Schofield: Games industry still "isn't there yet"

DICE 2013 Video: Sledgehammer co-founder talks about the process behind finding innovation for games and elevating the medium

Sledgehammer Games general manager and co-founder Glen Schofield took the stage at DICE following JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell to discuss a topic of critical importance to the games business: innovation. His talk began by lamenting the fact that the industry still doesn't have the mainstream respect it deserves. Schofield noted, "We are the next medium to tell a fantastic story" and he believes that "we'll get there on the strength of our ideas."

Schofield said that while he leads a studio, he very much thinks of himself as a creative. He's been directing games for 17 years now, and he only has an MBA "so suits can't pull wool over my eyes." For Schofield, innovation is all about generating ideas. It's not just about having talent, it's "how can I come up with ideas all the time?"

"We've got to come up with 'eureka moments' all the time in the games industry," he said. Schofield commented that the industry owes it to its customers to make the best games possible with the best ideas in there. So where do these ideas come from? You have to keep an open mind, he said, as an idea can come from anywhere, and then you have to put your ego down. The best ideas have to win - who cares who comes up with it?

The next step is to assess priorities, determine what part of the "puzzle" to fill in next, and put everything into a virtual list. Then comes perhaps the most critical component: research. As a creative you should always be in research mode - it's a competitive advantage, Schofield noted. He said that competition pushes you to go further and further. He went on to talk about the massive amount of research done for Modern Warfare 3; for example, he researched sandstorms and the impact they have, and then decided to include that in the game. For every single element of a game, no matter how big or small, research needs to be done.

It's not enough to be satisfied with just scratching surface - it's important to dig deeper into research, which can generate future ideas. For example, Dead Space started out from watching numerous sci-fi and horror movies. Schofield watched around 400 movies during the making of the game. He read tons of books as well; as an example, Isaac Asimov is how they arrived at naming the character Isaac Clarke.

One of the best ways to research for games, Schofield said is to actually get direct experience from going somewhere, like flying with test pilots in a zero-g trip, or going on tank rides, etc. Photography also significantly increases retention, so take pictures of everything; your camera is the best research tool in your pocket, he said. It's also important to gain the help of consultants at times, who can further brainstorm ideas with you or come up with better ones.

Ultimately, the goal is to look at everything. You don't want to ripoff others but you mine for stuff and look for things people have done really well. "Inspiration doesn't always take a direct path," Schofield said, but asking "what if?" all the time is a big help and will drive ideas.

Glen Schofield's full session can be viewed below

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Latest comments (5)

David Serrano Freelancer 5 years ago
Claiming innovation is "all about generating ideas" sums up why the industry isn't there yet. Innovation is about seeing a problem or unmet need and addressing it through the practical application of new, original or esoteric ideas, concepts and theories. The scientific theory for reducing the radar cross section of an object was published 30 years before the first stealth jet was designed. The russian scientist who published the paper didn't innovate, he theorized. Lockheed Martin innovated by practically applying his theory to jet design, which required creating completely new flight control systems. Game designers and programmers sitting in a conference room tossing out random ideas isn't innovation, it's "the circle" on That 70's Show lol.

"For every single element of a game, no matter how big or small, research needs to be done."

Everything except researching what the average person in the gaming audience defines as play and fun. Because clearly a development team's time is much better spent flying with test pilots in a zero-g trip, or going on tank rides. Facepalm...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 6th February 2013 8:59pm

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
Yes and No.

The walled garden console business model that dominated gaming for so long really stultified creativity. Publishers concentrated on sequels and me-too copies. Occasionally there was a run up a blind alley as with the sudden glut of music games. And their equally sudden demise.

But now the shackles have come off with massively reduced barriers to entry and we are beginning to see the benefits. Minecraft, World of Tanks, Farmville, Angry Birds. Now the industry is going to new places in a way that was unimaginable as recently as 2008. There is a flowering of creativity unprecedented in the whole previous history of video gaming.

And there is a popular cultural shift. David Cameron talks about gaming as a gamer whilst Gordon Brown just blamed games for knife crime (as did Hilary Clinton). Individual game titles can reach over a billion players. The mainstream media (including the Daily Mail!) are increasingly covering gaming in a way that is relevant to their readers. Unfortunately in the UK the BBC have 50% of the news reach and are still in the dark ages, they still regard games as "technology" and so are massively under-reporting this important popular culture.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
It's easy.

Project-based funding.

If it's not project-based - like, ahem, Kickstarter is - then it's sausage-factory-based.

Move away from sausage-factory style game funding - where the funding focus is not on the game but on the studio (i.e. the sausage factory) - and you'll make games culturally-relevant.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
I got Dead Space the other day. The game doesn't permit you to use arrow keys to move - which I've doing for years as I'm left-handed.

I immediately uninstalled it. That decision had "NOOB" written all over it.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer, Studio52 London5 years ago
While I agree that research is one of the most crucial aspects to create a believable atmosphere in a game that tries to be credible and/or realistic, I don't think spending budget on zero gravity simulations and riding armored vehicles is the best way to approach it. If I want to learn about astrophysics in any serious manner I'm not going out to buy a several hundred telescope, I would read, read, read, get some documentaries and books on the matter to understand what I would actually be looking for when/if I got a telescope.

Same guidance applies to developers, and if developers actually spent half the time reading actual community forums opinions from real users as they spend joyriding and tossing ideas around in conference rooms, then I'm sure we would all benefit from that.

Look at Blizzard for example, forums users complain all the time that their feedback isn't heard or heeded upon, but Blizzard is one of the most customer interactive developers out there, and a lot of the ideas implemented in their games come precisely from ideas and thoughts originated in that community.
Now think about Capcom, on a constant battle with their own fans, releasing enhanced versions on their games just months after the original release like Street Fighter IV, Super & Arcade.
Or Resident evil 6, the game that tries to do it all and accomplishes nothing, were they really surprised that Resident Evil Revelations was a success because it was the closest to the source material? Perhaps, since we have developers saying barbarities like this, and that's because they don't investigate properly what people actually want from a Resident Evil game, and instead try to cater to a vaster audience of action-game gamers in the hopes sales and critics raise hands in awe, which didn't happen for RE6 obviously.

If a developer knows how and where to look, the best ideas for improvements in already established franchises or genres are free to find from fans of the genre.
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