Following on from yesterday, MCV continues its talk with Peter Molyneux on instant feedback and how it shapes game development.
You said a little while ago that developers now have access to rapid feedback on their creations. Do you think there’s a risk of developers becoming over reliant on design-by-committee with such easy access to people’s opinions?
Well yeah, sometimes design-by-committee works (and it works incredibly well). In so many instances computer games are designed by groups of people, by focus groups, by research, and by looking at what else is in the marketplace and being inspired by that.
Some of those things will make a either a reasonably good film or a reasonably good computer game, but I think that when you’re doing something very different - when you’re innovating when the essence of what you’re creating has never been seen before - then I think design-by-committee is a huge problem.
Any idea, any approach, has a thousand reasons why it will not work. If I were to look back at the games I’ve worked on (everything from Black and White to Fable to The Movies) everything and if you’d have sat down and listened to just the idea, you’d have said ‘This isn’t going to work, neither is that, the technology isn’t there for this, the idea isn’t going to work, people aren’t going to like that’, and that’s where you need a leader. You need someone who’s going to say ‘Look, I don’t care about those things, I don’t care about why it won’t work – here’s the reason why we’re going to do it anyway and why we’re going to spend a whole lot of money to make this happen’, and that’s where a committee is inefficient.
I’m not saying that design-by-committee doesn’t work, just that it’ll work better for certain aspects of a game than others.
I’ve seen project after project after project where it will surface, everyone will get excited about it, then it just gets dissolved and destroyed by committee and by people trying to tweak tiny little bits of it without looking at the soul of what you’re creating. And I know that sounds very zen, but that seems to be more true.
For me, my time at Lionhead and being part of Microsoft was fantastic, but there’s a focus that an indie team can bring about that is very very unique.
Do you think videogames are unique in that way though? Considering that, as opposed to painting, videogames need to be interacted with by people on a mechanical level, is it possible that design-by-committee is required, but only for that mechanical aspect and not for the artistic vision for a game? Or are the mechanics and artistic vision too intertwined to think of them in that way?
Yeah, that’s absolutely right, and I’ve been saying for a long time that those things are intertwined.
Computer Games are insanely complex things. Everything from a very simple beginning concept turns into you taking this incredibly complicated technology and presenting the idea to people on multiple different hardware platforms which consumers then have to be able to understand within 3 or 4 seconds.
On your journey to creating that incredible technology, you need to have vast resources and insanely clever people who will do things which have never been done before.
This is especially true of the early 90s when there were no reference materials at all. You couldn’t go into a bookshop and buy a book on some shader or some process – you’d have to invent the whole thing yourself.
To a certain extent, I think that's happening all over again – this idea of inventing without referring to other things.
We’re inventing things now where people are connecting together in a way which has never been done before, and you can see and feel that there are all these new things happening. And in order to do that, you have to have all these people come together and try to solve these problems, and that’s where committees are useful is when you’re saying ‘We want people to be able to do this’ and ‘We want people to experience that’, and you have to have a little committee go away and say ‘Ok, here’s a problem we’re going to have we need to sink our teeth into.’
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