MacDonald: Game developers need to think like web designers

Former Sony exec and EyeToy creator says web people are proving most successful in casual space

The former VP of Sony's Worldwide Studios, Jamie MacDonald, has said that developers from web backgrounds are proving successful in the casual games space due to their focus on "grabbing eyeballs" and growing user bases over simply making level-based games that tell stories.

And according to MacDonald, people from traditional gaming backgrounds will need to change their mindsets in order to succeed similarly in that sector.

Speaking exclusively to, MacDonald - who left Sony last year and has gone on to work consulting start-up companies in the social and casual gaming spaces - said that he first noticed the divide in attitudes between developers from games backgrounds and web ones before Sony, when he was working for interactive TV company NTL Interactive.

"I couldn't help but notice that there are two distinct almost digital media tribes. There's the web people and the games people. It always felt like they were working on tantalisingly close parallel lines which never converge and they kind of have different mindsets," he said.

"A lot of the successful developers in this casual games space and social games space come from a web background rather than a games background. I think that traditionally people from a web background are much more focused on grabbing eyeballs - that's what they would do on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It's about getting people's attention rather than, say, telling a story. It's about how to distribute their content and growing their audience and that's not something that a traditional games developer has been focused on, which is a more long-form kind of thing.

"It's not rocket science, and the people from a traditional games background will, and indeed are, changing their mindsets."

Talking about the rise of casual games on open mediums such as Facebook, MacDonald said that he doesn't believe their popularity will have a negative impact on console gaming, nor change the established relationship between traditional developers and publishers.

"Was the cinema boxed in by the rise of TV?" he says. "At the time they probably thought they were, but it just broadens and just generally increases the size and scope of the medium. And personally I think the consoles, certainly at the moment, are absolutely providing real cutting edge experiences. The products that other people are working on, in the casual and social spaces, they aren't replacing by any means what's happening on the consoles. They're complimenting it."

And he added that the rise in popularity of social gaming wasn't simply a fad but an important part of gaming's evolution.

"I wouldn't like to say it's unstoppable, but I see it as a central thread of how interactive entertainment is evolving," he said.

"It's not a fad. I think that maybe at the moment it's the area that has a lot of focus, and that maybe the attention will move away from it in the next year or two, but from a business and consumer point of view I don't think it's going to go away. I think that if anything it's going to grow and become embedded and a fundamental part of how we play and communicate with each other and entertainment ourselves."

You can read the full interview with Jamie MacDonald here.

Related stories

Sony UK marketing boss Rich Keen departing in November

Exec leaving “to pursue another opportunity in the industry”

By James Batchelor

Job losses at Sony London as first VR project wraps up

Compulsory redundancies means risk of "losing high calibre staff"

By Dan Pearson

Latest comments (5)

Lance Winter Game Designer, Nordeus8 years ago
Having worked in both industries, I concur that there certainly are cultural differences between the two.

Web has always had a strong affinity to the world of print design. Much of its desire to "grab eyeballs" comes from this. Its relative naiveté regarding games is, in a way, an advantage. Web developers can quickly implement a game without the burden of expectation.

Conversely, the games industry prides itself on a rich tradition. Games are built upon this existing heritage. Adapting to new markets and embracing changes in culture is something that the games industry is just now starting to do. We could certainly learn a thing or two from the agility of the web!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Matej Gause CEO, Mobilgamer8 years ago
This is not true. I don't agree on McDonald. I know, that also website designers have many problems to draw attention on users. Many website designers ( most of them ) make very difficult websites, which are so hardly to understand. Unfortunetely it's reality. Developers should not inspirated from web designers. At least not from those which are not experienced in needs of users. At the moment, there only are a few websites designers, that are really successful in social games. And developers don's have to change, I am sure, that many of them will plan an acquisition of experienced designers in social gaming. There is no need to change anything.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Barla Von Designer 8 years ago
Matej Gause

Developers should not inspirated from web designers.

I'm sensing a hint of elitism here. Both groups can learn a thing or two from each other...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (5)
Alex Wright-Manning Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, Datascope8 years ago
The games industry could learn a lot from a host of other creative industries. There is a kind of self imposed island mentality within the games industry, for which there are a number of causes. The media doesn't help us by vilifying the industry at every opportunity they get. However we should also take comfort in the influence we've had globally; not just within games but in all forms of media.

The fact that there are no new ideas in Hollywood has been more and more evident with the rise in movies lifted directly from those industries that are still rich with creativity, i.e. comic books, graphic novels and of course the games industry. A Halo, WoW, Gears of War or Modern Warfare movie would've been laughed out of a Paramount or Warner execs office 15 years ago, but now? $150 million budget? No problem! Peter Jackson directing? He's your's baby! The games industry houses some of the most brilliant ideas men and women I've ever experienced. Sure there'll always be FPS clones galore etc, but the sheer creative culture and flow of new ideas makes Hollywood weep. However, we could learn a lot from them in terms of storytelling and scriptwriting. For every Bioshock, there's ten "In a post apocalyptic world, only one man's balls are big enough to save the world!" stories.

In terms of learning from web developers? Of course we bloody can. The web industry thrives on creating user experiences used and seen by more people in one day than a blockbuster AAA title will see in it's lifetime. It's not like they haven't learnt from us, Flash and Actionscript development for web games is one of the fastest growing areas in the web industry.

I agree with Barla in that there's a good deal of elitism within the industry, and it's not just directed at outside. Console developers have always looked down their noses at mobile developers; just try to make the jump from mobile to console development and see what sort of response you get. But now who's laughing? The iPhone has made those publishers and developers rethink that attitude pretty quickly I can tell you.

The moral of the story here is that all the creative industries have something to offer to each other. Life's a learning experience, and if you're not open to other avenues, well there's a lot you'll be missing out on.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Alex Wright-Manning on 10th February 2010 4:11pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I totally agree with Jamie.

As we are putting together our publishing plan at Me-Stars (which features a network of 20-30 separate games with common content and interaction working cross platform on browser and iPhone) the key factor is how we present our classic gaming background and heritage within a web conscious framework.

This includes having a deep understanding of the protocols and expectations of social networking
The limitations of HTML
The limitations of the App Store
The limitations of Facebook
The technical intricacies of multiple phone, wifi, search engine, IM, billing systems and social network frameworks in every corner of the world
And most importantly how to get through all of this international tech spaghetti with a cheery, slick product with a smile on it's face and 1 million plus users

Compared to this the making great games bit is dead easy
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.