Richard Garriott posted a lengthy explanation of a PC Gamer interview that was published yesterday in which he said that "most game designers really just suck," and that he had not met anyone who he thought came close to being as good a game designer as he was.
This interview and the headline that came out of it made some in the community angry about Garriott's perceived hubris, others pointed out Garriott's many failures as a game designer, and still others felt that the game industry veteran was clearly out of touch. But more than a few people agreed with what Garriott was saying as they looked past the headline and actually read the context from which it was plucked..
Today Garriott attempts to set the record straight. In a lengthy explanation posted on his company's official web site entitled "Words Taken Out of Context," Garriott tries to explain what he meant a little better and to set the record straight.
"Behind the inaccurate inflammatory headlines extracted from a longer dialog, I really do see a major challenge to our art form, specifically in the area of design," Garriott writes. "The design of a game is simultaneously 1) the most valuable aspect when it comes to the potential of success of a game, 2) the hardest part of game development to improve over previous efforts because of competition, and 3) the skill set with the least formal and informal training available to game developers."
He goes on at length about the history of design as he personally saw it unfold when he still worked at Origin. In the early days one person was usually responsible for game design, programming, music, and art. When Garriott was able to hire for specific roles he knew that he was almost always hiring someone better at a particular skill set than he was:
"Once upon a time, only one person made a game. By necessity that person was the programmer, artist and designer (as well as holding many other roles). I can honestly say that the first artist I ever hired was FAR better than I ever was. I was, and could still be, a passable programmer. Some programmers who my companies have hired have been better than me, some worse, as I would expect. And there are designers whose work in many areas is far better than mine. But I also think some of the work I have done as a designer remains a top contribution for its time.
However, while ALL artists in the industry are better than I ever was, and while I can easily hire a programmer who is better than I ever was, it is far more difficult to hire a designer who is clearly capable of leading a top 10 game. For any company, growth only comes when the company finds another leader who can make a top 10 game. Origin only grew when we found people like Chris Roberts and Warren Spector. Most other attempts at creating new game lines failed when we gave the reigns to junior people looking to advance. I want emphasize that this was not always the case, but it happened more times than not. As a business it’s important to understand why."
Garriott notes that, as the industry changed and projects became bigger in scope, studios started to rely more heavily on game designers to develop the actual plans for the game and make design calls on a computer’s limited resources should be spent on art, sound and interaction.
"This difficult trade-off is generally best handled by someone who knows the difficulties of coding and art creation issues, and that is more often someone who has programmed and drawn art than it is someone who has not."
Which leads back to the point he was trying to make in the PC Gamer interview: game design remains a hard skill to learn. Garriott says that a lot of indie developers who have to deal with all aspects of a game's design (art, music, design, programming) will rise to the occasion because they have a good understanding of all the issues they will face on a given platform. But those individuals who have never coded, written music, or created art for a game will have a harder path ahead of them.
Garriott closes by acknowledge that he could have presented his thoughts on game design in a more eloquent fashion and that he never meant to elevate himself over anyone else in the industry:
"Perhaps my statement that has been quoted so often in recent days could have been presented in a more eloquent fashion. But I stand by the point I was making, that game design is the hardest profession in our business to understand and to learn.
And I certainly am not trying to put my own career on some sort of game design high ground. While I have hit occasional home runs, I have made plenty of unforced errors. I was not attempting to prop myself up with these comments, but rather lament my need…our industry’s need for proper training in the most important skill required to make a good game. I never had any formal training either; I have just had more time to learn from my mistakes than most. If what comes from all this is a frank discussion and lively debate on how to best address this issue, then hopefully I’ve accomplished something."
You can read the entire statement here or click the link below. Richard Garriott and Portalarium recently secured funding for the RPG project Shroud of the Avatar: Lost Virtues via a Kickstarter campaign. With 16 more days to go the Kickstarter currently sits at $1,089,012.