This episode is sponsored by Autodesk
My conversation with Brian Canary, a seasoned game designer, reveals the intricacies of the industry’s shifting dynamics. With credits from EverQuest to Champions Online, Canary’s move to the UK and his experience with Splash Damage opens a window into the international nuances of game development culture. “We’ve definitely just had a return to the office here… But the icing on the cake there is that we did have to return to the office this week, but we’re onto a four-day work week, which is great,” he says, providing a glimpse into the evolving work-life balance within the gaming sphere.
Collaboration and Single-Player Game Resurgence
The discourse delves deep into the essence of game design—collaboration. Canary emphasizes the unmatched value of in-person synergy, especially during the early stages of game development. “It’s a lot tougher, I think, to be collaborative in a design aspect in the beginning of a project over distance… It really is good to get everybody in the same room,” Canary asserts, echoing a sentiment felt industry-wide about the irreplaceable nature of face-to-face creativity.
We further explored a shift in the industry spotlight from multiplayer experiences to a renewed focus on single-player games during the pandemic. This resurgence of single-player narratives is highlighted by Canary’s observation: “There was definitely a momentum shift during the pandemic… a lot of single-player game experiences announced… Just out of nowhere, a return to that.” He reflects on the collective yearning for immersive, individualistic experiences and the comfort found in the nostalgia of remakes.
The gaming industry has increased influence on broader entertainment, noting the transition of gaming IPs to cinematic endeavors. “Last of Us is getting Emmy nominations… It used to be a joke to have game IPs turned into movie licenses or movies,” I commented, illustrating the newfound respect and successful integration of game narratives in film and television.
The reciprocal relationship between games and movies is evident as Canary speaks of the inspiration that flows in both directions, enriching storytelling across mediums. He remarks on the narrative structures in new media productions that mirror video game mechanics, heralding a fresh approach to storytelling that captures the immersive nature of games.
In an intriguing turn, we touch upon a cultural renaissance in reading among younger generations, a trend Canary sees as possibly stemming from a desire for less mediated experiences. “I think that also kind of is a little bit of a push back from being always online… There’s something very personal about reading a book,” he speculates, suggesting a parallel between the depth of single-player games and the introspection of reading a book.
Looking Ahead: Gaming’s Interplay with Emerging Technologies
Looking to the future, Canary expresses cautious optimism about new technologies such as AR and VR in gaming. He underscores the necessity for a breakthrough application that can galvanize widespread adoption, akin to the cultural impact of Apple’s innovations in other domains. “There’s got to be that killer app… something in VR or even AR that everybody just has to have,” he notes, contemplating the potential transformative effects of these technologies on gaming and interactive experiences.
Canary mused on Nintendo’s unique approach to failure, positing that it is a fertile ground for learning and future success. “As bad as the Virtual Boy was, that still was their first toe into VR…they celebrate their failures in a way that most other companies don’t,” he reflected. This philosophy of building upon failures rather than being deterred by them has led to some of Nintendo’s most innovative moments, such as the development of the 3DS.
The conversation then segued into the business strategy behind nostalgia, with me discussing how Nintendo, by capitalizing on the emotional connection of their older games, could be leaving “hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.” I pointed out that Nintendo’s reticence to fully leverage its extensive back catalog in the face of a booming market for retro games may be a missed opportunity.
In an industry rife with high turnover rates, I brought to light Nintendo’s low turnover, speculating on the strong company culture and sense of loyalty that might contribute to this rarity. “I never hear anything about an ex-Nintendo employee…they must have such a low turnover rate or just stay there forever,” I commented.
The Disney Comparison
Discussing the parallels between Nintendo and Disney, Canary noted the two giants share a similar cultural footprint in terms of their beloved characters and stories. He also touched upon Disney’s hot-and-cold relationship with gaming, cycling between in-house development and licensing. “Nintendo does feel kind of like the Disney of video games,” Canary said, highlighting the potential yet untapped synergy between Disney’s IP treasure trove and the gaming industry.
Turning the conversation towards the streaming wars, Canary pointed out the strategic moves by companies like Netflix, which could disrupt the gaming industry just as they did with film and television. Unlike Google’s Stadia, which stumbled out of the gate, Netflix’s quiet foray into gaming could position it as a dark horse poised for success.
A major topic that permeated the discussion was the advent of AI and its potential to revolutionize content creation. Canary expressed a sense of awe mixed with trepidation at the seismic changes AI might bring to the industry. “It can replace 100 writers in a room… it’s a scary proposition,” he asserted, stressing the urgency for the industry to grasp and integrate AI in a manner that balances innovation with the creative human element.
The Quantity Over Quality Dilemma
There is an issue of content saturation in the streaming era, where the push for constant new material could lead to a dilution of quality. “It’s not about having something… it’s existing because I need to fill in content,” Canary observed, highlighting the challenge for creatives in an environment driven by the relentless demand for new content.
Canary later reiterated the value of tabletop gaming as an antidote to digital overload, advocating for more personal and shared creative experiences. “Like reading a book… it’s something that you won’t be disturbed with,” he advocated, drawing parallels between tabletop gaming’s resurgence and a collective desire to disconnect from the digital world.