There’s a question I want to answer: “What am I?” It’s a question that’s sometimes asked of me and one I often ask myself. Most people in games can identify themselves as being primarily in a specific discipline: A character concept artist or a backend engineer. Whilst I have settled to call myself a game designer, it’s perhaps not the most accurate description of who I am or what I do.
When I graduated from my degree (aptly but inarticulately called Computer Games Design) I had mostly focused on being a 3D artist, but had spent six months in AAA production at SEGA Europe. So when I fell in to Mobile Pie (I was the company’s first employee, not a founder as many think) I actually ended up creating the majority of art for a lot of our early games, but also designed and produced them.
I joined the Mobile Pie board a year later just when F2P was making its first steps in to mobile. I had always been as much a fan of the games business as games themselves, so when design and business started to collide with F2P I started to write – and occasionally talk – about what the model was and the changes the industry was seeing. This let me try being a writer, something I’d pursued in my earlier career until I discovered the high entry barrier and poor pay.
Through consultancy and writing my book after Mobile Pie I became an public advocate of F2P, which is what I think I’m most publicly known for. Whilst that’s something that I was good at and reasonably enjoyed, it is not a good description of “what I am”.
Whilst I can hack together some code or audio or art, these are only tools for allowing me to prove out my visions. I am, without wanting to sound pretentious or even useless, a thinker. I like to understand the big picture of what the games industry is and how businesses, their products and their players interact. What is next? How do we solve the current problems? What is dying? What is growing? Why do people like that? Why don’t they like this?
My answers to these questions are game designs. So I call myself a game designer. Even though I am partly a producer and an entrepreneur outside the MBA mold.
An Aside: F2P vs Indie
I’m not tied to F2P, although I believe in the model as being the best for consumers and developers generally (but not exclusively), and I regularly think about the split that’s occurring in the industry where indie development is on the other side of this widening chasm. The art school student is drawn to the bleeding heart notion of the auteured game, if not exclusively for the vanity. As a F2P designer I may get fan mail or nice App Store reviews, but I’m unlikely to be romantically celebrated as an artist like the Indie Game: The Movie designers. F2P games aren’t personal in the same way as indie games.
This division is something that I feel constantly torn by: Do I want to entertain the many and likely amass wealth or touch the few and have risk a more humble life? That dichotomy is ostensibly real, but reductionist. The reality is more intricate and occupies a great deal of my thinking in to the future, however I believe this personal conflict is what is creating the F2P-indie divide we see in our industry: A antagonism (even jealousy) over wealth, reach and respect. We all feel somewhat entrenched but conflicted by the success of either side.
I’ve Got To Prove It
With all my confliction around F2P vs indie, there’s something that’s even more nagging: I have talked a lot, especially when a consultant, about how to be successful yet never actually been successful with a game in a meaningful way. In my final year at Mobile Pie I was caught up in biz dev, writing, clients and travel, then as a consultant consulting and writing my book that it wasn’t until I started at TinyCo in September last year that I really got back to making games. These wilderness years make me look to some like a shyster. It is an accusation leveled at many of my consulting peers: They don’t know how to do it, because they’ve never done it.
Whilst I have designed, built and launched F2P games I’ve never been in the right position to make them the success they deserve to be. I’m acutely aware that soon I need to prove what I can do and that is my focus in to 2014 and beyond: Make a game that dominates its platform and becomes a cultural phenomena. I’m hungry for success and, if my career so far has told me anything, once I know what I want then I can make it happen.