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Garriott: "Most designers really just suck"

Ultima creator says most aren't ideally suited to design, but go into it because they lack other skills

As the creator of the seminal Ultima series, Richard Garriott has influenced generations of game designers. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to think much of their talents. Speaking with PC Gamer for his new Kickstarter project, Shroud of the Avatar, Garriott bemoaned the current state of game design in the industry.

"[O]ther than a few exceptions, like Chris Roberts, I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am," Garriott said. "I'm not saying that because I think I'm so brilliant. What I'm saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there's a reason why."

Garriott went on to suggest that most game designers today fall into the discipline because they lack talent in a field where quality of work is more obvious, like programming or art. In fact, Garriott said artists and programmers are frequently better designers than the designers themselves because they understand how their own native discipline impacts the design.

"So we're leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they're not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer. It's really hard to go to school to be a good designer."

Garriott said design is a very hard skill to learn, a problem apparently compounded by work ethic. The Ultima developer said every designer he has worked with has been lazy, and bemoaned a reliance on rehashed ideas in gaming today.

"[T]hey generally say, 'You know, I really like Medal of Honor, but I would have bigger weapons, or I would have more healing packs, or,' you know. They go to make one or two changes to a game they otherwise love versus really sit down and rethink, 'How can I really move the needle here?'"

Latest comments (37)

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 3 years ago
Puts on large pot of popcorn and waits.
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Kyle Rowley Lead Gameplay Designer, CD Projekt RED3 years ago
=\
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Adam Bernstein3 years ago
"The Ultima developer said every designer he has worked with has been lazy, and bemoaned a reliance on rehashed ideas in gaming today."

Says the guy who made TWENTY+ VERSIONS OF THE SAME GAME?? So pompous. There are plenty of designers coming up with new and creative ideas, have a look at kickstarter.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Bernstein on 20th March 2013 3:21pm

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Show all comments (37)
Paul Smith Dev 3 years ago
He's somewhat right, you only have to look at some recent releases to find some pitiful design choices.

Or the past 10 years.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Smith on 20th March 2013 4:05pm

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
This is where I ply my blog that dissects the games I play, right?

;)
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus3 years ago
Just change the title. "I Am Awesome. Love Me - Garriott"
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Jeff Spock Writer/Narrative Designer 3 years ago
Funny. That's how most designers feel about Garriott's games. Judging by the numbers, most players, too.
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Chris Tihor Writer/Designer 3 years ago
It seems like he's trying to say controversial things to get attention for his new Kickstarter project. It's the old, "there's no bad press" thing. You just have to look at this quote from the original article:
“And every designer that I work with—all throughout life—I think, frankly, is lazy,” said Garriot, adding “to give you another zinger”
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Gregory Wu Director of Global Publishing Operations, Trion Worlds, Inc.3 years ago
Because Tabula Rasa was such a stunning success?
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David Jennison Senior Character Artist at Gunfire Games 3 years ago
While I have worked with some very talented designers, I have known many to be in design because they couldn't do art or programming, as he says. Many were graduates of art school or QA testers who wedged their way in.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
Just like to go on record at this point, with the fact that I couldn't care a wit what this arrogant tosser thinks.
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Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive3 years ago
It seems PR is even harder to learn.
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Roberto Bruno Curious Person 3 years ago
@Jeff Spock: Please, don't be so childish.
Regardless of all the worthless stuff he made in recent times, the guy admittedly used to be a force to reckon with, when it comes to designing some of the most ambitious and forward-looking games in the industry.

To the point I have yet to see any other developer coming even remotely close to what Ultima VII accomplished 20 years ago, comparatively to the available tech.

By the way, what he says holds some truth, to a certain extent. A lot of game design today is simply *awful*.
A lot of games seem to be built around a checklist of features and silly ideas like "convenience at any cost" (health regen, unlimited fast travel, etc) giving up to any cohesive vision.
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Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions3 years ago
While i wont comment on his design abilities i actually agree about everything he says.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd3 years ago
...and another thing, I've been to space, bitches! :D
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ3 years ago
I think he makes some interesting points, some definitely true.

That being said, there's a lot of talented designers out there, and I'm sure Richard hasn't met most of them. :)

But I'd also say that most designers don't get much chance to be original in the industry, and you don't learn so much if everything you want to try must be filtered through other programmers, artists, as well as the senior decision makers. I feel I've learned a massive amount since I actually went out on my own and started to do the code and art for my own games, because you have to learn the nitty gritty language of actual game logic and expression.

So it's a complex issue. Nice to get his blunt input on the topic, though, I reckon! :)
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I get the distinct impression this man doesn't play games any more.
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T. Elliot Cannon Game Designer 3 years ago
“It is not advisable to venture unsolicited opinions. You should spare yourself the embarrassing discovery of their exact value to your listener.”
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 3 years ago
Because Tabula Rasa was such a stunning success?
And didn't need a major, costly redesign half way through its development.
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Jason Sartor Copy editor/Videographer, Florida Today3 years ago
I don't think designers suck. I think there are a lot of great indie games, new ideas and new gameplay.
But publishers publish want gamers want, and despite what a lot of people say, gamers buy 20 million copies of CoD every year. You can't blame the designer, developer or publisher for continuing to develop games that sell well and are popular.
Lastly, refinement still is innovation. And refinement leads to innovation and improvements over time in any single discipline. Take a car from 1930 - it has four wheels, a steering wheel, gas pedal, doors - but cars of today are so much more.Windshield wipers, seat belts, airbags, antilock brakes, etc. It didn't happen all at once. You may not invent the wheel every time, but continued evolution also is growth.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jason Sartor on 20th March 2013 7:30pm

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Adam Campbell Producer, Hopster3 years ago
That's odd. I thought designers were the 2nd most in demand of jobs out there in the industry. Of course, the design field is very broad and requires a special skill(s). I don't see any games career as a dead end or for those who 'weren't good enough' this just doesn't make sense to me.
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David Vink Freelance 3 years ago
"He's got space dementia"
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
Try This:

(1) Mine your publisher for money for years until everybody in the head office is shouting at your for only "partying instead of developing".
(2) Announce a first look of your game, then show a camera team around your mansion instead.
(3) Launch yourself into space right around release, get onto Colbert, never mention your game once and get fired after landing
(4) Marry a couple under water and sue your old boss.
(5) Win the trial and get awarded $30 million, more than the costs of your trip to space and the scuba gear.

If you achieved all this, then you are still far away from ever coming close to Richard Garriott. He has the real world celebrity gameplay nailed down to rock star perfection. You can hate Richard Garriott all you want, there will come a time right around crunch when you look at that list above and it strikes you as the reasonable thing to do. Whatever holds you back then is what separates the rest of the world from Richard Garriott. His words on design is just the flamebait so you remember the rest.
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Kenneth Seward Game Designer 3 years ago
Ye ole Lord British might be just trolling, but that doesn't discredit his statements. I mean with the amount of sequels, prequels and re imagining going on in the AAA side of things in the industry, it hard to disagree with him. If publishers are cool with this "Malibu stacy: now with hat" model, and game devs are looking to get/keep a job in the industry, then this is whats going to be kicked around for a while. But its cool cause the indies are doing their part to try bring their creativity to the industry.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
Is it wrong that I've never heard of this guy before?
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Benjamin Hoyt Founder & CEO, 47 Games, Inc.3 years ago
Sounds to me like he needs to get out of his fancy Austin mansion and meet some more game designers. Hell, you don't have to look further than the absolute renaissance of game design that is happening on mobile devices right now to see how silly his comment is. Moreover, it's one thing to say, "I haven't met many that are great." But to say "I haven't met anyone other than Chris Roberts whose as good as I am," sounds absolutely ridiculous. He clearly either lives in a cave and/or has an ego that far outstrips his own resume. What is the last game that he designed that was commercially or critically successful and relevant to modern gaming?
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios3 years ago
renaissance of game design that is happening on mobile devices

Do you have examples? List the games here, so that we can all have a look, and be blown away by how great the design is. What games and designers are you talking about?
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Jamie Read 3D Artist, Neon Play Ltd3 years ago
This comes across as arrogant. Not sure if this guy is just a dick, or is after some publicity or whatever?
I'm sure there are many great designers out there, but perhaps the ones he has worked with have had their ideas and/or creativity quashed by publishers etc? Either that or he views them as rubbish because they didn't agree with his design ideas and decisions. Just my thought.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jamie Read on 20th March 2013 10:58pm

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Spencer Franklin Concept Artist 3 years ago
"...renaissance of game design that is happening on mobile devices...

I'd be interested in that list as well, 'cause clearly I have been completely out of the loop. The only "renaissance" I have seen in mobile gaming lately is the almost single minded focus of publishers of getting every genre to be always connected and new ways to milk their custo..err..consumers for every last dollar. And the AAA console/pc folks seem to be headed to that same renaissance fair...
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
@Marty Howe
Do you have examples? List the games here, so that we can all have a look, and be blown away by how great the design is. What games and designers are you talking about?
Yeah I'd like to see a list too, because I've all but given up trying to find a decent mobile game on Android at least. The best mobile game I've played to date is Freecell.
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Phil Williams freelance artist, Gobo Games3 years ago
nice medallion!
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers3 years ago
If this had been reworded, it could have conveyed the same point without insulting countless designers out there. For instance, "It's unfortunate because of today's necessitated focus in individual fields of game development that designers often do not have hands on experience with art and programming, since I feel that would make them better designers."
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts3 years ago
I actually agree with a lot of the sentiment of the piece, although I would say often designers have project parameters to work within. However it was delivered with all the grace of a Rancor!
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Private VIdeo Games 3 years ago
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I couldn't comment on how amazing this guy is. Never heard of him. However, there is a little truth in what he is saying. In my experience working as Programmer, Game Designers have always been more about play testing and game balancing. The work is hard to quantify. 16 years in the industry and I have never seen a game designer approach ideas with mood boards or any other fundamental method of concept generation, that you would typically get from Graphic Designers for example. Thats just my experience and maybe it happens elsewhere. My advice to anyone though is learn a programming language.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 21st March 2013 9:07pm

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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 3 years ago
The fact that there are bad games out there containing bad design choices would maybe support a statement like "not everyone is a great designer" (though even then there would be a chance of all the designers actually being awesome and external factors still souring the product). A statement like "most designers just suck" is just needless insulting without anything to back it up other than his gut feeling that he is the best of them all. It also casts an interesting light on his hiring skills. The fact that there are some valid points buried in the rest of what he said does not redeem the sum of it all in any way. It should be ignored, don't feed the troll....

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Canela on 21st March 2013 10:50pm

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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 3 years ago
And didn't need a major, costly redesign half way through its development.
The only relevance that has to whether a game designer is any good is whether they're willing to do that if necessary.

Game design, as with all software design but possibly even more so, is something that's very hard to get right the first time, and benefits strongly from an iterative approach. Especially if you're doing something new and original, you need to try things out and see how they work, rather than just imagine things in your head. If you're not brave about this, you'll end up just tweaking an existing design with a cover mechanic or more health packs. If you are brave, you'll find that sometimes things don't work, and sometimes even in a big way. At that point you either step up and say it's failed or you fail as a game designer.

Half Life is an example of a game widely considered very good that probably would have failed badly if the designers had not done the right thing and reworked it completely even after expending significant development effort.
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