Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Action RPG? Big Whoop.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 14, 2011

Craig Stern of Sinister Design (Telepath RPG) has now weighed in on the interview that pissed off so many of us with Matt Findley of InXile Entertainment.

Craig Stern: “So You Created an Action RPG. Stop Congratulating Yourself.”

I’ve said my piece, but I’ll just add my agreement to what Craig’s saying here. Look – while there are some folks for whom action RPGs are an abomination, most of us are not stuck in 1989 waiting for the next releases from SSI, Origin, and New World.  We love action RPGs, too. Many of us love pure, non-stop, adrenaline-fueled multiplayer battles with guns and grenades. We get action games.

We just also understand the joy of turn-based systems.

Apparently modern designers don’t understand that at all. That, or they are lying their butts off  ’cause they think it will appeal to the kids.

Filed Under: Biz, Design - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    It is related to the “Squeezing the Middle” stuff we were just discussing.

    Turn based RPGs don’t sell enough millions of copies.

    Action games DO sell millions of copies.

    Action RPGs let them pull from both groups – those that love action will buy it, and us poor starved RPG suckers will buy and play it for the RPG elements we’re starving for in the mainstream lately.

    Too much risk for them to go for niche markets anymore. Ideally we should have turn-based RPGs, action RPGs, strategy RPGs, pure action games, the whole gamete and range, but too much money is involved to gamble on just one number hitting, so they have to spread the bet around.

    I don’t know how the big developers personally feel, but I am just graduating with a bachelor’s in Game Art and Design, and it is striking that out of all the students – this “next wave” or “new blood” – for the industry, very few get excited about working for Nintendo, or Square, or Epic, etc. Specifically, last week, out of the graduating class, a majority flat out said “Fuck working for a company like Rockstar.”

    The next generation isn’t idolizing these companies like they used to. We have the internet and follow them. We read the stories, the blogs, the news reports and court cases. We see how they treat employees. We see the bland games and endless sequels. The pursuit of money over creativity. We’re disgusted by it.

    The general consensus is that we’d rather work for a graphic design company for a day job or some other employment that won’t kill us with crunch time and stress and destroy our marriages, and make our OWN games on the side.

    Indies have proven you can be successful on your own. You can be creative. You can innovate. And with the internet and digital distribution, you don’t need a giant publisher calling the shots. Most wanted to get into games to scratch that itch to create, to make something special. If we can keep food on the table and make a game that a few people can enjoy, that is good enough for us. It isn’t like we’d ever get rich working in the mainstream anyway.

    I keep hearing the expression “just cogs in the machine” come up again and again among my peers when referring to employment in the mainstream industry. Also another phrase, said softly and carefully, but more and more: “Maybe we should have unions . . . .”

    It doesn’t look good for the big dogs.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Oh, and the writing is appearing on the wall when mainstream publications and sites start calling out the companies on being bland and uninspired like many are after E3 this year.

    I think it is clear that the industry knows it is in trouble – they just don’t know what to do about it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That is FASCINATING. Hard to believe, but I guess I can see it happening.

    When I was graduating from school… wow. What a difference. Being able to work at Nintendo was a dream job. Or Origin (Origin did still exist then, though it had been borged by EA). That was what everybody wanted to do. The crazy hours we KNEW we had to work didn’t seem like a big deal then… because the reality hadn’t hit, and because it was still possible to make a LOT of money as an individual if your game was a hit back then. Nowadays, you work your butt off, create a best-seller, and you’ll be laid off next week.

    The studios – well, the departments – that made these games were a lot smaller back then, too. You could still make a major game on a team with less than a dozen people. Heck, we did it – the Twisted Metal Team, while it had several floating members, it really only had less than ten real “team members” total. I was even splitting my time between two games on two different teams as it was. We had some additional support from a dedicated sound artist and an engine “team” (which basically consisted of like two guys plus whomever they recruited for help). It was psycho-hard, but the game went on to sell over a million copies. You could feel like you contributed.

    A lot had changed over the years.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Most graduates I know wouldn’t turn down an employment opportunity at a big studio if it was offered, but a lot would think about it.

    Like you said, the teams are so huge now, you are just one of hundreds working on a game, and we keep hearing hearing of cases like Activision where you make the best-selling game of all time and they turn around and fire you to keep from paying bonuses, or Rockstar working its developers to the point of collapse and broken marriages, not paying for overtime, threatening to with hold credit on the game if you leave before it is finished, and then LAUGHING AND MAKING JOKES about it.

    And the promise of “have a hit game and get rich” is gone. It has been for a decade now. You make 30-40K a year, maybe you get a 5-10K bonus every 3-4 years if a game you worked on is a smash hit . . . and you work 80-120 hour work weeks. All you have is the feeling that you “contributed” to the big blockbuster of the week and sometimes they DON’T EVEN CREDIT YOU.

    I can be a high school art teacher and make 30K a year, get summers off, and work on a game I have total creative control over at home.

    Where is the incentive to be in the mainstream anymore? Before, they could get by on abusing and taking advantage of potential employees worshiping the ground they walked on and willing to put up with any kind of abuse to work in the “fun game industry”. That doesn’t fly anymore. More and more of the worshipful masses are seeing the man behind the curtain, and he is a dictator.

    Top all that off with my CERTAINTY that the Triple A market will crash if things continue as they are, and I have no reason to be excited about working for a big developer.

    Some people are willing to be slaves to the “ideal” of the finished game’s glory. Some people will sacrifice their lives, marriages, and relationship with their kids to be a part of the next Halo and make sure it ships on time. Not me.

    If we were doctors, I could see putting in those insane hours. Lives are at stake. When I was in the military, I put in those insane hours. Lives were at stake.

    To put it bluntly to the developers that want me to work triple digit hours a week: “We make fucking entertainment. We aren’t curing cancer.”

    EDIT: Wow. That all sounded very angry. I just get so upset at the crap I see going on these days.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Look at these links Jay – these are about the Hollywood 3D industry, but it is the same for games these days as well:





    These links were all just sent to me today by a friend in the industry.

    And this link is 3D artists talking about the lack of desire to work in the industry I was talking about, spurred by the crap above:


    I don’t know why you left the mainstream industry, Jay, but it looks like you made the right move. (And us Frayed Knights fans appreciate that you did.)

  • Calibrator said,

    To add my (negative) perspective on that and what will happen:
    – US mainstream games are barely sustainable in production right now, only because of the shitty work conditions and low wages (you summed that up well, I think)
    – For years, Canada lured games publishers to establish studios there – very similar to trek of the movie & TV production to this country to escape US unions.
    – Some mainstream publishers are beginning to completely outsource projects to Eastern European studios, which of course pay even lower wages (and the same amount of working hours). Outsourcing has been done for years (think Prague Symphonic Orchestra doing music for films and games etc.) but now complete major titles are only being distributed. You get some American voice work, of course, but the rest is former Eastern Block…

    In the movie industry this is like Disney outsourcing to North Korea and dumping their own artists. I remember that they layed off thousands of them in the US, because they weren’t able to keep them (or got a higher cut by using the Korean facilities).

    Conclusion: In the near future you, as an American, either work as an indie, with a small team or by licensing stuff, or you don’t work in the games industry at all – except for packaging the SKUs.
    Producers will be exclusively people with a business degree, similarily to Hollywood studio executives. These people give a rat’s ass about art and have no soul in their products – which is why their products are completely soulless and interchangeable.

    As was written before by Jay and several posters their only tactic to avoid total meltdown is dumbing down their games further and further to get a bigger audience.
    By dumbing down I not only mean less controls or develop for consoles first but excluding the more demanding stuff for the players. Like having to think, for example…

    Man, I’m just playing the latest Splinter Cell game (“Conviction”) and while the very first one was already the definition of mainstream the latest installment is nothing more than a slap into the face of the paying customer.

    I spare you the details, but if someone is on the verge of buying this game: Don’t! You will be disappointed!

    If you still have a tiny spec of brain left (which is why you are reading this blog!) then only buy games that are challenging to some degree, games that give you options and interactivity, games that allow for different tactics or strategies etc.
    Don’t buy a game just because it got a 90% rating somewhere! Buy it because the reviewer extensively praised the interactivity. Otherwise it is uninspired, tedious crap that is as forseeable as mildew on old bread.
    You have been warned!