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Jaffe: Games execs need to get a "bullshit filter"

Thu 09 Feb 2012 9:24pm GMT / 4:24pm EST / 1:24pm PST
PublishingDevelopment

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Publishers need to learn the language of game making when dealing with developers or risk wasting money on over-promised projects.

That's according to Eat Sleep Play co-founder David Jaffe, speaking today at the 2012 D.I.C.E. Summit, who said its easy for developers to talk-up a project that won't resemble the original pitch once released.

"You guys need to get a bullshit filter and you need to get that before you waste any more money," he said.

"It's real easy to bamboozle you. It's really easy to sit in a pitch and talk about 'I want the realism and grittiness of Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy and I want to put it on a space ship and make you feel like Tarantino and speak to the human condition'. And you walk out of the meeting and you give them the green light because you can see that in your head.

Executives can't see the game in their head, they can see the trailer to a movie that doesn't actually exist.

David Jaffe, Eat Sleep Play

"But you can't see the game in your head, you can see the trailer to a movie that doesn't actually exist," he added. "You better start learning gameplay language. It's not to be mean spirited, I would never do that, but you can actually sit with developer and say 'it's cool that you want to do that but tell me how.' If you come in with an awareness of that, if you're an executive that can suss that out, that's great. You don't want to have a developer romance you with the promise of something more than it will ever be and it ends up not being that," he added.

Jaffe's session focused on the obsession of some developers to use games as a medium to tell stories and try to express wider emotions or touch upon real-world issues. Game haven't historically been able to do that, said Jaffe, and frustrated story-tellers should use a more relevant medium.

"A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about mans place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?

"Why wouldn't you write a book, why wouldn't you make a movie? It's like being one of the world's best chefs and working in the world's best restaurants, you ply your trade in McDonalds."

19 Comments

Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd

196 164 0.8
Because if one man doesn't want stories in games, no one else should be allowed to either.

Now about that bullshit meter...

Posted:2 years ago

#1
Whoa! Don't know what publishers he has been meeting or when. You are not going to get even a dime without having at least good demo. Even with a demo your chances are slim because publishers want to minimize their risk and are mostly interested in projects that are in at least beta. And publishers do know the possibilities and limitations. Maybe the suit doesn't but they have army of producers, tech people, developer relations managers and others who do know their sh*t.

It might be another story for stars of the industry who can babble cryptic ideas and immediately get money thrown at them. But for your average company, it's extremely hard to get publisher funding.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Harel Jann Graphic & Sound Designer, Co-Founder, Virtual Mirror Game Studios

6 3 0.5
I appreciate a game mainly from a story point of view.
And I know lots of other who do too.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Harel Jann on 10th February 2012 8:30am

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Sandy Lobban Founder and Creative Director, Noise Me Up

315 208 0.7
In my own personal opinion.....

Stories present characters and problems that need solutions, and therefore gameplay. If he hasnt been misquoted, then what a load of unconstructive crap to speak.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 10th February 2012 10:04am

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
"If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about mans place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?"

I generally like Jaffe, but this just seems way off the mark -- so because games aren't as good at telling stories as novels or film, they should just stop trying? As someone very astutely pointed out on the Eurogamer comments; what if Alan Moore had felt the same about comics 30 years ago and never written Watchmen?

While I do agree that some games ape movies a little too doggedly, the potential to deliver a very unique narrative is one of the industry's strongest points, and I would point to BioShock and Demon's/Dark Souls as games which had plots and storytelling which just wouldn't have worked in other mediums. Elsewhere you've got the likes of Skyrim (and presumably KoA: Reckoning) which have lores as deep as the player wants to explore, Uncharted and Mass Effect telling stories in ways that would make blockbuster movies proud and offbeat titles like Limbo with incredible narrative depth and imagination which is intrinsically tied to the gameplay.

To dismiss all videogame narrative in one fell swoop like Jaffe has done seems very short-sighted.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Julian Toseland games podcaster/website

23 6 0.3
As we know Mr Jaffe, isn't one for mincing his words, but I do see what he kinda means in theory, but as the first poster stresses, he could do with practicing a bit what he preaches I guess.

From my standpoint being at the forefront of actual game playing, and listeners who are the final cog in the machine, I have to say from virtually all our chats/discussions/emails, a story I would say is probably very high on there list as criteria, if not "THE" most important.

I know I have from my personal experience in the last few years enjoyed a story driven game more, what I think you need to be more aware of....and I think Mr Jaffe could be totally missing the point here....its great to have a story as I say...but don't dare forget the "actual" game play, because that is as important...its how you maximize the 2, to hopefully come together to make that all elusive AAA title....

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
They need Karl Pilkington's Bullshit man!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd6SFqRGQow

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Elias Pappas Editor in Chief, Authority.gr

4 0 0.0
How did Jaffe became such a stupid guy?

Posted:2 years ago

#8
+1 to the first comment, hit the nail on the head right there...

It does seem that the more Jaffe speaks, the less sense he makes.

All I know is that the games I remember the most, the ones that had the most profound effect on me and inspired me to get into the games industry in the first place are the ones that had good gameplay AND an interesting story to tell.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Chris Hodgson on 10th February 2012 5:13pm

Posted:2 years ago

#9
Isnt it obvious

Jaffe made a gaffe

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Aaron Bauer Producer / Designer, Babaroga, LLC

3 0 0.0
I completely see Jaffe's point here. He isn't saying that there is no place for high-quality stories in games, he is saying that it is stupid to PITCH a story instead of a game. Pitching a story can create a vivid epic in your head that really gets the imagination going. This is a good thing, but it ISN'T a game. This is why there are so many titles that come out with cool character designs, neat stories, and lots of flair but no real meat. No staying power. A game concept needs to explain HOW a story is played out. Through gameplay. If you can't support your story with gameplay, then Jaffe is right: Go to a different medium that doesn't rely on being FUN on top of being a good story.

The best games have great stories. No argument. But the best stories don't always have great games. So wouldn't it be smarter to ensure that a great game is being made from the start?

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

578 322 0.6
How about this?

Separate core creative from production.

As is done in film, architecture, etc.

VOILA!

If the publisher likes the concept, a production company is put together solely for the game. This allows core creative to focus on ... wait for it... core creative. Instead of having to have a large implementation company lying around before they pitch.

Put it another way: We would think it retarded if an architecture firm were to have an entire construction company in its house before it were allowed to pitch a design for a building. So why do we expect the same of game studios?

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

578 322 0.6
I should mention something else:

When you watch a game being played, what do you see?

A story.

You see a character running around doing stuff. It just happens you are in control of said character. But what you SEE still looks like a story.

In other words: How is it possible to describe a game being played without referencing story-like imagery?

Posted:2 years ago

#13
I'm seeing a lot of harsh comments, and edits to comments.

Games are games, not stories, but they can definitely have stories. 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors is amazing, and as a visual novel it's a 10/10, but as a game, I'd rate it a 9/10 because it's really a book (a damn good one) with some puzzles and a lot of repetition (you have to complete the game at least twice to see the real ending, and up to 6 times to get every ending if you don't repeat any, though the story actually makes this repetition legitimate). Because you can skip what you've already read and puzzles are simple to solve when you already know the solutions, you can easily get to the stuff you haven't seen yet. An interview with the director or producer or writer (maybe he did all 3, I can't remember exactly now) showed that he approached it from the story aspect. Guess what? He didn't tack on beat-em-up gameplay or platforming. It's a visual novel! And the use of puzzles is relevant to the story!

I hate to bring up Nier since I haven't played it, but going off of what my friend has told me, the writing is amazing, and I know the soundtrack is impeccable because I've listened to it. Unfortunately, the gameplay is a repetitive hack and slash with some RPG elements (even though it calls itself a RPG), which leads it to feel boring in between the good story parts, and you have to beat it 4 times to get all 4 endings, which is a pain in the butt when the game is long and you can't skip the grindy hack n' slash parts. He absolutely loves it, but acknowledges that it's a poor game.

I think this is what Jaffe meant. Nier probably could have been done better via another medium, or should have had gameplay that fit the story better. I wouldn't have known that projects that are pitched by their stories actually get picked up by publishers, but believe me when I say that the vast majority of people in my classes and in my friends' classes talk ONLY about story when asked "what sort of game do you want to make", as if they don't know what games are. And when asked, "Ok, but how is that going to actually play", they want it to be a shooter like Halo or Call of Duty, usually with a 100 hour completion time and RPG elements.


So, a good story definitely makes a game better, but it's honestly not mandatory. Having a good story doesn't mean you can make a game.


Going back through the article and then the comments here, it seems like the main issue is that publishers might look at a product, hear the pitch on what the game is supposed to feel like and mean, and not distinguish that the game can't do what the pitch promises. I wouldn't exactly believe it if someone told me that their shooter/rpg/fighter was going to be like Crime and Punishment.

Now that I think about it, I remember seeing a game design document for Bioshock. It was crazy to see what the initial idea was compared to what the game is known for. It talked about having high-end graphics a bit more than I would have expected.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Brian Smith Artist

196 85 0.4
@Aaron - Totally agree. Even outwith publisher negotiations how many of us have worked on game designs that read like movie scenes with little to no game integration. I've seen some horrible games completed from design docs that pretty much favoured making something sound good to read rather that specifying what the player would actually do.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Andrew Clayton QA Weapons Tester, Electronic Arts

150 7 0.0
@Aaron Bauer: +1. That's what I got from what he was saying. It's wasn't really "why would you bother writing a story for a game when stories are told better in movies". It was more of "how are you going to implement that story?". The story is obviously important, but why try to communicate it through a game and not through a more static form of media?

Posted:2 years ago

#16
@Andrew Clayton @Aaron Bauer: +1. That's what I got from what he was saying. It's wasn't really "why would you bother writing a story for a game when stories are told better in movies". It was more of "how are you going to implement that story?". The story is obviously important, but why try to communicate it through a game and not through a more static form of media?
I'd agree but:
Jaffe's session focused on the obsession of some developers to use games as a medium to tell stories and try to express wider emotions or touch upon real-world issues. Game haven't historically been able to do that, said Jaffe, and frustrated story-tellers should use a more relevant medium.

"A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about mans place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?

"Why wouldn't you write a book, why wouldn't you make a movie? It's like being one of the world's best chefs and working in the world's best restaurants, you ply your trade in McDonalds."

That is a pretty direct dig at stories in games. He's not the first to think that stories are too prevalent and gameplay is taking a backseat to story. In fact, the article states that Jaffe thought that storytellers should look for a different medium, that they shouldn't be trying to " tell stories and try to express wider emotions or touch upon real-world issues."

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Massimo Guarini Founding Director and CEO, Ovosonico

26 18 0.7
@Aaron - Right on spot, but
"Best games have great stories" might sound a little bit too much.
Maybe it's just me but the "a hero called Mario saves the princess from bad guy" narrative theme seems to be such a popular pretext for great Gameplay.

Pitching a story to a game publisher and leaving gameplay to "it's an action game like Uncharted" it's exactly like pitching camera shots and actions scenes to a movie producer, leaving the story to "it's a love story".

While narrative, although cosmetic and not core, can certainly add to the games experience, I am afraid Jaffe might have a point here.

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
Ironically Jaffe's best game by far also had a very focal story - God of War.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

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