David Hayward On Why Games Are More Than An Industry

By Graham Smith on July 4th, 2014 at 6:00 pm.

Feral Vector, the successor to game events Bit Of Alright and World of Love, is happening right now in London. We’ll have a report from the event next week, but there’s no reason you can’t pretend you’re there now by watching organiser David Hayward’s pre-recorded talk. Titled Games Are So Much More Than An Industry, it’s a fifteen minute monologue about why working in games can be embarrassing, what Games Workshop executives might talk about in private, and what both major and independent developers commonly forget.

It’s funny and carries an implicit message about how nice it is to go walking in the countryside. Find it embedded below.

The blog post accompanying the video sets out the core question:

The explosion of new games and independent developers that’s been reverberating for the past seven years isn’t just an expansion of the games industry, it’s an expansion of games and game cultures.

Game development is cultural activity, and if most independent developers seem bound to suffer the poverty of authors, artists and musicians, why is so much of what they do still bound to industry?

There are a lot of good answers to that question, but the freewheeling video above is less about answers – the existence of the conference is, I guess, in some ways the answer – and more about outlining the problems with current discourse. And jokes about space fascists. It’s great and worthy of thought and discussion.

Personally I’m still holding out for the conference which treats games not as business or culture, but as games.

Thanks, Kotaku.

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17 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    RobF says:

    I absolutely loved this.

  2. kwyjibo says:

    We really do need more diverse skull representation in video games.

  3. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    That was oddly serene and beautiful. Loved that allegory.

  4. Taidan says:

    Thantaku.

  5. Stardreamer says:

    An amazing and inspirational piece. Beautifully put together.

    In many ways I think he’s referring to the problem faced by George Lucas when Star Wars went big and suddenly he had lots of money to play with. His instinctual resentment of Industry control led him to seek a way out of it. But when his opportunity arose…he merely became the thing he’d been railing against, teaching the big boys a few lessons along the way. I’m sure there are many great and wonderful Indie devs who aren’t like that, who don’t see their work as defined by – or even a reaction against – the Industry around them but clearly people like that are out there.

    Corporate Gaming, the Big Publishrs like Ubisoft and EA, is certainly out there and I think we should count ourselves extremely lucky that their near total domination of the gaming space has now been largely curtailed by the rise of such a healthy Indie scene and new funding models afforded by things like Kickstarter. We faced a very dismal, production-line future – in fact we even lived it a for a few years – in which none of these vital and fascinating conversations, about games being culturally relevant on their own terms, could have taken place, or at least gained any traction.

    The mention of Michael Bay is also very timely – just this morning I wrote a piece about how the Transformers films weren’t anything we should be celebrating in cinema, due to the fact that they were cynically constructed as dopamine-reward trigger-fests, in much the same way Zynga pioneered in the casual gaming space with Farmville and those other noxious psychological con-games. He’s taken a product that could have been handled much more artistically and shat out lumps of adrenaline porn…GUNS! TITS! EXPLOSIONS! AMERICAN FLAG! MILITARY! Cinema isn’t dead, but it’s getting harder to find interesting works in the morass of ‘product’.

    Gaming isn’t dead….but to keep out from falling into the same rut again we need more awesome videos like this one.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Gaming isn’t dead….but to keep out from falling into the same rut again we need more awesome videos like this one.

      Or, more awesome games. There’s a little irony in game designers complaining that there are no good games that people want to buy and the only ones they want to buy are different from the ones they’re making.

      • Stardreamer says:

        There’s no irony at all. How many times have we heard devs telling us they took their dream game design to publishers, only to be told “No, you can’t have our money to make your game” because of any number of industry bullcrap reasons? Even people like Peter Molyneux experience this. This is why Kickstarter has become so important. It gives people the chance to be funded for their dream project without having to be beholden to an economic machine set up to mass-produce single lines of risk-averse product and stifle creativity.

        That’s why the space-game renaissance is happening. People are finally being given their chance to make, as you put it, “awesome games”. But let’s not pretend that doing so was ever as easy for a dev as declaring your intent to do so.

    • aepervius says:

      ” Cinema isn’t dead, but it’s getting harder to find interesting works in the morass of ‘product’.” The sad truth is that people film and sell in cinema, movie which the public like to watch. This is as simple as that. You have to simply admit that you are in the minority which do not like the mainstream film of today.

      Same with game.

      Note that I am not saying that they are better or worst, but simply that they sell more because they correspond to the public taste.

      I had the same conversation 30 years ago with somebody older complaining they don’t film the film anymore as they used to and they are only showing crap.

      Public taste chang with generation.

      • Premium User Badge

        AngelTear says:

        I don’t think it’s about public vs individual taste, with some people remaining behind in taste. Talk to any expert/critic in any mainstream form of entertainment (Films, games, Books and Music) and they’ll tell you that the most famous stuff isn’t actually the best stuff.

        I like to think that, if you put fame on the X axis and average “quality” on the Y axis (yes, I know the quality of a work of art/entertainment isn’t objective, but bear with me), you’d get something resembling a bell diagram, with the best stuff to be found most often in the middle, famous enough among people who follow the scene but not good enough to break into the mainstream. (E.g.: Good enough to get coverage from RPS, but not enough to make it into a generalist magazine that only has space to cover one game a week, and will therefore cover the big AAA games of the moment)

        And not because it isn’t actually good enough, but because usually the highest quality stuff isn’t the most accessible stuff, isn’t the most “easy fun”, or the most marketed for by the big publishers with money, because the best stuff is usually innovative, risky from a marketing point of view, and hard to consume.

        Take films: the most interesting things are being done by directors like David Lynch, who is famous only among those who know a bit about cinema, and even then he is mid-tier in terms of how many people would see his movies in cinemas, compared to something like Avatar which is extremely accessible if only because everyone can appreciate the awesome graphics.

        Take rock music: Do you think Nickelback is better than Tesseract? No matter your taste, there’s no denying there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on in the music of Tesseract or Karnivool, but it’s not accessible to the average listener, actually it alienates them. In books, people like Dan Brown (or 50 shades, or Harry Potter) sell more than people like Salman Rushdie.

        In games, it’s the same thing, the best stuff is in the mid-tier, the most exciting things are happening with games like The Stanley Parable, Sword and Sworcery, Kentucky Route Zero, Braid and on the other hand things like FTL, Don’t Starve, Cart Life, Papers Please etc. All those are generally way more interesting and exciting and innovative than the actual best sellers. Is Dwarf Fortress better than Simcity? It probably is, but Simcity is way more accessible and has more marketing to support it.

        This is not to say everything that is famous is bad (my favourite example is Radiohead, but also Dark Souls), and there are also a lot of gems that will never be discovered in the lowest tier of games that are basically unknown even to many of the people who actively follow the scene *cue Live Free Play Hard theme*, but I do believe as a general rule this is true.

        Disclaimer: My examples are somewhat biased by my own taste, but this is not about individual taste, it’s about where interesting, innovative, exciting things in a medium are going on. Not liking one, or even most of the games I mentioned as example does not disprove my argument.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    That Logo is still underpants.

    • Geebs says:

      You never forget the first time you spill hundreds and thousands all over your perspex merkin.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I could listen to that man saying “space fascists” all day!
    (The rest of the video is good too)

    Also – the landscape in the background is beautiful!

  8. theslap says:

    Too much rambling for me before making his points. Nice background at least.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    Someone mod someone talking about space fascists eviscerating each other into Proteus.

  10. filsd says:

    I absolutely love this.
    Thanks for posting. :]

  11. PopeRatzo says:

    I think there might be other reasons they feel “embarrassed” to be working in games. I know a few people socially who’ve worked in minor roles on Portal 1 & 2 and on the Assassin’s Creed 3 & 4. Sound designers and music in the first case and art on the second. You would have had to sit for a while to see their names come up on the credits.

    None of them are embarrassed to be working in games. If you do good work and take pride in it, you should never find yourself “embarrassed”. If you expect a living from making precious little art project games where you walk around the countryside in an old Unreal Engine, you might find your cheeks a little red.

    If you want to discuss games as games instead of as business or corporate culture, it helps to start with games and not cultural artifacts that only appeal to other broke-ass indie game designers. I’ll bet there were many thousands of games that kids decided not to play because playing “Army” was more fun. “Hey, I got you, you’re down!” “Nuh-uh”. “Yeah uh!”. “I don’t want to be the Germans. I’m always the Germans. You be Germans, this time.” “Hey, you guys want to play an imaginative little game where we pretend we’re walking in the English countryside and maybe encounter a few sheep and contemplate our mortality?” “Sod off. OK, I’ll be Germans again.”

  12. Geebs says:

    - 1000 points for use of OnanCam.