Veteran game developer and former Ubisoft executive Jade Raymond spoke to Forbes earlier this week about the state of her profession. Although the indie scene merited a few mentions – Raymond is lending her time to indie developers before pursuing her next venture – the AAA game sector remained the topic du jour, with Raymond offering several thoughts on the trends she sees in 2015. “I think it’s strange that a lot of the basic things we should be experts at we just don’t apply to management,” she remarked.
Specifically, Raymond referred to the longstanding industry practice of awarding bonuses to studios based on game sales, positing that it incentivizes sameness and rote design. When sales are the main objective, she explained, developers tend to go with what has worked in the past. “If your bonus is 100% based on profitability you are more likely to stay with the tried and true route – if Game X is a sequel and the previous game hit that bar, you’re going to do a similar thing but polish a little more.”
Such caution, according to Raymond, inhibits creativity and results in homogenization. “One of these monster games has to have stealth and shooting and melee combat and hand-to hand combat and driving and flying,” she explained. “And suddenly every monster game is like all the other [ones], and cost a lot to make.” Ironically, then, a focus on profitability could actually hurt a studio’s bottom line in the long run: Raymond alluded to the cost and scope of AAA development “ballooning out of control,” a problem that has been noted more frequently as the industry continues to grow. In recent years, for example, Square Enix infamously expressed disappointment at sales of 2013's reboot of Tomb Raider despite 3.4 million units sold by the end of the launch month.
What's the fix? Creating a new system of incentives, argues Raymond, is a promising way to promote creativity over boilerplate stability. "I think that if companies really do care about quality, or risk-taking and innovation in the long term, they also have to tie their merit-based bonuses to metrics that align with that," she said.
The interview also touched on the issue of female opportunity in the tech workplace. Although offering more a more general response, Raymond did make sure to say that she believes there are problems that need to be addressed. "There’s a lot of work to be done in most industries, honestly," she appraised, "but I do think the games industry has some specific work to do." In an earlier interview with Polygon, Raymond mentioned details, including the underestimation of her role due to her gender. She also emphasized moderation in regard to creative content: "Yes, I think there are some games, you know, yes, whatever, portrayal of women can be improved. Yes, it can be improved in every single frickin' entertainment form. Movies, even the magazines that we buy. Women buy these magazines and on the cover of these magazines, women are wearing sexy outfits. You see cleavage, all this stuff. These are the magazines we choose to buy for ourselves. I feel like as a person who loves the game industry and likes making games, action games, I made Assassin's Creed — it's a game where you assassinate guys and you have a big sword and stuff. I like bad action movies. I like what we do and I don't feel like it all has to be so ... "
Since leaving Ubisoft Toronto, Raymond has remained mum about her next step. An announcement, she promised, is coming sometime this July.
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