely stop to think about this. Instead they just throw more virtual bodies at the issue and the result is often mind-numbing and empty.
"I still love console games," he concluded. "Every couple of times a year, just like big movies, there's a console game that makes it worth it - spectacle, drama, getting lost in the world. But now between waiting for those big events the great news is I've got something else that's just as good but very different to keep me entertained."