Reply To: Where is everyone now?


(re: Where is everyone now?) It is strange that most of the “great designers” from Sierra aren’t doing games anymore. I’ve been trying to think of who is in the industry and really can’t think of anyone (although there probably is someone I’m forgetting).

I had an email from Jim Walls (Police Quest) recently. He said that he had been at Electronic Arts for the last five years doing games. He was finally exiting the business. Jane Jensen is still writing. And beyond that….

I think it comes down to a few things:

1) Sierra had a unique system that has not been copied anywhere. Be it good or bad, Sierra’s “style” was unusual. My opinion was that computer games were like books or records, and that one person should be the “artist” responsible for the product. I always wanted one person on the game who was accountable for everything in the game. I called this person the “designer”. All creative decisions had to be signed off on by the “designer”. If the game succeeded, the designer got to do another game. If it was a hit, their budget got bigger. If it was a disaster, their career was over. This sounds good in concept but is difficult to implement. As game budgets grew over the years, small 5 person teams became 50 or 100 person teams. Each team member wants to leave their creative vision on the project. In my experience, each team member “believes” that they know more than the designer. The art director tends to believe they have a better vision for the art than the designer. The lead programmer tends to believe they understand technology better than the designer. And on, and on. On a small team, one person can make their creative vision for a product happen. On a huge team, the resulting product can become “design by committee”. A large part of my job at Sierra was ensuring that the teams were listening to the designer, and that the products weren’t becoming the work of a corporate bureaucracy. Once I left, the designers found they didn’t have the same level of management support, and the system collapsed. I don’t think many (any?) game companies exist today that really “feature” strong designers.

2) After the sale of Sierra, I think there was a backlash against the “prior regime”. Perhaps there is a reason why many of Sierra’s designers were never offered more projects, but I can’t think of it. I don’t really want to name names, but there are at least a couple of designers who always shipped mega-hits, who shipped projects on-time, and on-budget, but who Sierra seems to want nothing to do with.

3) Most of Sierra’s designers are “adventure game” designers. It’s what they do. For instance Roberta has said “I design adventure games. I have no interest in designing a action game. When adventure games come back into fashion, I’ll consider doing another game.” Right now, there really isn’t a market for adventure games, even ones that are well done.

4) This could be a factor: Anyone designing games in the early days of Sierra is “older” now. Most games are bought by kids. To be honest, none of the early Sierra folk are kids anymore. You need to be able to relate to your target audience. I have much less in common with a skate-board riding, snowboarding, rap-music listening youth than I used to. I always said that the best designers were those who “lived and breathed” their games. If someone wanted to do a racing game, their whole life should revolve around racing. If they want to do a civil war game, their whole life should be about the civil war. Most of the market today is hard-edged action games. I’m not sure most of Sierra’s designers “live and breathe” that kind of product.

-Ken W