Lunar Lessons #7: Lessons from the Lunar
Insomniac Games welcomes its summer community intern Brandon Winfrey, more commonly known on the internet as Mucudadada, or as “that guy who baked the Ratchet cake for Insomniac’s Community Day.” Brandon will be spending his summer away from the University of Southern California at Insomniac, blogging and creating videos about working at a videogame company.
Four months. That’s how long I’ve exercised my ignorance inside the walls of Insomniac Games. Fortunately, during my time here much of that ignorance has been exorcised. Thanks to the fantastic people here who are vastly more knowledgeable than me, I’ve learned more about the games industry than I ever would have while endlessly browsing the litter of popular game sites. I’m here – in the thick of game development. I could skip five feet and annoy a designer about the level he or she is working on for Overstrike. This has been an unparalleled first hand look at what goes on inside a top developer as they create AAA titles. I’ve been a fly on the wall – A fly with the uncanny ability to put halfway amusing words together in Microsoft Word.
But, alas, like all good things my internship has come to its end. Do I want to leave? Not at all, amigo. In fact, I’m probably being forcibly removed from the property by burly security guards as you are reading these very words. However, I’m not leaving empty handed. I gots some knowledge! But since I’m such a nice person (ha!) I want to share it with y’all! After all, you guys are the future. I’m pretty much a lost cause.
Let us run-down the most vital lessons I have learned this epic Summer.
5. Community: The Swiss-Army Knife of the Industry
I’m going to be honest. I had no idea what Community did when I accepted my internship here. I just said “yes” as fast as I could. I could have been agreeing to serve as James Stevenson’s footstool for all I know (I kind of did). A boatload of Google searches and PAX Panel viewings later and I still was in the dark about exactly what I was going to do. Well, the reason I couldn’t get a solid definition of what Community does is because they are prone to do everything.
At a basic level, Community serves as a conduit between the community and the developers. We let the developers know what the fans want. However, it goes much deeper than that. Community has to know just about everything having to do with games. What are the latest trends, who is popular, why are the popular? Then we take that information and help the developers mold the best game experience possible for today’s market. That takes a lot of research – and a large ability to multi-tasks. It’s a busy job, sure, but it’s never boring! You are always doing something fresh. How fresh? Lemony fresh.
4. There is No “I” in Team. For serious.
More so than any other artistic medium, video game development is all about collaboration. The individual detail required to craft a AAA game in this age is so vast, it’s almost impossible for one person to impose his or her will on everything. So, pitch perfect teamwork is an absolute must. If you can’t work well in a group – you are going to have a hard time fitting into game development. It’s difficult to corral everyone on the same central vision for a project, but that’s what generally sets great games apart from not so great games.
On one level – yes – game companies want to hire people that are talented and self-sufficient. However, if you confuse self-sufficiency for self-hermiticity (pretty sure that’s a double-negative) then you might want to reconsider your career path. I suggest something where your communication and social skills won’t come into play because in this industry the unity of the team is what determines the quality of the game. Perhaps you should try professional hermitism instead?
3. The Game Industry is a Business
This is the one that no one really wants to say. The game industry makes games to entertain, yes, but there would be no games industry if no money was made in it. Of course you always want to create something that is unique and interesting – everyone who creates art does – but if no one buys it then what’s the point? Self-indulgence? Uh-uh. I self-indulge myself everyday and while it may please me – it’s not worth the risk of over 200 people’s paychecks. Profit has to be made.
Like everything in life – it’s a balance. What is something that feels fresh and fun while also being marketable to a wide audience? Sure, you could make an amazing Puzzle-FPS-RTS, but the market is probably pretty small for that type of game (although it you do make that and it’s a hit – I expect some royalties). And, honestly, that can be a tough scale to balance some times. It’s the difference between giving the customer what they want and what they don’t know they want yet. At the end of the day, this leads to some sacrifices and changes that hopefully make the game more appealing to people. Like most businesses – success depends on the quality and sales of the product stacked against the amount of resources used to create it. Fun (and scary as Hale) times.
2. The Industry is Fast – You have to be Faster
Whew, has this industry changed. Just a few years ago I would eagerly wait for the latest gaming magazine to come to my door so I could pour over the latest news. Now, I just read my Twitter feed and find out what my favorite devs ate for lunch (I’m looking at you, Kojima). Things are fast now. Like, really fast. Like -The Flash got injected with an adrenaline needle and is late for his own wedding- fast. As a larger independent developer, you can imagine that is can be hard to keep up sometimes. The bigger the boat – the harder it is to change direction. However, there is really no other choice unless you want to capsize.
That’s why people in the game industry have to be constantly thinking three steps ahead. You have to always be on the lookout for new trends and judge the trajectory of where they will be in a few years. It’s not enough to look at the state of Mobile games and decide to make one. By the time you have crafted something, the market will be completely different. If you want to be successful it is not enough to simply follow trends– you must create them.
1. Independence is Vital
I wouldn’t get away with 90% of the stuff I do if Insomniac wasn’t independent. The chain of command is just too long at a larger company. Right now, since Insomniac has the say on its content, I send my creation off to my bosses and they sign off on it. Boom, chip chop chip. It’s posted to all of y’all. If I was at a bigger company I’m sure someone in the lengthy chain of command would have probably vetoed the Chimera wearing a sombrero. Bah – that’s no fun. Get a little crazy every now and then! And, no, I’m not saying that larger companies don’t allow fun. I’m merely stating that when you are dealing with a complex system – with multiple people dipping their hands into every little thing – the message and creativity might get a little muddy. When the control is more centralized – an auteurship is fostered.
This independent spirit is something that really vitalizes Insomniac. We determine what we are doing next – not a publisher. We are in control of our destiny. This is especially important in today’s market. As I previously stated – the industry is consistently changing. If Insomniac was not independent – we may not be able to keep up with these changes. And as a result, the company would be limited. However, the options we have are limitless. And that is a priceless gift – especially for a creatively driven company.
The final lesson I’ve learned is probably the most important: I want to work in the game industry. I’ve wanted to work in film for a large portion of my life, but after having rubbed elbows with so many fascinating and genial game industry people this summer – I’ve realized that’s not where I want to be. The film industry is a tad cold – whereas the game industry is inviting. Every event I attended – every person I nerded out with was genuine and fun. Not only is that rare in the entertainment industry, but that is rare in life! I think the feeling of glee (not that glee…) comes from knowing that the game industry is on the rise. It has come such a long way, but there is still so much more to be explored. Anyone who thinks interactive entertainment has reached its peak is dead wrong. It’s just warming up to its potential. And I want to help it get there.
Of course, I would have never been exposed to any of this if it hadn’t been for Insomniac Games and the truly stand-up people that work here. I’m not going to lie – I can be a lot to handle sometimes. I mean, I dance at my desk – I’m talking dubstep rave dance. I’m one flail away from creating a solo mosh pit. However, Insomniac took me under their wing and taught me everything I know today. For that, this company will always be held in my highest regard. There is a reason Insomniac is considered to not only be one of the best game devs to work at – but one of the best companies to work at. And it’s not because they produce quality titles just about every year – It’s because of the amazing people that create those titles.
I know, I know. I’m getting all sentimental now, but whatever! This place is awesome – and they don’t say that they are awesome enough. Apparently, there is the word called “humble” that they use, but since I’ve never heard of that phrase, I’m going to take it upon myself to spread the word.
So, thank you. Thank you, thank you for the wild ride I’ve been on these four months. And thank you who ever is reading this. If you’ve made it this far in the article, you are either crazy or genuinely interested in what I’ve learned. If you are in the latter (or former, I’ll take what I can get) then I hope you’ve learned something from my mistakes. I’ve haven’t been writing these just because I get a ton of self-gratification from seeing my mediocre word-play on paper (although, I do love that) – I’ve written it to give you a look at the industry I’ve come to love.
And if you haven’t learned anything… well… at least you got to see the occasional cat picture! That’s worth something, right?
Well, crap…whatever. I tried.