Artisans and craftsmen (and craftswomen)

There’s an article going around about on of the founders of Bungie starting his own studio. In the article (ok, its more of a press release, really) he says that he is going to outsourse a lot of the development. THe article ends with an interesting quote:

“It’s kind of broken,” Seropian told Reuters, speaking about the current model of development used by the bulk of publishers. “It’s kind of antiquated – it’s how they were making films in the ’30s.”

Well, I don’t think that is really the “problem” (if there is one). The difficulty isn’t that videogames are made like 1930’s films. It is like they are made like 1730’s items — that is, by hand and not mechanical reproduction. I left this message about it over on Slashdot:

I don’t think this will be as cost effective as one might think. Basically the videogame industry is still in the pre-industrial artisanal (sp?) era. Everything is still made by hand. If you want to make a chair, you still need to build the chair piece by piece. There is no equivalent to a factory-made chair. So rather than the unskilled labor we now have in most factories, we have skilled craftsmen and artists.

Until technology exists for the equivalent of unskilled labor to design the chairs, wheels, and furniture of a gaming world, the costs of developing games will still be high.

I forsee a day soon when a start up will open that specializes in creating the props of vidoegame worlds so that game designers will have a situation similar to that of the players of the Sims where they have a wide variety of chairs (or whatever) to pick from and they just plop it into the game pre-fab without having to employ someone to exclusively make such props.

Now certainly there is something to say for props that are build explicitly for the game. They provide a sense of stylistic unity. But I really do see a day when pre-fab props will come to be used.

3 Comments Showing 50 most recent
  1. meredith

    That’s interesting…. I never thought of it that way. If anyone *does* start that business, they should slip you some cash.

  2. Walter

    Here’s my /. reply:

    Well, everyone’s been waiting for a public domain cache of virtual goods. As someone mentioned to me not too long ago, artists are generally pretty stingy with their work. There’s not exactly an equivalent for the open-source programmer in the artists’ world.

    As for cache for cash models, I think you’re also going to run into some problems given that so many games have to tailor the art to their peculiar aesthetics. A shotgun approach to design (e.g. here’s the sci-fi chairs, here’s the fantasy chairs, etc.) won’t work without diverse enough demand, something that’s less of a problem in Real Life because people, or households, determine the supply of buyers (meaning there’s a lot), whereas the number of games is much less. If we had more games set in more mundane settings (like The Sims), it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Ikea might be able to make some dough by selling virtual versions of their furniture.

    Finally, even in Real Life, you still need skilled labor to design the chair. It’s the unskilled labor that simply mass produces it. Reproduction is trivial enough with software. But having unskilled labor come up with good designs? That’d be a feat, and Real Life would be all over that.

  3. B. Rickman

    Back when VRML was a big thing, Viewpoint Datalabs was selling 3D models of assorted things — cars, telephones, &c. They seem to have restyled themselves as a visualization company, but I’m sure there are plenty of people selling model libraries out there.

    Archvision ( sells RPC (Rich Photorealistic Content) libraries. These are for use with both Photoshop and Max, they let you sprinkle random people/objects into a 3D environment. They’ve even got a tool to let you fill up a parking lot with cars in a random but seemingly natural way.

    All of this only deals with the visual design and modelling side of game design. The programming and interface design are where most of the costs are, however.