Macroeconomic Terms, Game Design, and Strengths

I happened across a post by Shannon Appelcline over at while looking for information on balancing a Collectible Card Game.  The post here evoked some thoughts, so I thought it only appropriate to push myself to put words to them.  I realize I may come across as critical, but I have decided to leave it as-is because I think there can be found the tenuous threads of a valuable train of thought here. 

Our field (video game design) is built upon capitalistic forces that encourage us to produce the newest sequel of a sequel, with the skins and graphics changed, but not the actual game play (see an opponent; shoot him).

I don’t agree with the capitalistic forces term.  Game Theory is the term that’s appropriate, heh heh, in more ways that one.  It’s the trying to figure out what other people are going to choose when you don’t really know and you don’t really have a reliable way of finding out.  In the simplest matrix described by Game Theory, each of the two competitors can choose from 2 different courses of action: go balls-out or go safe.

If what Shannon describes is accurate, then capitalistic forces tend to result in people taking the safe route.  I think, and I’m sure Shannon would agree, that different people react in different ways when presented with the “risky or safe” choice.  So it’s not really the capitalistic forces that change a person….

 See, here’s one of these misassignments of logic.  What we are talking about, these “capitalistic forces” is so very often interpreted as external forces, forces larger than onesself that one has little ability to combat.  In reality these “capitalistic forces” are macroeconomic term invented to help make sense of things on a global scale.  Used in this way we are speaking of emergent behavior, and the rules that describe an emergent behavior are not the same rules that ellicit that behavior.

The decision to “go risky or go safe” is up to the individual making the decision, and their decision is fully based upon how they value what it is they must decide upon.  Currently, the scales seem to tip in favor of the “safe” route, as many would attest.  Each individual decision is made weighing the percieved pros and cons as the decision-maker understands them.  The tendency to “go safe” is more indicative of a general cultural outlook on certain facets of the game industry than it is anything to do with “capitalism”, “socialism”, or otherwise.

There are certain personalities that are attracted to maintaining the status quo.  These traits are immensely valuable, and I think where there is lots of value/money/power, there you will find these personalities, sometimes in greater concentrations than lower-valued areas.  I think we all will acknowledge that risk-taker personalities don’t naturally mix well in these circles.  And seeing as the grand new gameplay mechanics come from risk-taker/visionary types, we need to simply accept it and embrace it.  The status-quo crowd has a remarkable ability to take a rough product and refine it.  They have a strength for that.  Great!  Let them do that.  In fact, let’s love ’em for that.  They’re the ones that make things look so slick, shiny, and user-friendly.

Let’s embrace the fact that the risk-taker, visionary game designer is simply not going to be cruisin’ in the high roller crowd, and this is simply due to where their strengths lie, not anything else.  Implicit is that they will be happier in such a position.  And here we find me concluding with exactly what Shannon ended with.  Consider this a parallel statement (hopefully in terms that evoke a further range of thoughts).

You can be a starving, independent designer, putting out innovative games that not too many people will see while living on Ramen noodles. Or, you can be a corporate drone, chunking out identical code for identical games during eternal 80-hour crunch weeks, but at the same time building up nice balances in your bank accounts and working in the industry you always wanted to be a part of. Or, you can be the sheep in wolf’s clothing, the innovator trying to work from within the big gaming houses, but constantly beset by disappointment when corporate refuses your newest good ideas.

There’s no good answer, there’s no bad answer, there’s just what makes you happy.