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!