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GDC: Cliff Bleszinski: "Screw focus groups, they suck"

The Epic designer offers up some advice for indies in a 'microtalks' session

Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski was one of several speakers who presented during a round of 'microtalks' at GDC on Thursday. The Gears of War creator offered up some sound advice for developers just starting out in the business.

Bleszinski spoke at a very rapid clip to fit in a wealth of knowledge into a tiny amount of allotted speaking time. He began with the premise of what he might do if he were 17 years old again and could start his career over completely. He noted that things would be much different now because the industry has changed so drastically over the last 20 years since he got his start as a designer.

One key piece of advice he shared was that developers need to start small; they shouldn't overdo it or over think a project. He stressed that developers should use a PC (not other platforms) and focus entirely on the game mechanic first, not story or setting or theme.

He noted that failure and learning from failure is a very valuable thing, whether that's looking at games that have failed or by learning from your own mistakes. He said that you can't be afraid to throw away your ideas and that sometimes someone else on your team, like your concept artist, might have a better idea than you.

Bleszinski also emphasized that iteration is absolutely critical to development. The idea is to keep what works, throw away bad ideas and iterate, iterate, iterate. And as much as some companies love to use focus groups for games, Bleszinski was blunt, saying, "screw focus groups, they suck and need to go away." It's also important to have a business plan, and hiring a biz guy is likely a good idea.

Once a game is complete, he said that some self-promotion is definitely needed, through trailers, a Facebook page, etc. It sounds cliche, he said, but it's necessary to spread the word on a title.

As a form of encouragement to the developers in the audience, he reminded everyone that Rovio actually made 51 games before they struck gold with Angry Birds.

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James Brightman avatar

James Brightman


James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.