Okay, well, my name's Jeff Vogel. I'm 45. I live in Seattle, and I run Spiderweb Software. It's a small indie-game company. It was founded in 1994, so, we've been doing this for over 20 years. We write fantasy role-playing games for Macintosh, Windows, and iPad mainly, sort of old-school, retro-style. We started in '94.
It wasn't called "indie gaming" back then. It was called "shareware," and there wasn't really a worldwide web to speak of. We sold most of our games over AOL, which is an online delivery content service that used to exist.
That's pretty much it. I was writing indie games well over a decade before anyone really used the phrase "indie games."
That's something I wanted to ask you about. You wrote a thing last year about that.
Are you talking about my article about the popping of the indie-game bubble?
I indeed am.
That was just about a year ago. Probably the most widely read thing I've written online. A lot of people read that article. There wasn't a lot of argument about it because of my being pretty much unquestionably right.
Okay, so we're a year out from that article. How do you feel about all that stuff you were right about?
Right now it is really difficult to break into indie-game development. It's still possible. People will still try and people will always try, which is great, and there are still fortunes being made. There are still some games that people release and they break through and make a ton of money, but by and large, if you go on Steam and poke around on Greenlight, there’s a lot of junk. There is still floods of indie games coming out and a lot of them -- there's going to be blood on the streets. A lot of people are just going to give up because they have to. There's just too much product and not enough discoverability.
The discoverability is a big part of the problem because I think a lot of the gaming press, who are the people who used to be the ones to find these games and elevated them up and make them visible, just look at the mess of the bajillions of titles that are out there and just sort of throw their hands up in the air. So, there is -- every once in a while a game will poke through and will get attention, but by and large, even worthwhile titles, everyone's just exhausted of picking through the stuff.
I wish that a few gaming websites would just step forward and bite the bullet and say, "Okay, every once in a while we're gonna wade through this garbage and once a week, we're gonna post about one game that you haven't heard of that we think is pretty cool."
I think that that would be fantastic. I think it would help the industry. I think it would help worthy developers. I just kind of don't see it happening. People -- I think that a lot of the time the press latches onto one title and obsesses over it.
I think No Man's Sky is a good example. I'm not saying No Man's Sky is going to be good or it's going to be bad. I think that nobody is quite sure what it's going to be, and that soaks up all the oxygen in the room. I'm never going to wish ill on any indie developer. I hope No Man's Sky comes out and I hope it's fantastic. But there's just a lot of games that just never get seen, and I wish there was more attention paid to rooting out the good ones. I think that if that was done, then people would -- YouTube LetsPlayers are actually better at this, which is one of the reasons YouTube LetsPlays have caught on so much.
Yeah, and also, it's, uh -- you don't have to read. [Laughs.]
Yeah, well, my kids loves the YouTube LetsPlays, and it is my observation that young people today are not big readers by and large.
Do you think kids are getting a better cross-section of what's out there compared to what the written outlets are covering?
I still browse all of the big gaming press sites and I almost never find out about good small titles from them. It's weird. I can't remember the last time I went to a press site and came away going, "Oh wow, there's a new thing and I want to hunt it down."
For years, my best source of recommendations of new things was Penny Arcade. They always wanted to be heavy lifters for helping indies and small creators in a number of media get exposure.
So, I've just been sifting through game press sites really quick to see if I could find one that is pushing a new thing or is pushing something I haven't already heard of a thousand times. I'm getting nothing. Polygon, on its front page, at one point mentioned that the PlayStation's about to get a really obscure indie title no one's ever heard of called Braid. No one's written enough about that.
Oh, what is that?
Apparently, it's the next big thing.
I have to step back from being an asshole to say that Braid is fantastic game, which may have been discussed a certain amount in the past. The biggest article on Kotaku right now is about Game of Thrones, which is apparently a television show. So, yeah. I'm sympathetic. It's a lot of work. It's a lot of work to go through all the crap and find something good.
That's why we want you guys to do it. We can't do it. I can't go on Steam and wander through all this garbage. It's like nine out of 10 games on Steam now has "Freddi Fish" in the title. Once again, being a jerk, that is an exaggeration. But if I go into the Steam new releases page now, it's going to be pretty weird and dire.
Well, this is a huge sweeping statement and a big leap, but are we saying people who want to buy games are pretty lazy? Like, no one had really heard of No Man's Sky until Sony plucked it up and put onstage at E3 last year. Do you remember sites writing about it before then? Or the things on the front page of Steam -- are they the things that end up becoming the most popular? Like: "Here it is." "That's fine."
Yeah. Well, someone has to do it. In the end, someone is going to jump into this vacuum and start making recommendations. If it's not Steam, it's going to be Apple. If it's not Apple, it's going be YouTubers. There is money in telling people about stuff they want to hear about. And someone's gonna be making that money.
And in the end, it probably should be Steam because Steam makes the money directly. Steam doesn't have to snuff around for clicks. Steam just -- they can make a game a hit. Steam gets a pretty nice cut and everybody is happy.
You know, I'm picking on the gaming press, and now I feel kind of bad about it. One of my personal philosophies is you shouldn't go around and start criticizing people until you're absolutely convinced there is a problem. And there are already so many more games that I know are good than I have time to play that I'm not sure they need more discovery. If people were discovering more good games and throwing them at me, I'd just be more stressed.
'Cause I don't need to know more good games. I'm still trying to finish Bayonetta, for God's sakes. I don't need another sexy roguelike platformer.
I'm trying to finish Metal Gear Solid 4 before E3 for an interview I’m doing that week.
Oh, well. Enjoy that 40 hours. I don't know if it's really that long. Isn't that game, like, forever long? I've played one Metal Gear Solid and I thought that the bad guy, Revolver Ocelet, had the best bad-guy names ever, and then I finished it. And then I was done with that. It's not my kind of thing.
I'm just saying, I am right there with you -- a full entry and a couple years behind on a series that's about to get extended in a few months.
It's like, I should be playing The Witcher 3. I write role-playing games. I should totally be playing it. I just don't got the 60 hours right now. I want to play it.
But why do you even need to be playing it right now?
I'm between games, and this is when I play to sort of be inspired and get ideas and just see what people are doing. I have tried, like, a million indie role-playing games in the last six months. I've just been having a blast because I almost never finish them because I'm the most jaded role-playing videogamer in exist. But I've just been seeing so much cool stuff and so many good ideas. And The Witcher apparently just does plotting and characterization and interesting thoughtful quests as well or better than anyone, and since that's the kind of thing that I sell in my games, I really should be playing that. I think I'd come away from it really inspired. But -- eh, 60 hours.
But the Internet and gaming now, people act like there’s one true way to write a game and one true way to play a game. The Internet can ruin anything.
One of the things I love about videogames is they're just kinda weird and shaggy and there's so many ways to approach them and so many different ways to appreciate them.
What do you think it is about the intersection of videogames and the Internet --
Oh, no. It's not just the Internet. It's anything that two people can disagree about, the Internet will argue about it until forever. This isn't a new phenomenon.
I was on the Internet in 1988, when you couldn't even transfer images. The whole Internet was one forum and it was called Usenet, and it had a videogame area, and it had a politics area, and it was just text messages. It was like the Internet was so small you could have one forum for the whole Internet.
I remember they created a coffee board on Usenet. This was, like, in 1989, for people just to discuss coffee. It hadn't been created for 47 seconds before there was a flame war -- which was what we called arguments at the time.
A nasty, vicious argument about whether Starbucks was good or not.
Even in the good old days, the pre-everything, everyone on the Internet had a college degree days, it took them 47 seconds to ruin coffee. Everything that we're going through now may be faster, may be more vicious. There wasn't any Swatting in the old days. But all it is is it's just people. It's stuff that's been there since the very first day. Everyone's always been horrible.
When you're talking to someone you're not in the room with, you'll feel just fine being a jerk to them. And then when you talk to them in person-to-person, in a room, like a human being, all of a sudden they're not that much of a jerk anymore and you have to act like a sensible human being when you run the risk of getting punched in the face.
That seems as good a segue as any to talk about something from your email you said you wanted to discuss. I don't like to do "shots fired," but I do like the idea of talking about "games criticism getting too political."
Before we dive into that, do you want to talk about this Polygonthing that happened yesterday?
By the time this goes up it'll be totally dated and forgotten, but I think the whole thing is so hilarious that it should have an exhibit in the Museum of Videogames. So, okay, there's a game called Rock Band 4 coming out.
And Rock Band, to my mind, is one of the sweetest, funnest most guileless game series ever made. All Rock Band wants to do is let you have fun at a party and give money and exposure to musicians and occasionally teach you a little bit about playing instruments. That's what Rock Band wants. Being mean to Rock Band -- play it. Don't play it. Like. Don't like it. But being mean to Rock Band is like kicking a puppy.
So, Polygon, the No. 1 gaming press outlet for people who hate videogames, sends a previewer to a preview of Rock Band 4 and the previewer has what can only be described as a mid-life crisis nervous breakdown while at the preview and writes about it. And I knew we'd be talking about this, so I have the page up. He spends the whole preview talking about how he spends the time just in a void of existential despair, sitting at the bar "drinking fizzy water, eating puff pastry canapes" instead of looking at the game. Later on in the preview, he writes, "All video games are stupid, of course."
Of course. Not just video games are stupid, which some people might think is a topic that bears discussion. Some people may not in fact be afraid to take all of video gaming and throw it on a fire. But it's not enough to say that. He says, "of course."
Yesterday, I was thinking this is the worst article about videogames ever written.
But I slept on it. Today, I think it is the best article on videogames ever written.
Normally I'm not a huge fan of videogame previews. I want every videogame preview from now on to be written by a person in the middle of a yawning existential crisis. [Laughs.] I just want them to walk into the videogame preview, start screaming, eat everything, just go all Hunter S. Thompson and write a thousand pages of incoherent despair and then they just shoot them full of Thorazine and just cart them away. That would improve videogame previews 1000 percent. I would never miss a videogame preview if this was what happened. God, it's just so funny.
Videogame journalism and videogame press and videogame discussions are so messed up now. This preview is so funny and relatively harmless that I just want to pitch a tent and wait at this article for a little bit before I listen to people shout at each other more because God it's funny. I think everyone should read this preview. It is a masterpiece of something. I swear to God, you'll laugh for days.
I will include a link.
But people have been whining on the Internet for honesty and integrity in games writing and here is an honest piece of something. It's at least honest.
But as a piece of criticism, it's lazy. "I don't like it."
"Fizzy water." Fizzy water! [Laughs.] I wish he would have gone on more. "And then they served us eclairs, but the eclair was a little bit stale." "Oh, now they're doing an Eagles song? Well, the Eagles are stupid. Everybody knows that. And then I ordered a microbrew."
Oh my God, I would read every preview ever written if they were like that. [Laughs.]
Honestly, though, in the pantheon of games writing, previews are the most thankless task. You're seldom able to be critical. You will likely see the word "nevertheless." It's an odd dance where you're shown something that's not really done, and the job typically is to be optimistic and to try to sell it -- to say what you honestly thought and then realize, well, they may still fix it.
I really think that previews are necessary. Sometimes you gotta trust your audience. If you can't trust your audience, just write a little thing that says, "Look. This game's not done. This is just what we thought. You can't be too critical on it because it's just half-done. We're just gonna give you some facts about what the thing's gonna be and maybe in the end it'll suck, but for now this is what they told us it would be."
How about that? That's a pretty good start.
And then eventually you just gotta trust your audience. Any person with a half-dozen brain cells strung together is eventually gonna figure out that previews are previews. They're not gonna give you all the facts. In a sense it's a thankless, weird job because you can't be too mean. But on the other hand, isn't that a gift? It's one time when you can write something and not feel a need to be angry about it. You can live the dream. You can be optimistic about something for a moment.
"Yeah, Rock Band, when you play a song, it's gonna recommend more songs to keep your party going faster. Is it gonna work? I don't know. Is Rock Band 4 ever gonna ship? I don't know. Is the human race gonna exist or get wiped out by a meteorite in August? I don't know. But maybe someday this is gonna happen and we'll get something to look forward to to get you through your stupid life."
I don't have any problem with previews. I don't read them very much. If a game's gonna come out that I care about, I'll look at the preview. But I'm old enough to know it's probably half lies. At least it'll give me an idea what's coming. It'll help the videogame manufacturers make money, and we all on some level want that to happen because we want to keep having videogames. It gives you guys something to write about besides being angry about people, so keep doing the previews, man. Keep doing what you do.
If we support the games, then the PR teams can buy better puff pastries.
Those puff pastries -- that is something that just leaps off the page. Just reading this, I could taste those puff pastry canapes.
Oh my God. I will be making fun of this article for 10 years. I'm not young enough to be genuinely angry about it. We've all had that day. I have months at a time where I sit down at a computer and fire up the development environment, and fire up Photoshop and go, "Oh this is stupid." And I just go take a nap.
I've been writing games for 20 years. I am burned out as heck. When I read this article about this guy who just can't take it anymore, I am totally there with him. There are plenty of days where I have written this article. But here's what then happens. I don't publish it. I don't give it to an editor. I don't press the "send it to the world" button. I just put it in a little folder and I don't think about it anymore and I go have a few stiff drinks and I get back to my job. [Laughs.] I don't publish it. Oh my God.
There was no editor for that article. There was no process. There was no thought. That's too expensive. Thought and reflection costs money. All of these sites run on the thinnest of shoestrings. So he wrote a thing that got a lot of people talking about it -- and we are talking about it. I've made him some money with my link. I didn't link to a relink or an archive or whatever. I went straight to the article. I made the guy some money. He still needs to eat. He wrote a really deliciously well crafted piece of clickbait, and I appreciate craftsmanship. He just did the right thing at the right time and he'll get a whole bunch of clicks, he'll make a thousand dollars, and then he gets to stay in his apartment for a month. That's fine.
Okay, okay. I don't want to continue to beat this particular deceased mare. So, you wanted to talk about game criticism and, as you said, "the simplistic identity politics wormhole that has sucked all air out of the room."
[Sighs.] So, I'm just gonna zoom out meta really quick. Everything on the Internet now works on clicks. Everyone from the lowest blogger to The New York Times gets paid by clicks. You write something for 1,000 clicks, you make $n. You write something that gets 2,000 clicks, you make twice that. This is an oversimplification, but that's the basic idea. When you write something, you don't want to be telling the hard truth. You don't want to make the world a better place. You want to get clicked, and that's how you eat. And that's the system.
I think that the system has certain effects on how people communicate and how people think. If you write an article that makes people angry and people get super-angry and they keep going to it and arguing about it and going to that page and arguing about it, that's the most efficient way to make money. And the most efficient way to make people angry is to go to certain sorts of politics and certain sorts of identity politics and just bang the drum and everyone gets mad, and then they'll go to your comments section and they'll get in big arguments and that's more and more and more clicks. And, you know, I can't change the system. It just developed and here it is and we all just have to deal with it in our own ways.
I delete a lot of bookmarks. A lot of websites that I love get infected by it to varying degrees, and I just go there less. When people write a headline -- clickbait is really popular and I think it is a very accurate term. You will see a website like "Five Things You Didn't Know about Cherries" or this next one's a real example from Slate: "You've Been Making Scrambled Eggs the Wrong Way Your Whole Life." Let us tell you the right way. The headlines themselves are designed to make you angry.
The headlines themselves are designed to raise your blood pressure just to click and go, "Oh hell yeah I know how to make scrambled eggs. I'm gonna go to the forums and let's argue about scrambled eggs."
Let's not. Scrambled eggs are fine. Scrambled eggs don't need our help. Videogames are afflicted by this, but everyone's afflicted by this now. Identity politics are the best ways to get the clicks. If I was working for Kotaku, I would write articles all the livelong day that was like -- what's a game? Splatoon. Splatoon's a game that just came out.
"Splatoon's an Example of White Male Privilege." Say I wrote an article with that headline. It doesn't matter what the article is about. People are going to click on that link. It doesn't necessarily -- I don't know. I've never played Splatoon. For all I know it is all about white male privilege. So, if anyone wants a quote to pull out of context: Splatoon is all about white male privilege. There. "Noted Indie Developer Calls Splatoon Racist." [Laughs.] Why not? I need the attention, too. We don’t get a lot of press.
People single out the gaming press for it, but all press works like that on the Internet. And because the Internet is the only press -- in my country now, that's how all the press works. I personally think it kind of sucks but that's just where we are. All of everyone's wants and needs have added up to that and we just kind of have to live with it, but every once in a while, I'm still gonna say, "This isn't great. I'm not enjoying this very much." It won't change anything, but at least once in a while people should say it.
To zoom back in a little bit, what sorts of things specifically in games are getting in the way of meaningful, substantive rhetoric?
You said games. Do you mean games or the games press?
I guess any part of it?
People who write games are just doing what they always do. The people who write games are artists, and every artist has a thing they do and they do that. Art is a direct product of our brains. Every work of art is a direct product of what its creator is like. I have a certain kind of game I write. I write fantasy role-playing games. If you turned me around and said, "Write me a sports game or write a strategy game," I wouldn't do a very good job. I got a thing I do and I've got a sort of story I write. That's how artists work. If you go to Van Gogh and ask him to paint a Renoir, if you go to Renoir and ask him to paint a Van Gogh -- oh, they are painters, they make paintings, which is another thing that used to exist. If you go to Van Gogh and tell him to paint a Renoir, you're going to get a crappy painting.
You can get an artist to change what they do somewhat, but you can only push that needle a little bit.
Games are made by people who love to create, and they go out and they create their thing, and you'll like it or you won't like it. If you don't like it, find something you like and support the heck out of it. If you don't find anything you like, I don't know what to tell you. You have to go write it yourself or you have to wait for it to come along, or you have to accept that other people just don't like what you like.
I am one of the few people who has been lucky enough to be able to say, "I'm looking around, I'm not seeing what I like. I'm going to write what I like." That was how I started Spiderweb Software. That was exactly the situation where I wrote my first game, Exile. I wanted to play a certain sort of game. No one was making it, so I wrote it. Now, only a few people can do that. It's very rare to have the time or the opportunity or the resources, let alone talent, whatever that means.
So, yeah, artists are gonna do what they're gonna do and they put it out in the world and then the press will cover it or not cover it. YouTubers will cover it or not cover it.
From the creator end of it, that's kind of the end of the discussion. You make a game and it gets to the press and the critics and the YouTubers and the Redditors and 4chan and then everyone starts shouting at each other. That's not our fault.
Maybe. But devs also do a fair amount of shouting as well.
But what do you think the games press could be doing to improve the industry in some fashion?
I have to dial back my arrogance a tad here.
Making a living doing press on the Internet is hard. It is a hard, to a certain extent, unsolved problem. I make fun of Polygon, but, man, I would not be the guy in charge of making Polygon make money. I would not want to be the one to figure out how to get Polygon to pay its payroll every month. Internet news is a tough, tough business. I get angry about the clickbait, but but the reason that they do it that way is they have to to survive.
Advertising doesn't make a lot of money and most people just install an ad blocker anyway. So, when I have to say, "What would I have them do?" The thing is I have to reel back and apologize to Polygon. I don't know what they should do.
There's your pullquote: "I apologize to Polygon."
[Laughs.] No, the pull quote now is, "Racist Indie Developer Apologizes."
[Laughs.] "Racist Indie Developer Likes Polygon." That would be on Kotaku.
You said all that stuff about Splatoon, so you can't deny it.
Um, okay. I gotta let myself drop this.
But I don't think I should criticize clickbait until I say what they should do, and I don't know. I can't in good faith give them business advice. That would put them out of business. I don't know what they should do.
And believe me, I've gotten more fun out of this Rock Band 4 article than out of any game article I've read in years. So I don't know. I'm middle-aged, and one of the things I've learned to do is just a lot of times say, "Man, I don't know. Just keep doing that thing you do."
I do think that if more people could do that, the Internet would be a nicer place.
Just chill out, let things and people be?
Yeah. Sometimes you gotta speak up, but I think maybe the line for when you gotta speak up -- you gotta be careful where you draw that line or everyone's just angry at each other all the time. We're all just people. Unless someone is actually going out and killing people serially -- unless someone is actually sending threats. If someone is sending threats on Twitter, I don't care what extreme of the political spectrum is. You're not my friend.
If you read an article on Gamasutra that pisses you off, it's okay to be pissed off. I've read plenty of stuff on Gamasutra the last year that pissed me off. Don't try to put them out of business. They still gotta eat, too. If they're ticking you off so much, go to another site. If that site doesn't exist, go to Reddit or go to -- there's plenty of places to discuss videogames. If you're angry, believe me, I have plenty of problems with the ethics of how Gawker Media does what it does, but you know what I do? I just don't go. If they suck enough for a long enough time, they're gonna go out of business on their own. You don't need to send companies emails like, "Don't you dare advertise on Gamasutra because they wrote about an article about videogames that I disagree with so the people who work there shouldn't be able to feed their children anymore."
What is that? What is that?
I'm totally in favor of saying to the videogame press: What you're doing is not helping. What you're doing is not helping me. That's a fair feedback to say.
But then don't destroy them.
It's a very teenage mindset. I was that way when I was a teenager. I would get in arguments for days over whether PC or Mac was better. I'm never going to get any of those hours of my life back. Now it's just, you know, you use your computer and I use my computer.
You touched on this a little before, but, something from your emails was about the lack of things in the games media about "how to make games more reliably, ways to make games more fun, discussions like that." What's missing to you, and why aren't we seeing more of that?
What I love about videogames is videogames are about games. It is about play. Videogames are a very innocent, silly, trivial -- at the heart of it, it's a silly, trivial, childlike thing. The word I use to describe the videogame industry is "shaggy." It's a bunch of weirdos making weird toys. There's sort of a joy and playfulness to it.
I'll give you an example of a game that I thought was very joyous and playful and silly that I enjoyed immensely. And this is gonna be -- I'm picking this game very specifically. I'm talking about a game called Gone Home.
Now, Gone Home is a game that has been in the middle of a lot of -- there's been a lot of praise from one certain side of the political spectrum. Then it gets lots of anger from other sides of the political spectrum. I loved the game. I think it may be a smidge over-priced, but it was two hours and I had an absolute blast. Because what Gone Home is about, at the very heart of it, is you're at home alone, all of your family's gone, and you spend a couple hours going into their rooms and going through their stuff. You read their diaries and you go through their letters and you go through your parents' underwear drawer and find a condom and it weirds you out. You find out all of their secrets. It's simultaneously creepy because you're in the house in the middle of the night and you don't know what happened, and yet it plays into a very fundamental human fantasy of just going through someone's stuff and reading their diary and reading their secrets. It's cool and playful and even when I -- there's a sort of transgressive quality to what you're doing that really is neat.
I took joy in that, the same sort of joy I take in Bayonetta 2, kicking a giant tentacle monster in the face. Love the heck out of that game. That I play in Rock Band, hacking my way through a tough song on drums. Videogames are a silly, trivial thing.
Academics want to come in and define everything and pin it down, and political people left and right want to come in and make it be about all their political stuff, and in a sense I don't think it's ever gonna work because the people who create games are people who create games. We are silly, trivial people doing a silly, trivial thing. I could not give less of a rat's ass what Ian Bogost feels about any of it. I'm just gonna do what I do.
Isn't having a break or a respite -- isn't that meaningful enough?
Luckily for me, luckily for gamers -- people talk about it, people criticize about it, academics write papers about it, but in the end art is only ever about one thing. It is a conversation between people who create it and people who consume it. I make a thing, you play a thing, you get things from it. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you don't like it, maybe you'll appreciate it in the way I intended to, maybe you'll appreciate it in a totally new way that I totally didn't think about it. But that's how all art works.
Now, off to the side, there are critics. Critics are valuable. Critics give feedback to creators to help the creators understand the effects of what they do is having. Critics say to the consumers, "Well, I know you like it in this way, but did you think about this? Did you notice this? Did you look at it this way?" It can help -- a good critic will help someone who enjoys movies enjoy movies more because they understand them better. That's how the system is supposed to work and I think it's great.
When people talk about, "Should games merely be fun? Or should they have more ludic dissonance?" Or whatever. God. The impossible language these academics have come up with. It's like -- they’re not even going to talk about fun. Game critics don't like to use the word "fun," which I think is weird, but -- you know, fine. It's their job. They have to come up with their own terms nobody understands and then argue about those terms until time itself grinds to a halt.
In the end, I'll make a game and I'll give it to you and it will affect you in some way, or it won't. Sometimes the way it affects you, we classify with the word, "Fun." But it can be fun or it can not be fun and critics can say it's not affecting them the right way or the wrong way. I'm pretty much hands off on the whole thing. The things people will like, people will seek out and buy. Things that people don't like, they will not. Critics will give their opinions on it. And that's pretty much the system. I think it's great.
Over the period of time you've been making games, how receptive do you feel the people who make games are to criticism? Has it changed at all? Have they gotten more welcoming? Less?
I tend to be a sort of a stay-at-home introvert. I don't meet a lot of people who do what I do. I usually just am home hanging out with my friends. I don't go to a lot of conventions. But I have over the years met and talked to a lot of people who make games: board games, card games, comic books. I hang out with a lot of creators. By and large almost every creator I have met is very attuned to people's opinions. In fact, they have to fight to not read people's opinions. They're always paying attention to how people react to it. "What are they saying? How did it make them feel? What did they like? What did they not like?"
Creators care. In my experience, people who make games really, genuinely care about whether they're giving people the desired effect. Yeah.
Do you think there's more that could be done to better criticize games?
I feel like I can't complain because at this point there are so, so many outlets for discussion on games. there so, so many outlets for game criticism, for game discussion, that anyone can find somewhere what they want. If you are of a more -- for example, like, there's a game website called Offworld, which is a much more liberal, feminist place to analyze games. And for people who want that, it's that. And the people there -- and I don't read it a lot, but from what I've seen, they're doing good work. They're making a best faith effort to write about games in an interesting and engaging way. And on the other hand, if you want a different style of game conversation, there's Reddit and 4chan. if you want a different style, then, there's Something Awful or The Escapist. Or the YouTubers.
There are so many places for game criticism. There are so many people voicing their opinion that I think at this point, anyone can find what they want and what people need to do now is calm down and say, "Hey. Those people over there, they've got their jam. They've got their thing. And we over here, we have our thing. We don't need to go to war."
As long as no one's doxing anyone, as long as no one's sending pizzas to anyone's house in the middle of the night, we're all good. We all got a place. We all got people to hang out with.
Once again, this is my middle-aged, liberal live and let live. Life is short. Don't argue about stuff. It's just videogames. It's just vidya.
All these years later, then, what seems weird to you about the videogame business?
I think that the videogames industry has settled into a kind of very rational place. I mean, nothing is perfect. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. A lot of places to buy games. A lot of games being made. No matter what your tastes, I'm sure I could find some games you love. There's a lot of huge outlets. Steam and iTunes and medium-sized outlets like GoG or Origin or whatever. There's so many places to get games. There's so many different sorts of games. A lot of people are making a lot of money. The AAA business is having its weird issues, but the AAA business has always had weird issues.
The only problem I really have with the game industry at this point -- and of course I'm going totally regret this the moment the conversation ends. Someone's going to, "What about this thing? It's horrible." If you went up to me on the street and said, "Wasn't this horrible?" I'd say, "Yeah, that's totally horrible. I just forgot about it."
The way that full-time employees are treated in the AAA business is a problem. It's not okay. I would say that I would avoid getting in a job in AAA game development, except they wouldn't hire me. I'm 45. If you're north of 40, unless you're, like, the biggest name in the world, nobody's hiring you. They want a 22-year-old who you can force into 80 hours of crunch a week. Some kid who doesn't know any better and isn’t thinking about getting married and having children.
I don't want to go on the record as saying there are no problems in the game industry. There are problems in the game industry. There's a harassment problem on the Internet, which is horrible, that is a general Internet problem, not a videogame problem. It's happening all over the place. But I think that a certain extent, the issue of harassment is overstated. If someone sends you a scary tweet, it is still just a tweet. It is 140 characters on a screen. It is upsetting. Believe me. I have been there. It is upsetting to get scary, crazy tweets and scary, crazy emails. It is bad. It makes you want to go to a contractor and find out the price to get a moat dug around your house.
But once again, it's still just glyphs on a screen.
Apart from arresting people who make death threats, I have no solution for it. I have no idea what to do to reduce harassment on the Internet in all fields, over all websites. It’s a problem I honestly cannot think of any kind of solution to. Smarter people can do that.
Are there weird things around today still that you remember puzzling over, like, 20 years ago? Like, they're still around?
The games industry is so unbelievably different now than 20 years ago. Everything is different. When I started, the worldwide web did not exist in any meaningful way. Just to give an example. It took me a long time to be convince someone to give me the ability to accept credit cards because nobody believed you could have a profitable business on the Internet. That is how different is now from when I started.
So, yeah. People complain about how hard it is to get an indie-game company going? Yeah, try it when you can't accept credit cards and there is no web and see how far you get.
It's art, and making a living selling art always sucks. There is no artform where people say, "Oh, yeah, you're totally gonna make cash in this job. Just become a musician. You'll just be rolling in cash. Become a writer. They'll be throwing bags of $100 bills at you the moment you walk through the door."
That's not how art works. You go into because you love it and because you're not good for anything else, and then you see if you can cobble a living together somehow.
We're so lucky to begin with videogames now because how often does any human get the ability to deal with an artform when it is so new and so fresh and so unformed and no one has any idea what it can do or where it will go. It's like, I've been playing videogames since there were videogames. Since they started to exist.
I am so lucky to have an artform that I get to experience in its entirety. Like, the whole history of videogames I have gotten to experience. Every advancement I saw when it was new. I got to play the very first platformer just when it was out and go, "Wait, so you press a button to jump over the barrels? That's cool."
People shouldn't get so angry. No one knows what videogames are going to be like in one year, five years, 10 years. We're all gonna be -- maybe in 10 years, we're all gonna have an Oculus Rift bolted to our face and we're going to spend time talking to our anime boyfriends or girlfriends. That's gonna be videogames, and everyone's gonna go play Pong in virtual reality.
So we've been criticizing the audience and the press. Is there anything about the dev side of things you'd like to explore?
I don't like calling out devs unless I really feel something. There's very little that's really extensively ticked me off lately.
Except for one thing. It's that game developers need to be so much more super-clear about when they're saving your progress. I think that when you try to quit a game, a game should say, "Are you sure you wanna quit? It has been this number of minutes since I've last saved."
That is the one feature I want people to start implementing. I'm playing Bayonetta and I want to quit, but I don't know how long it's been since it's saved. I'd like to say, "Yeah, if you quit now you're gonna miss two minutes of save time." I think that would be a fantastic feature and very easy to implement. That is my one vote for making the world for videogames a better place.
When we started off, you said you were "indie" before "indie" was "indie." A lot of hand quotes there. But do you feel the sites and magazines -- do they really pay attention to people from that time period?
I don't think I deserve that much attention. I think the amount of attention I deserve to the extent that anyone deserves anything is more than zero, but less than a lot of devs. There's AAA indies out there doing really cool, exciting stuff, and I can't say in good conscious that I deserve more press than them. So, I take my press where I can get it.
Oh, it doesn't have to be specific to you. Just in general.
It is my experience that young people do not have a huge amount of interest with listening to old people talk about what it was like when the world was young and I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time! When shareware was sold on floppy disks in a kiosk at the mall and my dad was eaten by wolves!
Nobody cares. I can tell some things that are interesting to me. Nobody cares. They just wanna know next Madden is gonna be like.
Okay, well. I'm here. What's one thing?
Sometimes I wish kids could experience what it is like to be truly unplugged. I grew up in the 1970's, which puts me in the last generation to know what it is like to not have a magic device in your pocket that can call anywhere in the world and talks to the sky.
You went for a walk, and you were cut off from the world. You could just be Alone.
I'm not going to lie to you. Sometimes I genuinely miss it. Sometimes I think people should just spend a week going camping and separating from the clouds of electrons that surround us and drive us mad and make us get furious in arguments about how problematic this episode of Game of Thrones was or wasn't. Is Gone Home really a game?
One second spent arguing whether Gone Home is a game or not is one second of your precious, irreplaceable life wasted. Sometimes I just hang onto memories before any of the Internet happened and it just gives me a little peaceful place in my brain to hide for a minute.
I wish people had that more.
But I'm old.