Last month, I formed a new British games company called Three Fields Entertainment, along with Fiona Sperry, formerly the studio head and general manager of Criterion Games in Guildford.
Why Three Fields? Well, the name is based on a line in the script of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming science fiction film Interstellar. The lead character is asked to join a space mission looking “for people skilled in at least three fields”. And that got me thinking.
I try not to reflect on the past, but one of the things I wish I had reversed about Criterion would have been the trend towards specialisation and teams split by discipline.
As companies grow, so do their lists of job titles. Other companies have these weird things called ‘Job Family Matrixes’. However, the minute a label is applied to someone to simply be a ’programmer’, ‘artist’, ‘engineer’ or ‘designer’, then that’s what he or she tends to solely focus on.
Titles and disciplines ultimately hamper game development by stopping people from speaking up and poking their noses into other areas. Great games don’t happen by accident. The magic ‘fun’ needs to be found very early on, so that the experience can be crafted, iterated and polished.
Can you name any movies where the crew didn’t watch the finished film? Have you ever eaten at a great restaurant where you knew that the chefs have chosen not to eat there? I’m not sure I can, but I can name several games made by people that weren’t that interested. And not just the developers, but also in the publishing organisations.
One of my favourite books is Pete Waterman’s autobiography I Wish I Was Me. As a successful DJ, he knew what records kept people on the dance floor. He’d never made a record before, but he’d played a lot of hits. Later on, when he sold PWL to Warner, he was shocked at how much money they were prepared to throw at upcoming albums without anyone actually listening to what had been recorded.
UP IS GOOD
I think that one of the guilty secrets of the gaming business has always been that it was largely dominated and run by people who didn’t actually play games at all. Ever.
I’ve heard many classic howlers over the years. I think my personal favourite has to be: “I don’t need to play games. I sell what’s on the box, not what’s in the box”. That was from someone who ran a successful global publisher that isn’t around anymore. Wonder why?
I suppose the weirdest meeting I ever had was when I was told my game (a first-person shooter that wasn’t called White) would be a hit because: “at the start you’re UP and we all know that UP IS GOOD”.
I’ve also worked with incredibly talented programmers who, after finally getting into the games business, suddenly stop playing altogether. Gaming simply became work, a chore, something to endure. Team sizes, costs and risks got bigger, and sometimes teams are just happiest when it’s all over. I always was.
Life’s too short to not truly love what you do. There’s no point wasting time working on something you don’t believe in. And I’ve been lucky enough to have always been able to be truly invested in what I was working on. Hopefully that showed in some of the software.
So with Three Fields we’re starting over, and trying something new. We’re not restricted by job titles or PowerPoint presentations, and everyone plays games. I guess that’s a start. Oh, and UP IS GOOD. Let’s not forget that.