Just Another Valueless Blog Post

Cuppy raises what she assumes will be controversial questions about game design bloggers: Do they know what they’re talking about? Are they even good designers?

Where’s the controversy? The answer to both questions is “Play it safe and assume not.”

Which makes you wonder whether I know what I’m talking about or if I’m a good designer. And the answer to this question is that you have no way of knowing. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

To Cuppy’s first point, I think the proof that game designer blogs lack relevance is that 100% of them could vanish from the Internet today and the actual practice of game design would not change one bit. Not one iota!

In case you don’t believe me and would rather hear from someone more famous who makes games and blogs, Raph responded with the following observations:

1. There didn’t use to be so many professional designers blogging. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.
2. Even today, most designers DON’T think in terms of design theory, psychology, emotions, etc. It’s even more recent than blogging.
3. There are a lot of designers who make good games of a given sort, but can’t make great ones.
4. There are a lot of designers who make good games of a given sort, but it’s the only sort they can make.
5. There are a lot of designers who can talk about theory but can’t develop new theory.
6. There are a lot of designers who talk about theory but can’t apply it.
7. There are a lot of great designers who don’t know how to express what they do.
8. There are a lot of good academics and yes, other designers, who can express what great designers do in language that others can understand.
9. There are a lot of really terrible game design blogs. But there are also lots of really good ones. A lot of the good ones are not by “professional game designers.”
10. Often, because of points 3-8, it can be very hard to tell a good game design blog from a bad one.
11. Experience is often worth listening to, even when it’s wrong.

By the way, I can’t think of very many truly “famous” game designers in game design circles who DO blog.

All of those points have truth to them, but that last line is perhaps the most telling. There is something to be said for the old chestnut that if you are good at what you do, you don’t need to tell people that you’re good at what you do. That is to say, good designers just shut up and let their work do the talking.

So let’s get back to Cuppy’s second question and my response to it. For the most part, you have no way of judging whether or not I know what the hell I’m talking about for a couple reasons. One is that talking about theory is one thing, but implementation is quite another. That’s why incredibly smart and articulate people can fail at actually having to make games, and why some people are more famous for what they say than for actually producing quality work. It’s also a reason why many players can write blogs that are every bit as thoughtful and compelling as people in the industry–because blogging doesn’t have the accountability of meeting deadlines and budgets.

Another reason is that, despite the many articles I’ve written and all the interviews I’ve given, you probably don’t actually know what I do for a living. Nor are you likely to know what specific content or systems any game designer who blogs has actually created. You know what projects we have been attached to and can read the credits to see what titles we were given, but those things tell you almost nothing about what we actually did and whether or not it sucked.

This doesn’t just make it hard to know which blogs to trust, but also to tell whether someone’s resume is worth the paper it’s printed on. There are an awful lot of terrible designers out there with game credits on their resumes who hurt the projects they worked on far more than they helped them. And these kinds of folks are sometimes willing to take credit for good work that they didn’t even do in order to land a job.

So unless you can point to exactly which zones a designer mapped, which quests he implemented, which dungeon he populated, which dialogue he wrote, which raid he itemized, or other specific details, you’re pretty much guessing if he’s just a good salesman or if he actually knows what he’s doing.

Despite all this, I do believe there is value (even sheer entertainment) in reading blogs of people making games. Just don’t take their theories for granted–pay attention to what happens when they actually have to deliver the goods.

Except for this blog, of course, which you can trust implicitly. But you knew that already!

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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

11 thoughts on “Just Another Valueless Blog Post”

  1. Except for this blog, of course, which you can trust implicitly. But you knew that already!

    We of course knew that! Besides, right and wrong when it comes to blogging and theory isn’t really possible. It can be right for you and wrong for Ryan. What works for me at my job doesn’t necessarily work for the guy next to me. In fact, it frequently doesn’t.

    Is there value to game blogs? I’d say, “yes, a whole lot” for two reasons. One, I write one and I’m bias. Number two, however, is much more tangible (and by tangible I mean theory). Players seem to love them. If no blog written by one professional developer never helps another I think it helps a game as a whole with customers. We love direct access to developers even if we don’t know what you do specifically. It comes back to the whole situation about how engaging your community directly can increase your profits.

    It is, in a way, like a mini-fan faire. At the real thing you and I met, talked shop and that gave me an idea of who you are and what you do. It also increased my confidence (and by association the guild I lead’s confidence) in your product. We got a lot out of that experience and became far more partisan to EQ2 (at the time) and to you. Since we can’t do that all the time a blog is like the next best thing!

  2. I think Raph’s #11 hits home with me the most and can sum up how I view developer/designer blogs in general. Not that they’re all wrong and/or crappy designers/developers, because the ones I tend to read typically aren’t, but that what you’re looking to do is learn from the mistakes of others, especially of those who have been successful in the past. We can always look at a failure and call it a failure, but to read how the person(s) involved created that failure and their thoughts during the process can be the most valuable element to truly refining theories and providing designers with the tools needed to make better games.

  3. “Another reason is that, despite the many articles I’ve written and all the interviews I’ve given, you probably don’t actually know what I do for a living.”

    That applies to pretty much everyone that works on a game. Dev working on the UI layer is very different then network for example. This is another example of why game credits have little to no value.

    Even when one is on the inside it is typical to not know what many people do, even when they are on your team. Internal communicating what works and does not work is a large challenge for an organization. Communicating the same type of information to customers just adds to that challenge. At some point there will be a common vocabulary that will set in but that is still being created.

  4. I read through Cuppy’s article and some of the responses it generated, and I’m reminded of the “how do you like them apples” scene from Good Will Hunting:

    Chuckie: Are we gonna have a problem here?

    Clark: No, no, no, no! There’s no problem here. I was just hoping you might give me some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies. My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the southern colonies, could be most aptly described as agrarian precapitalist.

    Chuckie: Let me tell you something –

    Will: Of course that’s your contention. You’re a first-year grad student; you just got finished reading some Marxian historian, Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’till next month when you get to James Lemon. Then you’re going to be talking about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year; you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin’ about, you know, the pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.

    Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won’t, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social –

    Will: “Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth”? You got that from Vickers’ “Work in Essex County,” page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you, is that your thing, you come into a bar, read some obscure passage and then pretend – you pawn it off as your own, as your own idea just to impress some girls, embarrass my friend?

    Clark: [looks down in shame]

    Will: See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a f***in’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!!

    Who’s the better designer in the industry today? Someone who can quote from Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun” or Richard Bartle’s “Designing Virtual Worlds” or someone who can come up with come up with original ideas? Are original ideas even that great an idea? Even if they are, does it matter how great the ideas are that a designer can come up with if they can’t actually communicate or implement those ideas into the context of a game?

  5. I find it interesting the thought of being able to judge ‘talent’, she says she knows lots of talented designers but how do you even judge that? I knew a lot of horrible designers including at least one horrible one that is well known because while not a good designer, he is a great salesperson.

    Then, as far as blogs go, regardless of who writes it, Moorgard, Carrottop (one word or two?), or Jesus, you have to evaluate the ideas objectively and take what you think is worth taking away from it. As with any job, you have to continually evaulate yourself and your ideas to get better, if you assume you, or anyone else has all of the answers then you probably suck and are just oblivous.

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