Features// Games Industry Insights with David Jaffe

Posted 2 Jan 2013 11:00 by
As 2013 comes into sharp focus, SPOnG turns to the real video games experts: the people who actually make games. We have posed the same five key questions to some of the most interesting and insightful publishing and development figures in the global games industry. We got their unedited, open and highly informed opinions and we are publishing them in multi-part series of insights.

David Jaffe (left) with Kevin Smith from the movies
David Jaffe (left) with Kevin Smith from the movies
Industry Figure: David Jaffe
Job Title: Top Boss
Company: Eat Sleep Play
Best Known For: Twisted Metal, God of War, Calling All Cars

SPOnG: In what ways has the rise in tablet and mobile gaming proven beneficial/challenging to your work?

David Jaffe: I think the rise of tablets- and smart phones to an even larger degree - has shown there is a large group of gamers who are willing to play games without super expensive production values. For so many years, because the cost of producing a retail console titles got so high, the essence of the medium- interactivity/gameplay- took a backseat to presentation.

Tablets have reversed this trend in a big way and thus pushed game design and creativity back to the front of the line for many gamers. That's not to say big budget retail games can't be creative, but the costs for those endeavours is so high that it makes getting lots of fresh ideas into the mix much harder.

So, tablets and smart phones have really given the power back to the creatives. But yeah, there are challenges as well, but they are good challenges as they really reveal the weakness of the prior gaming generations where production value ruled the roost.

For example: you can't really use production value as a crutch in a tablet game like you can in a retail $60.00 title. Also: the number of gamers for whom a free or 99 cent game is just as good- at a fundamental entertainment level- as a full bodied, full featured retail title increases every day.

Which means two things:

1) if you are making a retail title, your value-for-the-$60.00 and your production values- and thus production cost- have to be best of breed in order to even have a shot at success and

2) the mid ranged game continues to go the way of the Dodo because the creative energy and unique play that mid range retail games used to bring are now the happy, healthy domain of the smartphones/tablets/inexpensive digital titles on PSN/XBLA/STEAM (but again, this is a good challenge as I think this change has been a great one).

SPOnG: How do you feel the industry has coped with regards to the economy, particularly redundancies and studio closures?

David Jaffe: Well it's a business, so it copes like any business: if smart business gets done- and Lady Luck is on your side :)- then you have money to hire and to invest in cool new stuff. But if you don't read the tea leaves right, then it's time to close down. Nothing new about that at a core level. That's healthy and the way business gets done and progress gets made.

Although- of course- it sucks when people lose jobs. The difference is the game biz has gotten its ass handed to it because of digital distribution, smart phones, ipads, and open systems for digital sales like Itunes and Steam. These are all fantastic changes for gamers but I don't think many of the traditional publishers (along with lots of game making vets) saw this disruption coming (which is why- I suppose- it was a successful disruption :) and so lots of folks got blindsided.

The other interesting thing about all of this is the seemingly growing transient nature of the individual game maker, regardless of position on the team. What the constant layoffs have done is create a 'sure, no job is forever, but these days most jobs are not even long term' conditioning within the game dev community. Because of this we are seeing two trends, one I consider very bad, one I consider very exciting.

Trend #1 (the bad one): More and more game creators are having a hard time settling down in one area because- chances are- a move is in the future. This makes adult life and family life very hard. And thus it motivates more and more experienced people to walk away from the industry. This is a big problem because such a nascent medium needs vets who have experience that is much needed-as creators, mentors, and/or teachers- if the definition of 'game' is going to move well beyond where it currently is.

Trend #2 (the exciting one): Remote teams. Because of the growing age of many in the biz, because the uncertainty of long term employment at most game making studios, because smaller games are now a viable business, and because today's tech makes it so easy, we are seeing more and more teams work out of virtual offices. I think this is wonderful for the medium because it means- like in the movies- you can assemble the right, best people for the specific game.

Now, granted, a talented team that sticks together and thus learns how to run like fantastic creative machine is always desirable (and the best publishers and money folks who fund games know this secret), but one of the ways you can keep such a talented team together (i.e.'Oh no, our great animator's husband got a job in Japan and she's moving!') is by allowing them to still be part of the crew but virtually so.

SPOnG: What's your opinion of cloud gaming? Have Gakai and OnLive helped with perception?

David Jaffe: I've always been a fan and I think there is zero doubt that cloud gaming (if by cloud gaming you mean streaming games to the consumer) will be the thing that kills traditional consoles. People give me shit for this but it's because they never listen to the rest of what I'm saying. So please, listen up! :) Cloud gaming WILL kill the traditional console because we'll see the content streamed right into a smart TV. BUT:

#1) Big budget console games that you play on your couch with a controller will not go away for a looooong time (only the Holodeck will kill the controller). The traditional console going away doesn't mean giant budget, bleeding edge game experiences go away. We'll always have the Gods and Gears of War, we will always have an Uncharted and a HALO.

It's just that these epics will be streamed to your television and it will be monetized in a number of unique ways (free with ads, no ads if you pay up front, Netflix style where you pay monthly for all the games you can play, a system where after the game has been out for a number of months then you can pay as you go/pay by the level or by the hour,etc.) I get some folks like to own and collect games and I respect that, but this change- like with music, DVDs, and books- is inevitable. Ideally there will still be small runs of physical game copies for the hard core collectors, too.

#2) Cloud gaming will be super healthy for the medium itself because it will further blur the line between big, medium, and small budget in the minds of gamers. Just like the television can stream you the latest 200+ million dollar super hero blockbuster and then- a few hours later- be showing you a bare bones, next-to-nothing-to-produce indie documentary on the plight of an at risk kid in South Central, LA, cloud gaming will accelerate the already great job that PSN/XBLA/STEAM style services are doing in communicating the idea that games do not need to be a set length, look a certain way, or be about only 1 subject (something the retail model not only did poorly, but actually prevented).

#3) Not every home or every town is set up with the internet infrastructure to support quality cloud gaming. I get this. And I'm not privy to anything other than living life long enough to realize two things:

1) what is limiting today will- in many cases- not be limiting tomorrow and
2) big tech companies have people working for them that are way smarter than me and way smarter than the vast majority of the folks who lay into me on messages boards when I make statements supporting cloud gaming. In other words: don't you think these huge corporations that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into cloud gaming are aware of this issue and have either solved it or have plans to solve it? Or that they are aware of plans for someone else to eventually solve it?

SPOnG: Crowd-sourcing (i.e. Kickstarter) has become a popular method for games developers to pitch their projects. Would you use it? Have you?

David Jaffe: I have not used crowd funding yet, but I think about it all the time. I've always loved connecting with, speaking with, and learning from the fans (and learning from the haters) of our work. Crowd funding takes this connection to the next level and so that excites me a great deal.

Things like Kickstarter also allow the medium of games to grow by allowing game makers to take chances on titles that traditional funding routes would not be motivated to explore. I'm very excited about crowd funding and I would be very surprised if it was not the way we fund one of our upcoming titles.

SPOnG: What is the best possible thing that can happen to the world of games in 2013?

David Jaffe: In a lot of ways, many of the trends in gaming that you bring up in your questions represent the best changes that will occur or will continue to occur to games in the coming year:

More crowd-funding (with previously crowd funded titles starting to launch to warm reception and thus proving out the model and calming the justified anxiety of a number of potential investors when it comes to things like Kickstarter), the first great success in cloud gaming , some big hits made by remote teams, smart phones and tablets continuing to prove that gameplay and imagination matters, fantastic big budget titles that continue to prove that eyeball bleeding, big budget games that you play on your big screen are always a joy (ideally we will also see some big budget retail/play-on-your-tv epics with eyeball bleeding visuals that ALSO have amazing gameplay and imagination...these are always the BEST!)

I expect to also see some great free to play games that speak to core gamers and don't insult them with hours of grind and/or pay to win. I'm not a big next-gen guy anymore but sure, I'm excited for the new consoles if they hit in 2013- that's always fun! I dunno- overall I'm really optimistic about games in 2013.

The disruption brought about by Apple and the challenges created by the weak economy+rising costs of retail $60.00 games have been very challenging for us in the business, but that same disruption and those same challenges have clearly opened up a number of very exciting opportunities for game makers and for gamers alike. Bring on tha New Year! :)

SPOnG: Thanks for your time David.

Be sure to check out how the other industry figures we've interviewed for this feature answer up by checking the links below like some sort of amazingly insightful advent calendar. Each interview goes live at 11am (GMT) on the day indicated and not before!

26/12/2012: Games Industry Insights with Antti Ilvessuo, RedLynx
27/12/12: Games Industry Insights with Paul Rustchynsky, Evolution Studios
28/12/12: Games Industry Insights with Ted Price, CEO Insomniac
29/12/12: Games Industry Insights with Theo Sanders, Ubisoft Singapore
30/12/12: Games Industry Insights with Steve Lycett, SUMO Digital
31/12/12: Games Industry Insights with Martyn Brown, InsightforHire
01/01/13: Games Industry Insights with Jon Lander of CCP
02/01/13: Games Industry Insights with David Jaffe
03/01/13: Games Industry Insights with Andy Payne O.B.E.
04/01/13: Games Industry Insights with Peter Molydeux, Genius

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