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Please stop making "bland and flavorless" games - Sheffield

Necrosoft Games director Brandon Sheffield offers advice to indies on unleashing their taste

The indie scene has never been more vibrant than it is today, but with the rise of independent games development we've also seen the rise in many "me too" games on the market - games that, according to Necrosoft Games director Brandon Sheffield, could use a dose of taste. In his presentation during the Indie Soapbox session last week during GDC, Sheffield began by showing a slide of very similar screenshots. "There are too many games like these," he said. "They all look basically the same and give no sense of character or taste whatsoever."

He implored developers to start making more unique games that result from individual taste because it'll make a game stand out from the crowd. "As we all know, getting attention is extremely hard right now," he noted.

By making something with taste, "There's greater risk, but potentially greater reward as well. And why be an independent game developer if you don't want to take risks and do interesting things?"

He continued, "If you show your tastes and your passions people will react to it. People love to have opinions and will share theirs against yours, especially these days with YouTubers and Instagrammers and all these things."

"I don't care if your taste leads to a rhythm game with only Smash Mouth covers, just make something that means something to you"

Sheffield commented that Blizzard's massively popular Overwatch isn't successful just because it's a great and fun game, but it succeeds ultimately because it has taste. "If you mix the unexpected with the familiar you've got a great platform to stand on. Obviously Overwatch is a great FPS that has layered on top of it someone's taste," he said.

If you want to be more successful as an indie, Sheffield believes it's necessary to start infusing your games with taste. "People say taste is something you have or don't and I completely disagree. I believe it can be cultivated and that all of you are capable of self-analysis," he said.

So how do you cultivate taste? Much of it has to do with life experiences. Sheffield advised thinking about your favorite music, why you like or dislike certain songs, why you like or dislike different movies, thinking about products you might gravitate towards in a thrift store, and he said travelling (even just a few towns away) can help you find new things for inspiration.

"Once you know who you are and what you like it comes very naturally [to incorporate taste into games]," he remarked. "Why should this character be blue when it can be red? Is there a reason for this person to be a man? What if it were a woman, or what if it were genderless? What if it had a dog? What are people who you know who have dogs like? How would they react in this situation? Make sure you're asking and answering [these types of] questions constantly."

He added, "If you make something for yourself or someone you know, it's more likely to resonate with others because it'll be genuine and real. People respect taste, they create a connection to it... Everyone has the capacity to do this.. Some people have an easier time than others but everyone is capable of identifying what they like and acting on it.

"I don't care if your taste leads to a rhythm game with only Smash Mouth covers, just make something that means something to you. If you make games infused with your carefully considered thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams and taste, your game will be so much more interesting than the next clones... There are so many bland and flavorless games in the world, let's not make any more of them."

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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.