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“Most game designers really just suck”

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Richard Garriot, or Lord British if you prefer, is one of the industry’s most venerated game designers. In the early 80’s, he created one of the richest RPG worlds; and then spent the next 20 years making well, more Ultima. He’s also of the opinion that he’s one of the world’s best game designers, and that very few can match him. In fact, he believes that most game designers just suck.

“I think there’s really very few great game designers. I think Chris Roberts is one of them, Will Wright’s another, Peter Molyneux is another. They clearly exist, but on the whole, I think that the design talent in our industry is dramatically lower than we need, as an industry. It’s a very hard skill to learn,” Garriott told PC Gamer.

He’s right – and they’ve all been responsible for some truly amazing games. Fact is though, that you’re only as good as your last hit; and these are the guys responsible for Tabula Rasa, Starlancer, Spore and a damned “game” where you tap on blocks to unmask a cube.

“Other than a few exceptions, I’ve met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. I’m not saying that because I think I’m so brilliant. What I’m saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there’s a reason why.”

“In my mind, most artists and programmers are just as much of gamers as the designers, and I usually find in my history that the artists and programmers are, in fact, as good of designers as the designers,” he added.

“They’re often better, because they understand the technology or the art. So we’re leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they’re not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer. It’s really hard to go to school to be a good designer.”

Even the good designers, he says, have a fatal flaw; they’re terminally lazy.

“And every designer that I work with – all throughout life – I think, frankly, is lazy,” he said.

“But if you follow, they generally say, ‘You know, I really like Medal of Honor, but I would have bigger weapons, or I would have more healing packs, or,’ you know. They go to make one or two changes to a game they otherwise love versus really sit down and rethink, ‘How can I really move the needle here?’”

“How do you really think about the whole thing holistically, to go, ‘yeah, it’s fine to wander through and kill a few things and get a treasure at the end, but why? What’s your motivation for being into it? What are the side stories? If you have these characters in there, what were their lives before they showed up on this map? If you didn’t think of one, go back. Do it again. I want you to know it.’”

What do you think? Is he right? Are game designers generally untalented and lazy? Off the top of your head, who do you think stands as a great game designer?

Last Updated: March 20, 2013

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