It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the games industry is utterly intolerant of failure. And this is a far bigger problem than many realise.
Recently, the ‘father of videogames,’ Nolan Bushnell, came out on Twitter and said that he “doesn’t really understand” the Wii U. A statement like that is fairly standard for Bushnell – he has been highly critical of a lot with regards to the modern games industry.
Predictably there was a large snort of derision from a large segment of the games industry at that comment. Without naming names, here’s a very small sample of comments taken from one website (verbatim, so there’s a healthy dose of [sic]s in the following);
“This Man made so many garbage systems. I have an Atari 2600 but Never even knew about any other Atari console until 1998 when I got the Internet.”
“Why does his opinion hold any weight? He’s just an old man who hasn’t had any success in the video game business since President Reagan was in office.”
“Oh gee… words of wisdom from the man directly responsible for the video game crash of 1983.”
“Says the person from the company who released the 7800 and Jaguar; known as some of the most failed consoles of all time!”
I’m not going to comment on whether Bushnell is right in his assessment or not of the Wii U, or whether it’s going to be a successful console – that discussion is for another day. The reason I am highlighting these comments (and remember they are just a very small sample of the overall outcry) is that, for me, there is a problem here: people seem to be implying that Bushnell is not worth listening to because he’s had some failures in his career.
He’s also not the only example of this. Mention Peter Molyneux online and you’re likely to be reminded (often and vigorously) about how he fails to meet the promises he makes with his games, and again, such comments come with the implication that he’s not developer whose opinion is worth listening to as a result.
On two levels attitudes such as these disappoint me. It disappoints me because it in turn implies there’s a negative mindset amongst the gaming community that a developer/ inventor is only relevant as long as they’re successful. Never mind that Bushnell essentially invented home console gaming, he’s not worth listening to because he also greenlighted some dud projects. Never mind that the mind of Molyneux gave us hit after hit in the Bullfrog era, Fable underdelivered and now he’s doing ‘crazy’ experimental things that people don’t seem to understand such as the iPhone game, Curiosity. Because of those later arguably failed games he now knows ‘nothing’ about game development.
That’s a surface-level disappointment, and in fairness to the games community there are a lot of people out there that also hold a great deal of respect for the successes of Bushnell, Molyneux, and the other high-profile innovators in the industry, despite the missteps along the way. So that surface-level disappointment is easily resolved.
A deeper concern I have with these attitudes is not so easily resolved, because it’s a collective attitude towards failure in the games industry, not an individual one. Because there is such a vocal group of gamers, media outlets and industry spokespeople (remember the ‘your games suck’ comment from Phil Fish regarding the Japanese industry?’) that is intolerant of failure, the entire games industry is becoming intolerant of failure.
I’ve written in the past about how being risk-adverse is going to damage the ability for the games industry to be creative, and the fear of making mistakes is going to play a significant role in building up that risk-adverse mindset. Publishers are greenlighting proven, safe game ideas because there’s a fear of a commercial dud, yes, but there’s also the reputational damage to consider – if you mess with a fan favourite franchise too much acquiring customers for the next sequel will be all the more difficult. We saw this with Halo 4 more than any other game in recent memory – as good as it is that game, from start to finish, Halo 4 was clearly frightened to do anything that might be perceived as a ‘mistake’.
When Metacritic scores can influence whether a developer can get a job, and when the games community is so willing to dismiss those that do make mistakes out of mind, the games industry itself will begin to stagnate under this fear of failure. Developers will stop bringing new innovation to their bosses if the only way they’ll benefit from doing so is if it’s an idea that is a guaranteed success. Given there’s no guaranteed successes in life, the well of new ideas will dry up rapidly.
Meanwhile experienced and more experimental developers such as Peter Molyneux will become less actively engaged with the industry the more they are derided out of the industry. Ignoring Molyneux’s detractors, he provides the industry a very valuable public service in being so vocal; people learn from his mistakes. The only way that an industry can develop is if we have prominent, experienced, and proven experts on the subject presenting alternative ideas on how to do things, and actively looking to break down the norms. This is a creative industry, and so we as an audience for that industry should be engaging with the words of a person like Molyneux, not dismissing him.
The reality is that failure is a good thing, as it is by far the quickest way to learn and develop new ideas. I was recently speaking to the head of technology at a major global bank, and he was walking me through how the bank was working hard to shed the fear that people have to make mistakes in their work. Let me just re-state that for emphasis: an executive at one of the largest banks in the world, working in the most highly regulated industry in the world, is actively working to build a culture where mistakes are tolerated, if not encouraged.
Why would an organisation allow this to happen? Because it encourages innovative thought, I was told. If staff are no longer worried that if they accidentally blow up something they’ll be shown the door, they’re going to be that much more willing to come up with some ideas on how things can be improved, and apparently there has already been great results from this new policy.
Which ties neatly back to the question of why the games industry is so intolerant of failure when even financial services have clued into the value of mistakes. Bushnell is not “that guy that nearly ruined home consoles.” He is an innovator that has made mistakes, but they’re mistakes that we can learn from, and when he speaks out on an issue, it’s because his experience (and failures) have told him that it’s not a good idea.
Molyneux has made promises in his games, and not delivered on them. Rather than criticise him for it, we as the gaming community should be encouraging him for trying to push the envelope.
It’s in the interest of the games industry to encourage, rather than disparage, experimentation. The very nature of experimentation means that sometimes things will go wrong. There isn’t a single great inventor or thought leader in history who has not made mistakes. And the people who are willing to go out there and make mistakes are the ones that we should be listening to, because unlike those that are risk adverse, the innovators are the ones that have the vision to make a difference.
You should link to the comments, at least then they can be viewed in full. As this one is actually a little more fair in full context:
"Says the person from the company who released the 7800 and Jaguar; known as some of the most failed consoles of all time!
I don't think its fair for him to judge. Anyway, It's Nintendo! Even though it doesn't look like they know what they're doing some of the time, I am sure that they always know what they're doing!
Anyway, who cares what one person thinks?"
Also, you should probably screenshot them, because the site you got them from is famous for deleting comments they don't like…even if the comments do not contain spam, name-calling, cursing, etc…as I have experienced in the last 24 hours when trying to get clarification on a topic. Then they banned my account with no reason given, I guess other than questioning why they have left up a "review" with incorrect information and from a person that didn't complete the game?
"He is an innovator that has made mistakes, but they’re mistakes that we can learn from, and when he speaks out on an issue, it’s because his experience (and failures) have told him that it’s not a good idea.
Molyneux has made promises in his games, and not delivered on them. Rather than criticise him for it, we as the gaming community should be encouraging him for trying to push the envelope."
Again, because Bushnell was successful doesn't mean what he is saying now makes sense to others, just as the Wii U doesn't make sense to him. When was the last successful venture he had? (I know I watched a documentary with him in it a few years back, but it was all around Atari and the 80s stuff). He didn't even say anything here exactly ground breaking, but leave it to the internets to make a mountain out of nothing.
As for Molyneux, saying he has made promises but then not delivered on them is a perfectly good reason to criticize him (or anybody, myself included!). I'm not really sure what he has done recently that is "trying to push the envelope"…
I deliberately didn't link to the site I got those from as 1) they were just an intro into a broader discussion – a small snapshot of an overall picture, if you will. I also didn't want to call out names or make it look like I was in some way taking a crack at the website that these comments were posted on, because, again, it was an introduction, and nothing more.
"Again, because Bushnell was successful doesn't mean what he is saying now makes sense to others, just as the Wii U doesn't make sense to him. When was the last successful venture he had? (I know I watched a documentary with him in it a few years back, but it was all around Atari and the 80s stuff). He didn't even say anything here exactly ground breaking, but leave it to the internets to make a mountain out of nothing."
When a politician retires, his attitudes towards politics remains relevant. Likewise, when a businessman stops being a businessman, his observations on the business environment remain relevant. You can't dismiss someone because 1) they're not still actively involved in the industry or 2) they've made mistakes in the past is to suggest that the wealth of experience that the person has previously built up, and his/ her previous successes is no longer relevant.
In my piece I never even brought up the most obvious point here – who is a random person on the Internet (often in these cases, people who can't even string together a correct sentence) to criticise someone who has achieved something in the industry? Regardless of whether his success was three decades ago, Bushnell is still more of an expert on the console industry than you, me, or anyone who I quoted in this piece.
The right way to handle Bushnell's comments is to sit down and try and understand why he said what he said. Not dismiss them because he hasn't had a successful venture in 20 years (I don't know if he's even tried to?) or he had a failed product or two back in the Atari days.
"As for Molyneux, saying he has made promises but then not delivered on them is a perfectly good reason to criticize him (or anybody, myself included!). I'm not really sure what he has done recently that is "trying to push the envelope"…"
A good reason to criticise him, absolutely. Not a good reason to dismiss what he says. They guy is clearly an intelligent man who has created some amazing games and his only failing has been at times to be too experimental and ambitious. To read how some of these "armchair experts" respond to him though you'd think he doesn't have a clue how to make a game.
As for what he's done recently to push the envelope – Curiosity is an incredibly experimental project, to try and test the boundaries of online player interaction, the power and limitations of microtransactions, and indeed the limits of those "tap tap tap" games on Facebook and the like.
That is an incredibly poignant question to ask players – only one of you, in the world, is going to get anything out of this game at the end of it. Are you still going to play it?
"When a politician retires, his attitudes towards politics remains relevant."
Depends who you ask. Most politicians, in office and out, I would actually say are irrelevant, as they can't even do basic things (here in the U.S. anyway), like balancing the budget. I think MOST politicians based on my time (yes, I have been heavily involved in politics) are clueless/dishonest and are just doing what the lobbyist tell them to do. Saying you can't dismiss someone not actively involved now, I disagree with.
Again, Bushnell didn't clarify anything as to why he is baffled by it, so the intolerance of the comment is justifiable IMO. And his entire conversation/quote captured ALL the consoles, not just the Wii U.
Not to mention, at least one MAJOR site for the UK (I believe) published his quote as a run on, and not in the context given in the original article.
Here's the full article/quote portion of the piece:
"But will it be the blowout that Nintendo needs? Many industry veterans and game reviewers are skeptical. They question whether the Wii U can be as successful as the original, now that many gamers have moved on to more abundant, cheaper and more convenient mobile games.
“I actually am baffled by it,” Nolan K. Bushnell, the founder of Atari and the godfather of the games business, says of the Wii U. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big success.”
The bigger question is what the future holds for any of the major game systems, including new ones that Sony and Microsoft are expected to release next year. Echoing other industry veterans, Mr. Bushnell says that consoles are already delivering remarkable graphics and that few but the most hard-core players will be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a new game box.
“These things will continue to sputter along, but I really don’t think they’ll be of major import ever again,” he says. “It feels like the end of an era to me.”
No clarification at all, and again, making a mountain out of nothing. Larry the Hobo could cause such a storm of outrage on the internet, and he has a history of doing so.
I say this goes back to poor journalism. If they are too lazy to find the original source and use it, they shouldn't be publishing it.
Look at other sites ran it together:
"“I actually am baffled by it,” Bushnell told The New York Times of Nintendo’s new machine. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big success. These things will continue to sputter along, but I really don’t think they’ll be of major import ever again.
“It feels like the end of an era to me.”
"I actually am baffled by it. I don’t think it’s going to be a big success. These things will continue to sputter along, but I really don’t think they’ll be of major import ever again. It feels like the end of an era to me."
They took out an entire paragraph, with another "question" that wasn't quoted leading up to the second part of the quote that was reported and caused much of the outrage.
Also, being that you reposted this on the other site…why not include the comments there as well? At least then those that see their comments there, can respond.
Coffee, this really isn't the right discussion for this article.
It's a dense 1300 words to try and condense down, but I'll try. What I am saying here – the entire point about this article – has nothing to do with Bushnell, what he said, and what other people said about him. Those are just recent examples that talk to a far broader – and long term – issue in the games industry.
The point of this article is as the title suggests: The games industry as a collective (gamers, media and the corporations) does not encourage innovation. It finds reasons to lynch anyone that tries to be innovative.
If it helps, remove the references to Bushnell and Molyneux from the article. Those are just there to provide context to my actual argument here: The games industry – and gamers – need to respect, not dismiss, the more creative and innovative people that work in it.
Well, a few things…
The statement you said he made on his Twitter account, isn't on his Twitter account now so I couldn't find the whole thing, and the article you took the comments from wasn't about a Tweet of his, but about a quote from a New York Times piece. So, the comments are about a totally different quote…which was misquoted in that piece with the comments.
"The point of this article is as the title suggests: The games industry as a collective (gamers, media and the corporations) does not encourage innovation. It finds reasons to lynch anyone that tries to be innovative."
Well, it's a bit ironic though, you used the Bushnell quote saying he didn't understand the Wii U, and in the other piece is "baffled" by it. His comment goes right into the "…does not encourage innovation. It finds reasons to lynch anyone that tries to be innovative." It's the same thing…except I think you are talking about the comments of the community on sites, that were outraged over an entirely different quote…which was misquoted.
Nintendo Life used the quote out of context (as did many other sites), they included more than the "baffled" part. They included a part where he said that he didn't think future consoles will continue to be successful, but the way they quoted him took about the other consoles question/paragraph…so it was a run-on quote that made it look like he was saying the he is baffled by the Wii U and that it won't be successful.
Again though, perhaps Bushnell should read this piece and see that instead of being baffled by the Wii U,and thinking future consoles will fail, he needs "to respect, not dismiss, the more creative and innovative people that work in it."?
"I read many of the comments on one particular site and after making my way through around 20 comments, I just had to move on. I find it disturbing that if anyone well known in the industry makes a controversial statement about a brand (could be anything), the comments afterwards don't discuss the topic at hand, but instead start to recreate their statements into a personal insult and/or attack on the brand. We've see this over and again with Michael Pachter."
I say blame the site for using the quote out of context, not the comments that were based off their misquote. I'm all about making sure statements are clarified, and Pachter is famous for saying things that don't make any/much sense, and I have contacted him about it…because he was the source of the quotes, and I wanted to see if he could clarify his comments. On this topic though, I am contacting the lazy sites that don't know how to use original sources properly, and apparently just copy/paste/plagiarize quotes from other sites.
Again, it's really a two way street on this issue, since the sites all used the quote(s) out of context, most of the comments on the "Nintendo" based sites and the other sites, were probably thinking he was only talking about the Wii U and Nintendo, when he wasn't.
But, you know what I learned today about Bushnell that I didn't know…he founded Chuck E. Cheese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have no problem with journalist using partial quotes, because the majority of sites source the original article and if I want to read them in full, I'm free to do so right through the article itself. It's common practice and if there's an issue, I'm free to speak to it in the comments of the article.
I'm sorry, but I don't agree with placing the mindset of a reader's comment on the writer either, unless the article is intentionally designed to mislead. I've had no issue with the articles I've read on this subject. I was only speaking to the immature and short-sighted readers that so desire to leave their insolence trailing behind them wherever they go.
They didn't use a partial quote, they misquoted him. As I provided the full text above in my comments that show that. The article apparently was intentionally designed to mislead, since they misquoted him, and/or were so lazy they just copied/pasted/plagiarized the wrong quote from another trash site.
Again, this is the internet, and if Pachter and Bushnell want to be taken seriously, perhaps they should make sure to speak their thoughts out clearly on issues…because it's very obvious the websites don't know have to even get a quote from the original source. It's about the same as politics and sports though, most have a favorite party or team, and don't want to hear anything from the other side and will use past failures as a justification for not listening, voting, or supporting a them.
"It's common practice and if there's an issue, I'm free to speak to it in the comments of the article."
Not on Nintendo Life. YOU DO NOT ask simple questions about things they publish, and you especially NEVER ask a "reviewer" there if he/she finished a game they "reviewed". You will have your comments deleted, threatened and lied about via PM from a Mod, and then your account banned…and then your account restored after the head of Nintendo Life sees they are treading water on the issue, and looks like they don't have much (if any) integrity on THAT topic anymore, and apparently are afraid that you might publish emails and images on the topic.
There's a big difference between criticism and dismissal. Peer criticism is part of the innovation/ creative process, and it's absolutely essential. If people don't like something, then they absolutely do need to voice their concerns. In some instances (consultants, analysts at times), that's their entire job.
But that's different to dismissal, when you pretend that someone's criticism is invalid for some illegitimate reason. "Is not an expert" – legitimate reason to ignore someone's argument. "Made a failed product" – not legitimate reason.
That said, you are entirely right that the industry is as guilty of dismissing innovator's opinions – I have mentioned as much. The community, the media, and the industry all need to up their game. Bushnell's comments were not a dismissal, though. That was a criticism. At no point did he say "ignore what Nintendo does, they don't know anything because that Wii U is a terrible product." No, he's just a businessman that doesn't see the long-term value in the games industry – not just Nintendo, but the others as well. That's a perfectly legitimate comment to make, especially since it supports the attitude of the wide bulk of business analysts and the industry sales data.
For a dismissal, look at someone like Phil Fish, and his "your games suck," comment regarding the Japanese games industry. Pretending that an entire country is incapable of making good games does the industry no favours whatsoever.
You've been going on about this issue about games journalism for a while now, Coffee.
There are issues with games journalism. There are games journalists out there working hard to try and bring the standard of it up. I'm not in any way denying that when I say this, but I'd like some clarity from you about this since you're so vocal about it:
What experience have you got with professional journalism? Have you got a degree, or some on-the-floor experience? If you could supply that it would help greatly in understanding the perspective you're coming from, because from where I'm sitting (two degrees, two journalism awards, 15 years experience), I've seen very little wrong with most of the reporting of the Bushnell comments that I've read.
Some of this comes back to the fact that the games industry is filled with "armchair experts." People think that because they've played some games that they're able to jump on to the Internet and comment on whether a guy who's been making games for decades should be taken seriously or not.
Other people think that just because they're able to sign up a Blogger or WordPress account they're qualified to write about the games industry. Still others seem to think that just because they're able to write a good criticism of a video game, then they also understand how the business side of the games industry works.
In my experience, armchair experts rarely understand much of anything. And because they are unable to argue a point on a legitimate scale, they resort to simply dismissing any opinions they don't personally like.
This is certainly not exclusive to the games industry – it's holding back innovation everywhere. Unfortunately the games industry seems to be at the mercy of the armchair experts more than some other industries. The financial services industry for instance, has a wholly different atmosphere about it. Perhaps it's because it's impossible to comprehend on any level without some knowledge background than consumer industries like gaming. I'm not sure.
"The community, the media, and the industry all need to up their game. Bushnell's comments were not a dismissal, though. That was a criticism."
I'm not really sure how it was a criticism though, as he didn't really criticize anything about the Wii U specifically…just that he is baffled by it. There wasn't anything named in the piece that was baffling, no clarity on his part…which is what I was talking about below: "Again, this is the internet, and if Pachter and Bushnell want to be taken seriously, perhaps they should make sure to speak their thoughts out clearly on issues".
He wasn't criticising the console. He was criticising the market that the Wii U is being released into.
The comment made perfect sense to me. Bushnell is an business man, and he's talking about the businesses in the games industry. He doesn't necessarily think the market for consoles is one with especially strong opportunities.
The way Nintendo Life made it an entire quote is what is wrong, it is a misquote. It is a run-on. That is out of context the way they published it.
"What experience have you got with professional journalism? Have you got a degree, or some on-the-floor experience?"
What do you consider "professional journalism"? Having a journalism degree, then no. I do have a Business Degree, but will be going back for another in January (not journalism either).
I do have "on-the-floor experience" if you count my blog pieces and news pieces I have done being decent enough to get picked up by larger sites, and publishers (Capcom). Also, getting contacted by developers for doing pieces on their games and talking "off the record" with many developers on issues behind the scenes. I get games to provide coverage for randomly from publishers, BUT I always tell them I do not do a typical review on games. I have also done a few interviews over the years.
As for outside of games journalism, I put together a rough draft presidential TV ad for a candidate, and they ran with it. Just tweaked a few things in it. I also was able to get one-liners to a certain political candidate this last time, and have him and his staff use them in interviews and one in a national debate.
Lucky – I'd love to go back to uni. I've got a PHD. idea just sitting there in the back of my brain, but I just don't have the time or money to do it. 🙁 What degree are you doing?
Thanks for clarifying that for me – I'll keep it in mind next time we have one of these debates about journalism.
! Correct! Sorry, my brain was stuck on how Nintendo Life used the two quotes together.
The full portion was, "But will it be the blowout that Nintendo needs? Many industry veterans and game reviewers are skeptical. They question whether the Wii U can be as successful as the original, now that many gamers have moved on to more abundant, cheaper and more convenient mobile games.
“I actually am baffled by it,” Nolan K. Bushnell, the founder of Atari and the godfather of the games business, says of the Wii U. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big success.”"
So, it's not that he doesn't think it won't be a success, just not a BIG success.
Medical degree…not going to be a doctor, as I want to finish before I'm 40!
PHD is expensive. My wife went for hers after graduating with her Masters. She stopped after a year and got her Specialist Degree, but that one year cost us roughly $40k.
That's a handy degree to have sitting on the shelf! haha, good luck!
In Australia we do have this wonderful system where the Government pays for our degrees, but then we pay a little extra tax to the Government until the debt is gone. Of course, it's still expensive because it's takes a whole lot of time – time I could be using earning money.
Between my two existing degrees I already owe the Government for the next 30 years, so why not just add another 20 to it 😛
Mind you, I'm hoping to go for a sociology PHD, which is essentially useless for anything but, well, lecturing.
I just want to be able to insist people call me "Dr Matt," really 😛
Thanks for this thoughtful piece Matt.
The intolerance of failure is not endemic to the video games industry, it's present everywhere. Most successful businesspeople will have one or more likely several failures, bankruptcies and not so great ideas in their past. When they succeed, they are heaped with praised and seen as leaders in their industry. If they make one more mistake after they "make it" though… somehow this means they are washed up and incapable of further innovation. It's sad, and I don't pretend to know why it's the norm. Maybe a wandering sociologist can shed some light on it.
Yeah, I've been looking for a sociologist to ask about this – if you ever come across one, point them my direction 😀
Thanks for the input! And I completely agree. Even Steve Jobs had failures!
Yep, I think that's what my wife wants too! Haha
I've got two and a half years of college behind, a technical degree and in 8 months I'll have another technical degree, be a first class tradesman and finally land a real college degree.
If I ever do go back, it will be for journalism.
What on-liner did you sneak in?! I'm quite curious as I keep up with politics myself. I also hold no bias in that regard (I'm a stark Independent), so no worries of getting an idiotic rebuttal from me. 😉
LOL, let me see if the clip is still on YouTube…I know the email exchanges are still there with the adviser.
I'm going through YouTube videos slowly but surely, the YouTube account I had it "favorited" on was deleted by YouTube…which was/is a very odd story…so now I'm having to find it again.
Haha… cool. 🙂
I wonder if people have always been as cynical as discussion on the Internet suggests or if the Internet has encouraged them to be so?
On the article,
"The reality is that failure is a good thing, as it is by far the quickest way to learn and develop new ideas."
The other side of that coin is that failure is sometimes the quickest route to becoming risk-averse. :p
The kicker is that the majority of judgement on whether or not a venture is deemed a failure is often made in hindsight and frequently by plenty of folks who had no "skin in the game" in the first place, a very warm and comfortable place to be.
The industry as we are most used to does seem VERY conservative these days but luckily the value that rewards innovation and game risks has largely migrated as opposed to disappeared, a natural cycle now that I think about it.