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Raymond: "It's time to give our teenage medium a kick in the balls"

Raymond: "It's time to give our teenage medium a kick in the balls"

Mon 14 May 2012 9:51am GMT / 5:51am EDT / 2:51am PDT
Development

MD of Ubisoft Toronto says industry has responsibility to grow up and address issues

Jade Raymond, the managing director of Ubisoft Toronto, has confessed she wants to see a shake up of subject matter for triple-A titles. And she's not alone.

"More and more people come to me at Ubisoft and say, 'I love games. I came into this industry with so many ideas. But I can't continue to make shooters over and over again,'" Raymond told Eurogamer.

"I have that meeting a lot these days. Yeah, it's time to give our teenage medium a kick in the balls."

She admitted that as a parent she's probably not the target market for games anymore, but believes that at the moment the industry is underestimating its audience, and that they want more than explosions.

"I don't know when we decided as an industry that in order to sell 5 million copies of a game you have to make a Michael Bay film"

"It's time for our industry to grow up," she said.

"Why is it that so many topics that are dealt with in other media are off limits or taboo in video games? Why can't we deal with the things that matter? I can think of so many examples of topics that could be interesting, issues that could be addressed in games or that could be integrated into existing big IP if we don't want to make them the centre of the experience."

"It's our responsibility; doubly so for people like me who can make a difference, or push for something getting funded."

She suggested topics like homelessness and sexism could easily be integrated into popular franchises like Call Of Duty, even if it wasn't the main subject matter.

"I don't know when we decided as an industry that in order to sell five million copies of a game you have to make a Michael Bay film. There are other options."

Ubisoft Toronto's first project is a Splinter Cell title.

25 Comments

Would be great to have a AAlite point and click day of the tentacle. That would be refreshing compared to a FPS shooter

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Giles Smith
Studying maths

12 6 0.5
By all means revolutionize the genre and innovate, but the last thing the industry needs is some politically correct nonsense about diversity and sexism forced on it.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Daniel Hughes
Studying PhD Literary Modernism

436 496 1.1
"Why is it that so many topics that are dealt with in other media are off limits or taboo in video games? Why can't we deal with the things that matter? I can think of so many examples of topics that could be interesting, issues that could be addressed in games or that could be integrated into existing big IP if we don't want to make them the centre of the experience."

Giles, I don't think she's saying anything about politically correct nonsense or diversity or sexism here; the thrust of her argument is that games don't tackle 'meaningful' contemporary issues in the way other mediums do, and that games shouldn't be afraid to explore controversial or taboo topics. She's absolutely right that games should deliver more than explosions, and some games do just that, but how many games make an intelligent statement about contemporary society, or even imply something about contemporary issues? Hell, have we had a World War 2 game that tackled the Holocaust, POW abuses or Hiroshima and the fire-bombing of German or Japanese cities? No, we haven't. We don't need games to become didactic experiences that lecture us about the wrongs of history, but games that allowed us to experience these tragedies in some way would constitute a step forward for the industry. I'd love to see games that find a way incorporate contemporary issues--whether it's a civil rights problem or tapping into austerity anger in Europe--in an intelligent, balanced way.

I suppose you could argue that Mass Effect 3 has tapped into contemporary society by allowing homosexual relationships. That's not to say I personally think the issue is controversial, but sadly for many it is. After all, it's only this week that we've had a US President finally publicly supported gay marriage. A politically sensitive and culturally sensitive issue like that shouldn't be off-limits to games; after all, those opposing gay marriages will find themselves on the wrong side of history in decades to come, like just like those that supported apartheid and opposed the civil rights movement in the US.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 14th May 2012 12:15pm

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Brian Smith
Artist

196 85 0.4
Yeah but would a Day of the Tentacle feel any better to play when your main character is an abused homeless child living on the streets of Mumbai, carving out an existence for himself by muling drugs to the nearby prostitution district. Serious subjects in a blunt medium like games come across weak and usually badly written. I'm all for more diversity in the market but seriously, if you want to peddle such subtleties then you are in the wrong industry.

This wouldn't lead to grown up games, just badly selling games.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Robin Clarke
Producer

321 748 2.3
Ubisoft have contributed massively to keeping the content of mainstream titles conservative and remedial.

How does advertising Ghost Recon with videos of scantily clad models help the industry "grow up" and "address sexism", exactly?

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Thomas Dolby
Project Manager / Lead Programmer

340 291 0.9
I don't think forcing serious issues on games is going to have a great effect. It's just slapping controversial issues on the face of our medium and shouting out "take us seriously!".

We just need more risk takers and people not afraid to push new IP, I don't hold out too much hope for the AAA developers as they have so much risk already, but I think once the indie explosion gets past relying on retro side-scrollers and quirky graphics, there'll be a movement to more interesting story points.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Matthew Eakins
Technical Lead

49 27 0.6
"Why can't we deal with the things that matter?"

Umm, because they don't matter. This isn't film or TV, storytelling is secondary to gameplay. Or at least it supposed be. Forget about pushing a political agenda and instead make an effort to get back to games that are fun.

Story can be used to enhance a good gameplay experience but at the end of the day I don't care at all about your storyline, playing games is about making *MY* story. Look at minecraft, no story, great gameplay, the user can create their own experience and it's a massive success.

If the game industry has any growing up to do it's to realize it's no longer the younger sibling of the movie industry and stop trying to emulate them.

Posted:2 years ago

#7
"Ubisoft have contributed massively to keeping the content of mainstream titles conservative and remedial.

How does advertising Ghost Recon with videos of scantily clad models help the industry "grow up" and "address sexism", exactly?"

+1

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Morville O'Driscoll
Blogger & Critic

1,573 1,418 0.9
@ Matthew

You say that it's all about "MY story", but what about, say, Deus Ex: HR? This is a perfect example of something that at least takes a stab at more mature ideas within its linear storyline, whilst remaining a good, fun game.

Reading the original article, the mention of sexism is actually an interesting one:
Sexism, too. That could easily be brought into a franchise like Call of Duty. If you could play as a woman you could bring in some perspectives to what that might be like.
And this is true - If Tomb Raider had a male protagonist, it would be different (not vastly, admittedly) to Tomb Raider as it is with a woman. Her example of CoD is also an interesting one - it wouldn't take a lot to have a level which had a female main character go undercover, using her very gender as a plot-hook. People assume such things have to be forced, but they genuinely don't - there is just the assumption that anything that isn't the norm is automatically going to feel forced or un-fun.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 14th May 2012 3:36pm

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Simon Lepine
Studio Creative Director

6 5 0.8
Why say that to the press without any plan to do anything about it, isn't she in a position to talk to Ubi execs about it instead?

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Jeremy Stein
Game Designer

7 3 0.4
"Why say that to the press without any plan to do anything about it, isn't she in a position to talk to Ubi execs about it instead?"

...or in addition. Sometimes it's easier to get buy in from executives after your agenda has already been vetted in public.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Wale Awelenje
Programmer/Designer

13 1 0.1
When the only discussion we can have about such topics in a medium is some sort of public service announcement-like, politically correct preachfest, that is when we have not yet matured.

Those are real issues, and we would have matured when we are able to address them properly instead of just repeating PC rhetoric.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Jason Poss
Music

3 2 0.7
It doesn't inspire confidence when a studio manager talks about maturing the medium but has to use a junvenile reference to kicking someone in the groin to clarify the point.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Brent Disbrow
CEO & Design Director

1 0 0.0
Arguably the proof is in the pudding - when Splinter Cell Retribution comes out, one hopes that it puts Ms Raymond's points forward. Otherwise, this is just a meaningless callout.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Kevin Danaher
Associate Producer

45 62 1.4
Who's to say she's saying this to the press and not doing anything about it. Off the top of my head... Assassins Creed III

You come upon a village where a group of angry drunk soldiers have just stumbled into town and started raping and pillaging their way through it. You're really not supposed to draw attention to yourself but can you possibly stand by and allow that to happen?

Complex moral issue, correct setting, possibility of potential gameplay. Nothing has to feel forced, simply appropriate for the current moment in that experience. I for one love great narrative in games and adult themes that push for real emotive responses and genuine connections with the world and characters are to be striven for.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Luke McCarthy
Indie Game Developer

35 0 0.0
"She admitted that as a parent she's probably not the target market for games anymore"

Well that says it all really. With that kind of attitude, how can you expand the gaming audience?

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

570 315 0.6
If you want a shakeup, give creative control to core talent, then put that core talent's name on the front-screen. "A game designed by..."

It's not rocket science. It's exactly what transformed movies from popcorn to for-serious shit. In fact it has been what turned EVERY artform into what they are. You can't just defiantly stare into the face of 500 years of Western art tradition and think you can do it better. The individual creator is the bedrock of the Western art tradition.

In collaborative mediums, like music or film, the tightest core talent will get is to work as ensemble - which is a loose collection of core creators who come together temporarily; but even then they are individuals who push their own visions, and sparks can fly. And that's what make ensembles great. Think the Beatles, think Monty Python. Etc.

But any time the work is treated as merely a vehicle for the studio / team / whatever, then you can smell it. It's got to be project-based or you might as well forget it. You have to surrender to the creative process.

By the way: core talent needs to be willing to then sell its IP. Just like they do in the movie biz. (And selling IP does NOT necessarily mean you give up creative control.)

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 14th May 2012 9:14pm

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Hyam Bolande
General Manager

3 0 0.0
This is a complex topic and really breaks down into sub-topics. Raymond kind of says she wants the industry to explore new themes in the main gameplay trope (e.g. shooter or something else) but then backpedals a bit and says it would be OK in the ancillary settings or storylines, too.

Games are like playing make-believe as a kid. Commercial success often depends on giving the player the opportunity to control a "hero" who's doing/deciding things that the player (a) can't experience in reality and (b) would find interesting to do ... and doing this in a setting with the same characteristics. That's why it's natural for the industry to gravitate toward warriors who slash and blast their way to glory, because the human race has been obsessed with this kind of hero since before the start of recorded history.

Playing a sim that makes one feel helpless in the face of "things that matter" isn't a great adventure and never will be.

I agree with Kevin, however, that ethical choices and scenarios of extreme realism can add a lot of spice to even traditional games. There are also a growing number of (admittedly less lucrative) games where the player is challenged to deal with adverse situations (which may have social or historical meaning!) by just surviving or escaping, rather than by slaughtering enemies ... examples include Amnesia: Dark Descent and an educational game about being a fugitive slave trying to escape to freedom in the U.S. pre-Civil War period.

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Rick Cody
PBnGames-Board Member

144 14 0.1
The article title quote sounds like something a teenager would come up with.

Diversity is good.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
I think minimalism works. Use concepts that are familiar at first, but challenge the player to do some mental work, not just play something guided from point to point. Make an entire game based on a few words (for example, "Escape. Or Die. Or Else.") but step outside the box of the usual genres and see what happens. Make a game that's a pure comedy that talks UP to the player. Have a game be thrilling without a single explosion, tight costume or shot being fired. Immerse the player so fully into a character that they'll not care if it's a guy, gal or even a house cat they're playing as.

Show how any current control system (especially motion controls, which are despised by too many as a gimmick) can work flawlessly for something it's not supposed to be. Forget about "realistic" visuals (that at the end of the day are homogenized by other games that share the same look) and have a game where the art team goes nuts and the player understands the stylistic choices made.

And so forth and so on. Take chances, get the right people on board to promote the end result, defy expectations by telling a great story and not relying on multiplayer to make your main money and maybe see what happens then...

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Tomis
programmer

18 6 0.3
"I don't know when we decided as an industry that in order to sell five million copies of a game you have to make a Michael Bay film. There are other options."

It's funny someone from Ubisoft should say this. They took an excellent tactical shooter (Rainbow Six) and gradually made it into an arcade shooter, which (go figure) resembles a very bad Michael Bay film.

And don't bring up Call of duty, it's just the lowest common denominator that will be bought by the maximum amount of people. Number of sales is not a very good metric of game quality (if you consider games to be art, not consumables), even though the suits think otherwise.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Dominic Jakube
Student

92 13 0.1
I think Heavy Rain and LA noire were both quite mature and also succsessful, so it can be done.At times it does seem that the market is aimed at a teen market but the reality is the mean age of gamers is probery mid 20's the 30's.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Tony Johns

520 12 0.0
I think that Japanese Visual Novels perhaps cover almost every sort of taboo theme in relation of storyline in a game, and they are made for a fraction of a price that a AAA game costs.

I think the hard bit is trying to sell a game with taboo topics with a well thought out storyline in a market that is riddled by ambulance chasers like "the man who shall not be named on this site" was back in 1999 after the Columbine high school massacre.

Sadly his legacy still lives on with so many american parents in conservative backgrounds that would kick up a steam.
(Mass Effect Series that was portrayed on Fox News in 2008 for example)

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Chuan L
Game Designer / Indie Developer

22 0 0.0
I think the real problem lies in the fact that nobody is prepared to take the risk / investment in innovating where it might push the medium forward: and that is the basic set of interactions that can be represented in a game. We have, and continue to have an abundance of shooters because "hit detection" is tried and true.

How do you present interactivity for more "adult" concepts? Even games like "Heavy Rain" really struggle because they try to marry more resonant exposition with really basic and kludgy controls. It really is these kinds of systems in games which need to be taken to the next level rather than just the kind of "interior decoration" that's been pushed for the last few generations.

-

Last generation developers were looking forward to having enough CPU to spare for advanced AI and so on. But look what happened -- all that got co -opted to improve graphics and animation instead of aspects which actually impact on gameplay. I think this will happen as well with the new Sony or Microsoft consoles too, because it's about radically changing the way we represent values, interactions and what defines success / failure states in games. Perhaps in time we can even get away from this binary idea of completion which may be good as a quantitative measure but lousy in helping talk about other subjects apart from passing checkpoints or opening doors before the next cut -scene.


-- Chuan

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Chuan L
Game Designer / Indie Developer

22 0 0.0
Might I add that there also seems to be a general lack of IMAGINATION amongst seasoned developers. Just look at how we describe and relate to games in this thread, as related to really specific genres and such. We probably need people who are not so mired in this genre mindset and that's happening in the "indie" scene. Younger developers who are prepared to question and innovate on the past instead of merely reproducing it each year, and content with playing the meta -game of the games industry.

Amongst all the thousands of you, where are the great thinkers + designers such as Chris Crawford? Why has there been such a vacuum in the last 30 years such that very few new genres or formulas have been created? It saddens me that genuine creativity, and as Jade says the reason why people got into games in the first place is so lacking. Or perhaps it's the organisation and structure of the companies which are so averse to any deviation from the same ol' same ol' apart from adding an iota of difference, just enough to make a bullet point. This is how it pretty much works, and as a gamer I am bored feckless.


-- Chuan

Posted:2 years ago

#25

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