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Topic: In-Depth discussion time! Nolan Bushnell, intolerance of failure, and how that's bad for the industry

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Bankai

1. Posted:

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the games industry is utterly intolerant of failure. And this is a far bigger problem than many realise.

Recently, the ‘father of videogames,’ Nolan Bushnell, came out on Twitter and said that he “doesn’t really understand” the Wii U. A statement like that is fairly standard for Bushnell – he has been highly critical of a great deal with regards to the modern games industry.

Predictably there was a large snort of derision from a large segment of the games industry at that comment.

I’m not going to comment on whether Bushnell is right in his assessment or not of the Wii U, or whether it’s going to be a successful console – that discussion is for another day. The reason I am highlighting these comments (and remember they are just a very small sample of the overall outcry) is that, for me, there is a problem here: people seem to be implying that Bushnell is not worth listening to because he’s had some failures in his career.

He’s also not the only example of this. Mention Peter Molyneux online and you’re likely to be reminded (often and vigorously) about how he fails to meet his promises, and again, such comments come with the implication that he’s not developer whose opinion is worth listening to.

On two levels attitudes such as these disappoint me. It disappoints me because it in turn implies there’s a negative mindset amongst the gaming community that a developer/ inventor is only relevant as long as they’re successful. Never mind that Bushnell essentially invented home console gaming, he’s not worth listening to because he also greenlighted some dud projects. Never mind that the mind of Molyneux gave us hit after hit in the Bullfrog era, Fable underdelivered and now he’s doing ‘crazy’ experimental things that many people don’t seem to understand such as Curiosity. Because of those games he now knows ‘nothing’ about game development.

That’s a surface-level disappointment, and in fairness to the games community there are a lot of people out there that also hold a great deal of respect for the successes of Bushnell, Molyneux, and the other high-profile innovators in the industry, despite the missteps along the way. So that surface-level disappointment is easily resolved.

A deeper concern I have with these attitudes is not so easily resolved, because it’s a collective attitude towards failure in the games industry, not an individual one. Because there is such a vocal group of gamers, media outlets and industry spokespeople (remember the ‘your games suck’ comment from Phil Fish regarding the Japanese industry?’) that is intolerant of failure, the entire games industry is becoming intolerant of failure.

I’ve written in the past about how being risk-adverse is going to damage the ability for the games industry to be creative, and the fear of making mistakes is going to play a significant role in building up that risk-adverse mindset. Publishers are greenlighting proven, safe game ideas because there’s a fear of a commercial dud, yes, but there’s also the reputational damage to consider – if you mess with a fan favourite franchise too much acquiring customers for the next sequel will be all the more difficult. We saw this with Halo 4 more than any other game in recent memory – as good as it is that game, from start to finish, Halo 4 was clearly frightened to do anything that might be perceived as a ‘mistake’.

When Metacritic scores can influence whether a developer can get a job, and when the games community is so willing to dismiss those that do make mistakes out of mind, the games industry itself will begin to stagnate under this fear of failure. Developers will stop bringing new innovation to their bosses if the only way they’ll benefit from doing so is if it’s an idea that is a guaranteed success. Given there’s no guaranteed successes in life, the well of new ideas will dry up rapidly.

Meanwhile experienced and more experimental developers such as Peter Molyneux will become less actively engaged with the industry. Ignoring Molyneux’s detractors, he provides the industry a very valuable public service in being so vocal. The only way that an industry can develop is if we have prominent, experienced, and proven experts on the subject presenting alternative ideas on how to do things, and actively looking to break down the norms. This is a creative industry, and so we as an audience for that industry should be engaging with the words of a person like Molyneux, not dismissing him.

The reality is that failure is a good thing, as it is by far the quickest way to learn and develop new ideas. I was recently speaking to the head of technology at a major global bank, and he was walking me through how the bank was working hard to shed the fear that people have to make mistakes in their work. Let me just re-state that for emphasis: one of the largest banks in the world working in the most highly regulated industry in the world is actively working to build a culture where mistakes are tolerated, if not encouraged.

Why would an organisation allow this to happen? Because it encourages innovative thought, I was told. If staff are no longer worried that if they accidental blow up something they’ll be shown the door, they’re going to be that much more willing to come up with some ideas on how things can be improved, and apparently there has already been great results from this new policy.

Which ties neatly back to the question of why the games industry is so intolerant of failure when even financial services have clued into the value of mistakes. Bushnell is not “that guy that nearly ruined home consoles.” He is an innovator that has made mistakes, but they’re mistakes that we can learn from, and when he speaks out on an issue, it’s because his experience (and failures) have told him that it’s not a good idea.

Molyneux has made promises in his games, and not delivered on them. Rather than criticise him for it, we as the gaming community should be encouraging him for trying to push the envelope.

It’s in the interest of the games industry to encourage, rather than disparage, experimentation. The very nature of experimentation means that sometimes things will go wrong. There isn’t a single great inventor or thought leader in history who has not made mistakes. And the people who are willing to go out there and make mistakes are the ones that we should be listening to, because unlike those that are risk adverse, the innovators are the ones that have the vision to make a difference.

Debate time!

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Inazuma_Pikpik

2. Posted:

I agree completely. The fact that companies are afraid to change their games so they don't suffer from the "gamers'" rage is dissapointing. Where is the creativity, where is the innovation. If people make some questionable decisions, that doesn't mean they aren't a credible person.

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theblackdragon

3. Posted:

this particular sky's been falling ever since Gunpei Yokoi got the boot from Nintendo. the well doesn't seem to have dried up yet.

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Bankai

4. Posted:

theblackdragon wrote:

this particular sky's been falling ever since Gunpei Yokoi got the boot from Nintendo. the well doesn't seem to have dried up yet.

In Gunpei Yokoi's era you didn't have Twitter and the Internet where gamers could directly abuse the developers for doing stuff they don't like.

Social media and the Internet does some wonderful things, but it has a distinctly nasty side in that it makes it impossible to make a mistake without a lynch mob coming after you. Just like real-world bullies stop legions of school kids from trying to stand out, the ultra-nerds and fanboys make life very difficult for anyone trying to do something innovative.

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WaLzgi

5. Posted:

I DISAGREE! Just because you're WhiteKnight!!

btw, why do you write books on the forums?

Anywho, I think the hatred for them stems from the fact that they are bashing Nintendo. This is the typical infantile response from fanboys (just look at most of GoNintendo's users' responses to ANYTHING Pachter says - even when he's FREAKING PRAISING NINTENDO). And yet when someone praises Nintendo, they are suddenly smart, wise and all-knowing about the industry. I wouldn't dwell into it too deeply :)

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rayword45

6. Posted:

I don't know much about the inside of the industry. So from an uninformed viewpoint, all I can say is that people are insatiable. They expect perfection, and when it doesn't come, they whine. But only when it's convenient for them (Bring up the Virtual Boy. Bring up the PS3 launch.)

So this isn't much of a surprise.

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theblackdragon

7. Posted:

Cry me a river? The only thing that's changing is people can find others with similar opinions more easily than before, and they have a larger voice on the internet than they do alone IRL. The video-game business has always been dog-eat-dog, there's been nothing kind about any of it from the beginning.

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Retro_on_theGo

8. Posted:

Thought this got locked already when I saw TBD posted.

I thought you left, dude?

I agree with most of what you're saying.

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Bankai

9. Posted:

Anywho, I think the hatred for them stems from the fact that they are bashing Nintendo. This is the typical infantile response from fanboys (just look at most of GoNintendo's users' responses to ANYTHING Pachter says - even when he's FREAKING PRAISING NINTENDO). And yet when someone praises Nintendo, they are suddenly smart, wise and all-knowing about the industry. I wouldn't dwell into it too deeply

I only used these examples because, well, Nintendo forum and all.

Regardless, the reason behind the criticism of these people is largely irrelevant. The fact it's happening is the problem.

The point was (and for the people who can't be bothered reading the article and want the tl;dr version): Dismissing the value of what someone says because they have had a failure at some point through their career is counter-intuitive to encouraging innovation in the games industry. People like to pretend they want innovation and the like in the games industry, but for innovation to happen, the innovators need to be able to make mistakes without a lynch mob chasing them around.

I really don't care if this has been going on in the games industry since the original Atari. It's a problem, and thanks to rabid "fans" having direct access to the game makers and innovators now, through the Internet and social media, it's worse now than ever.

Edited on by Bankai

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Odnetnin

10. Posted:

Clicked for Nolan, was disappointed. :(

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moomoo

11. Posted:

I completely agree. It should also be mentioned that if there isn't a tolerance for failure, we will never see many good games anymore, at least not with big budgets. Some of my favorite games were made by people willing to make huge risks. Capcom turned Resident Evil upside its head with it's fourth entry, and it is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made. Nintendo allowed for a huge risk to be made in one of it's top tier franchises with Metroid Prime, and it paid off with an incredibly postitive reception; some even declare it to be the best entry in the series. Then we have Demon/Dark Souls, which punish the player into oblivion, yet it works out in the end for what it is.

If we get to a point where everyone plays it safe when huge budgets exist, then the chances of new ideas coming out and given the money they deserve disappears. There will no longer be any games out that people will even buy, since all of the competition will be so similar. They'll just buy one and call it a day. Then everyone suffers. I don't want to see that.

Still, it's better than ever for indies right now, with tons of venues to get content out and plenty of materials to work with, as well as more people than ever willing to buy stuff. So I don't think we'll ever see innovation go away, at least in the grand scheme of things. Just in terms of the bigger games.

Edited on by moomoo

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WaLzgi

12. Posted:

WhiteKnight wrote:

Anywho, I think the hatred for them stems from the fact that they are bashing Nintendo. This is the typical infantile response from fanboys (just look at most of GoNintendo's users' responses to ANYTHING Pachter says - even when he's FREAKING PRAISING NINTENDO). And yet when someone praises Nintendo, they are suddenly smart, wise and all-knowing about the industry. I wouldn't dwell into it too deeply

I only used these examples because, well, Nintendo forum and all.

Regardless, the reason behind the criticism of these people is largely irrelevant. The fact it's happening is the problem.

The point was (and for the people who can't be bothered reading the article and want the tl;dr version): Dismissing the value of what someone says because they have had a failure at some point through their career is counter-intuitive to encouraging innovation in the games industry. People like to pretend they want innovation and the like in the games industry, but for innovation to happen, the innovators need to be able to make mistakes without a lynch mob chasing them around.

I really don't care if this has been going on in the games industry since the original Atari. It's a problem, and thanks to rabid "fans" having direct access to the game makers and innovators now, through the Internet and social media, it's worse now than ever.

Kind of like how Warren Spector is and the reviews on the Epic Mickey series? :O

For once, I agree with you! >:[

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RR529

13. Posted:

Yeah, & I think the mindset that nothing should be different, is also effecting established franchises.

You yourself, @WhiteKnight, have stated that you were dissapointed (at lest a little) with the fact that Tecmo altered Dead or Alive 5, so that it would be more "mainstream".

I also believe Namco Bandai played it safe with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, doing away with some of the more outlandish aspects of the series, in order to make it more "mainstream" (I've heard some say that it was designed to grab the attention of the "COD" crowd).

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Odnetnin

14. Posted:

Yeah, Warren Spector's heart/mind seem to be in the right place, but I'd still like for him to follow through on his vision (Epic Mickey did not live up to his claims in any way).

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WaLzgi

15. Posted:

DarkKnight wrote:

Yeah, Warren Spector's heart/mind seem to be in the right place, but I'd still like for him to follow through on his vision (Epic Mickey did not live up to his claims in any way).

He has some amazing quotes...dunno why his games don't live up to his hype :(

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Odnetnin

16. Posted:

Probably because it's harder to implement ambitious ideas than it is mundane ones. Apparently Deus Ex and Ultima were great though, so at least we know he has the capacity.

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Discostew

17. Posted:

I wonder what kinds of nightmares Nolan Bushnell has? Do they include E.T cartridges and screaming 10 year olds.

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theblackdragon

18. Posted:

i don't get it. are we not supposed to voice how we feel about games on the internet anymore for fear of hurting some dev's feelings? After all, if we're not saying we didn't like one thing, we're praising something else, and heaven forbid we're not ladling out our praises equally enough across the board. don't want them getting jealous of one another or something. or are we only supposed to voice how we feel about games on forums not dedicated to video games? that way, we won't have large clusters of gamers getting together to say things.

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TysonOfTime

19. Posted:

Isn't this a problem with entertainment in general?
And to expand on that, opinions in general?

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Bankai

20. Posted:

moomoo wrote:

I completely agree. It should also be mentioned that if there isn't a tolerance for failure, we will never see many good games anymore, at least not with big budgets. Some of my favorite games were made by people willing to make huge risks. Capcom turned Resident Evil upside its head with it's fourth entry, and it is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made. Nintendo allowed for a huge risk to be made in one of it's top tier franchises with Metroid Prime, and it paid off with an incredibly postitive reception; some even declare it to be the best entry in the series. Then we have Demon/Dark Souls, which punish the player into oblivion, yet it works out in the end for what it is.

If we get to a point where everyone plays it safe when huge budgets exist, then the chances of new ideas coming out and given the money they deserve disappears. There will no longer be any games out that people will even buy, since all of the competition will be so similar. They'll just buy one and call it a day. Then everyone suffers. I don't want to see that.

Still, it's better than ever for indies right now, with tons of venues to get content out and plenty of materials to work with, as well as more people than ever willing to buy stuff. So I don't think we'll ever see innovation go away, at least in the grand scheme of things. Just in terms of the bigger games.

Mario 64 is another perfect example - I think a lot of people forget how much of a risk that game was back in the lead up to the N64 release.

These are all great examples of what happens when you let people take risks. You often end up with a far better game than if you had played things safe, for fear of damaging the brand - which is the situation I now believe Nintendo is in with the Mario Brothers games.

See, being allowed to take a risk should also be backed up with being allowed to fail. Here's a good example: Goichi Suda. Shadows of the Damned was a critical and commercial bomb, but Suda was able to publish another game (Lollipop Chainsaw) and it was a big hit. I don't know how Suda gets to run around doing crazy ideas and making some terrible games amongst the great ones, and yet still maintain good faith with both gamers and critics, but there he is doing it.

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