Cliffy B on building the power creative

GDC 2011: Epic design director discusses learning from the past, building more open new intellectual property for the future, and avoiding glory holes.

Who was there? Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski presented the "Industry Lessons Learned and Applying Them to the Road Ahead" panel.

What they talked about: At a time when consumers are bombarded with viewing and playing options and unsure which brands to trust and buy, it never hurts to have someone who can yell louder to get above the din. Bleszinski preached the importance of starting and fostering conversations with game audiences, establishing brands, and maintaining player loyalty.

Cliff Bleszinski and a friend.

The presentation began with a look back, chronicling his own experiences growing up with the games industry; a theme continued throughout the panel and foreseeing the changing nature of the market, its desires, and habits. Bleszinski moved on to define and explain the rise of what he refers to as "power creators." These are industry personalities who call the shots, are visible, unique, and valuable people who have carved out their own profile.

Power creators can come from any aspect of the business, and while often designers are thrust into the limelight as gaming industry spokespeople, power creators can be coders, artists, or rooted in any other skill set. Moving from behind the code to in front of the camera is not an easy task, though, with Bleszinski saying that it was important that the person had paid his or her dues to the industry, serving time in the development trenches and singling out current luminaries, such as Irrational's Ken Levine, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, and Disney's Warren Spector.

Identifying and knowing your weaknesses was cited as an integral part of the learning process, turning the tables and using flaws as strengths by learning to let go of the reigns for someone else who has more time to take over. Bleszinski said the best way to overcome failings, such as time poorness or gaps in skills, is to find complementary talents within the studio, matching the yin to your yang and creating mutual respect. This becomes crucial in the form of checks and balances that keep power creators grounded. The example given was Peter Jackson's King Kong film ending up much too long simply because no one wanted to tell Jackson that it needed to be cut--for fear of stifling the filmmaker's creative genius.

Many developers allude to wrestling with their own past and demons, but Bleszinski used the panel to explain the importance of tapping personal feelings and emotions and channeling them into constructive outlets. For example, he explained that Marcus' "daddy issues" in Gears of War had to do with the death of Bleszinski's own father during his teens, while the divorce he was experiencing during the first game's production found its way into the title.

Certainly never one to be referred to as a shrinking violet, the designer went on to reveal how building a public profile means you need to take the good with the bad, showcasing a snippet of some of the comments about him from Internet message boards. Sage advice for potential power creators was to never forget where you came from and that if you do become the outward face of your brand, then remember the people you represent. Thank the fans, take photos with them, and replace "I" with "we" to carry the flag for those still back at the studio working on the product.

The marketing machine, though nasty, has become a necessary evil. Study it, understand how it works, and embrace it to get your finger in every pie available on your game suggests Bleszinski. Two box shots were shown: One was Deus Ex: Invisible War and the other Sega's Condemned 2. Bleszinski said that both were prime examples of marketing-led (rather than studio-led) art, quipping that since there was almost no information on the type of game from its image, the latter could be some kind of glory hole simulator. Screenshots, box art, and gameplay videos released need to be the best possible representation of your product, and simply being involved in the process rather than handing it off greatly helps achieve that goal.

Disposable content and fickle audiences mirror the advancements made in television sets, with the effort required to get up and physically turn a knob to switch channels replaced by the instant gratification of flicking quickly between stations with a remote control. Now with the device in their hands, players can pick and choose a seemingly endless number of options at will, and in the process, they have become more migratory in their content consumption, ready to shift to the next big thing.

To counter this, Bleszinski believes that if you really want to establish new intellectual property it needs to be open, friendly, and moving forward; become experiences that will span devices, such as hacking control panels on the iPad to open doors in your console version of Dead Space 2. Once you as a developer have hooked a player to experience your game, Bleszinski recommended regularly rewarding them with badges, bonus experience point weekends, and incentives to continue playing consecutive matches.

Even in the face of the meteoric rise of casual gaming, Bleszinski believes that AAA games are here to stay. The middle class is dead, and the global recession continues to impact on the number of entertainment products sold. For this reason, burning players with poor products pushes them away from your brand. He believes that Steam is part of the solution, while social media allows game developers and publishers to have personal and direct contact with the audience.

Bleszinski also urged developers to consider including social functions like Twitter integration as part of the development process rather than an afterthought, as well as bringing games into the real world with geocaching-style games that blend the two settings, such as hiding physical objects for players to find that are then tied to in-game rewards.

The presentation concluded with Bleszinski suggesting that if game developers really want to get rich and create great new IP, the only way to do so is by retaining the rights to the content. Failing to do so will only result in making someone else rich.

Quote: "I'd rather be loved and hated than ignored." - Cliff Bleszinski on learning to harness the power of Internet rage.

Takeaway: Every game developer strives to make good content, but good content will only get you so far. By understanding, tapping into, and encouraging communication with players, social media offers a previously unseen level of feedback and loyalty. New IP remains as risky as ever, but by building a universe people will want to explore and play in and retaining all the rights to do so at your discretion, developers stand a much stronger chance of making it big by shipping that next big franchise.

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Discussion

99 comments
ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

Cliff hasn't gone by the silly "Cliffy B" moniker for a few years, Gamespot.

Darth_Ultima
Darth_Ultima

@Sablicious I'm German and I cheer for alcohol. Your just jealous you can't effing hold your alcohol. Anime freak, go watch your cartoon schoolgirl porn you scheisskerl.

tsiper
tsiper

Awesome Cliff is a genius

King9999
King9999

You guys seriously need to read EGM's interview with him. Completely different person than what you're used to. He's just trolling you all with his antics.

jackson84
jackson84

he is from New England? That's wassup...wonder which part?

thanatosser
thanatosser

@calanorn You tell em. I think its important to realise that different platforms have different strengths, the PC CANNOT be touched in terms of graphics and processing power, its just a fact and to deny that is just ignorance, the scale of its abilities is dependant on what you choose to put together, plus the PC can be upgraded! Consoles (of which I also own an Xbox) are better at sports games and fighting games and the like, it just fits the interface better! My pesonal preference is to play all FPS and RTS games on the PC and any 3rd person or other non FPS games on my console, I play RPG games on both! Also aside from MP games the PC can be a really antisocial platform, with a console you can sit with freinds in your living room and pass the gamepad around.... there it is its that simple.

Sablicious
Sablicious

Facepalm @ yankee doodle dimwits cheering idiotically when he mentions alcohol. Also, facepalm x2 @ C. Dweeb ducking the Aussie(?) guy's question about manipulating the market. Moral: Never trust a nerd in a Lamborghini.

willywonkamusic
willywonkamusic

@shansss123 I think not, gow is a a ps exclu. nothing else.

Kenshiro_Kenoh
Kenshiro_Kenoh

did he drop the f bomb at 07:45? he is just bad as* lol

calanorn
calanorn

@Philly1UPer Please state where i said i couldnt afford to get console games?? I said i have consoles and PC games i even said i plan on getting brink on console my point was towards the guy who said consoles are closing the gap in terms of graphics with the pc to which i said that the only games the console comes close to the PC are in ports which are designed to work on all three and when you take a ps3 or 360 exclusive and compare it with a game designed purely for a pc they come nowhere close. Please do not insult me by tarring me as a fan boy as i see the merits of all the consoles and the PC that said the best graphics is by far the domain of the PC and cheaper games with the average pc game here being £30 and the 360 / ps3 being £40 fighting/sports are better on console though its just the way it goes.

ionusX
ionusX

cliffy please just stop talking.. just.. jsut stop talking.. don't make me put you in the timeout corner facing the wall..

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

I'm so tired of hearing PC "only" gamers whine.

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

He's so right about the Condemned 2 box art!

2chase
2chase

@DarthVeng_basic I completely agree. But it does deserve the label of an "awesome bargain bin game."

rarson
rarson

Glory hole simulator... lol.

adrdeju
adrdeju

Cliff B. is the man. I absolutely love the Gears franchise. Can't wait for 3.

Goods_Merchant
Goods_Merchant

nicely done CliffyB, youre definitely one of my favourite Devs around

Kenshiro_Kenoh
Kenshiro_Kenoh

cliff you rock man iam a PS3 gamer but a big fan of gears

BloodMist
BloodMist

Why the hell would anybody be speaking about graphics as if they change games. gameplay does, number one. Number two, stop trying to defeat logic.The FANS make fame, and to DENY that is to be a MORON....Were there any arguments here?Thought not.

shakensparco
shakensparco

Regardless of how you feel about him, this guy knows his way around the industry.

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

@BloodMist while Gamers do help make SOME success for Developers, the only people Cliff has to thank for where he is at now, is the people that brought his vision to life with the countless hours of developing, debugging, overtime with no possible pay. What I'm trying to say is, without his Development Team, Ciffy B would not be anywhere today. So no. He doesn't HAVE to thank us gamers, that always nerdrage on him over stupid BS just for buying his games.

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

I would also like to point out, Gears Pretty much jacked the over the shoulder shooting style from Resident Evil 4. they just made it so you can walk while shooting.

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

@calanorn lol...you have money to buy games for your PC, you have money to upgrade your PC...but you can't afford a 60$ console game?

blkgto
blkgto

I like everything he said, except for the twitter crap. Just post it on the games website forum or something.

gameguy182
gameguy182

Cliffy B knows what he's talking about, awesome conference!

calanorn
calanorn

@godzillavskong The only reason the consoles are bridging the gap with the PC is because people such as this idiot decide to either abandon the platform that made them or drag us down to the consoles level. Name anything on the console that comes remotely close to ARMA 2 or X3 TC Games released multiplatform are fairly close for example dragon age looked alot better than the console release but close. but a game designed to take advantage of the PC's "current" hardware walks over anything on the console i enjoy games on all 3 but i wish games made for the PC would be MADE for the pc not some mediocre port that would push a 7 year old rig. That said Brink was made for a 360 pad :) cant imagine that on a pc and crysis 2 and battlefield 3 will be kings on the PC compared with consoles especially if DX11 is implemented propperly. with all the big titles this year including the previous ones and other genres like dragon age 2, skyrim, shogun 2 etc gears is not even in my top 10 purchases this year on my list so cliffys going to have to drop the price a lot bit to get my cash

LazyGamerX
LazyGamerX

@PodXCOM (part2) The game does give you information about them in the game if you pay attention to the dialogue which isn't sophisticated dialogue but it fits perfectly with who the characters are (soldiers not english scholars). UT3 yeah I've played it, it did end in a cliffhanger which was supposed to lead into its sequel but that hasn't been made. idk really what to say about that game but I'd ask you how would you have ended it? from a game developers perspective, would you have tried to stuff everything into one game or would you have done what they did and made it so a direct sequel could be made? WOW dude if you didn't like the HL2 story then you should NOT be playing video games for their story's, and instead just play mindless multiplayer. HL2 rates pretty high up there as far as games with great story's.

LazyGamerX
LazyGamerX

@PodXCOM well let me start with the comment that was made about the cover system, you said that "kill switch" was first but then another person pointed out that another game came up with it before that game. From looking at a video of the KW game I can see that they did use a cover system before GOW did. whether they were first idk. But let me ask you this, KW came out in '04 and GOW in '07. KW has a "fair to ok" game rating so chances are it didn't sell a whole lot. Game developers tend to copy things from successful games, so keeping that in mind are there any other games that used that type of cover system? or was that system only/mostly used in games after GOW made it popular. Anyway getting to your most recent post. Yes both games ended on cliffhangers but the developers were hoping to make sequels, so how else would they have ended each game while leaving it open to a sequel that didn't require a jump forward in time or situation. The rust lung thing I'll admit that they didn't really do to much with that in the games, it's used more in other GOW stuff like the books and comics. I personally saw it as something to add more detail to the GOW world, to show how bad things where for the people in that world.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

I have no love for this egomaniac... It's ordinary for people to have to make business concessions, but if they care at all about their user base, they make compromises. Bleszinski didn't; it turned out that gear-heads were more profitable than the people who got him there (relative to other consumers), so he abandoned anything that wasn't guaranteed to suck up cash.

godzillavskong
godzillavskong

@BloodMist Even though the PC is leaps above consoles, I think the next wave of consoles will really help bridge the gap between the two.Look at games on consoles now, which get better looking each year, with new software, or game engines that perform wonders with these supposed underpowered consoles.I think with the specs of our next wave of consoles these games will look superb, and I think we may reach an era where we don't need better visuals than what's possible on those systems. So, even if we stayed with the 360/PS3, and they didn't get any prettier graphically, I'd be happy. So Epic may be fine, and I would bank on them going beyond UT2004 in the future,simply because the tools are there. I don't think he should ditch the PC community, but it's sad to see how much hate he gets up here for making a business decision, no matter the direction.

BloodMist
BloodMist

Cliffy B. gives no respect to the people who put him where he is, PC gamers, so he can go to hell.Plus he will never be involved in the making of a game as perfect as UT2004 is ever again, you can bet on that.That was and will always be Epic's magnum opus that they will never go beyond, unlike companies like Valve or Bioware who top themselves constantly.The truth hurts sometimes.

slimskelter
slimskelter

Ah man, UT is what got me into the serious online shooter (Although I played a little Quake before it). Now I'm hooked.

Konviktion
Konviktion

Cliffy B can shove his power creative sh*t up his as*. He should make Gears 2 & 3 for PC.

PodXCOM
PodXCOM

@LazyGamerX Hmm? you replyed? I still don't think Gears can tell a good story. here's my reasons: 1. Both Gears 1 & 2 ends on a cliffhanger, with several questions left unanswered. 2. Both Gears 1 & 2 ends with a voice-over and helicopter(s) flying away. (can't they think of anything better?) 3. What happen to the Rust-lung problem? If you are going to add a plot point like that, you need to make it important! You can't just add somthing like that, then say: 'oh welll, back to killing Locusts!' 4. I don't really know who Marcus, or any of the gears are. In fact, I know more, and care more for Ben Carmine then anyone else! Then there is the "story" in Unreal Tournament 3, which too ends on a stupid cliffhanger! look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BLh9_sh--k I don't like HL2's story, but I think it tells a story in a better way. Just look at how this guy makes a great review out of it, enjoy!: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=894488339656427727# http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6497195168779169993&hl=en&emb=1# Please, Please, Please look at his videos, it's really funny! He really makes games look like art!

TylerXXDurden
TylerXXDurden

Cliffy, you my friend are a genius...we are in the same boat going to San Diego specialty arts, but has not been a nerd ever...bra freakin vo dude...make more 10 outta 10 games.

santinegrete
santinegrete

I don't like this guy very much, but I like Gears of War and that's all it counts. The comments of ShirkDawg confused me: with all the trash he plow on Gears of War I can't understand why he credits the simplistic Halo with a faceless character with cool lines. After all, in shooters, you think fast or have luck, it's not chess-like strategy. It's merely tactics.

Raziel5483
Raziel5483

Why is it so bad that someone making games has confidence? Do you really think you have to be a closet nerd to make a good game. His success speaks for itself regardless of the opinions on his games. Congrats to Cliff for showing that it's not just the dork getting shoved in a locker that gets to have a fun job like that.

godzillavskong
godzillavskong

@focus0894 Couldn't agree with you more.Well put.

Elann2008
Elann2008

@evilbunz Its actually "love AND hated." The former wouldnt make that much sense in regards to his reputation.

Sling_Master
Sling_Master

I like reading info on video games, not how the developers feel about their games. Can't wait until this event is over and we start hearing about release dates and upcoming games again.

Elann2008
Elann2008

He explores and talks about topics that concern developers and even gamers. He mentioned steam, the recession and its impact, as well as marketing for games, recognizing the players and community. How can anyone complain about that? He obviously knows what he's doing. For every rich and famous, there will be haters. His own quote says it best.

Evilbunz
Evilbunz

he comes off as a douche in interviews.... but if you meet him in real life the guy is cool. He is very down to earth and though i might not agree with the way he is everywhere promoting a game. Its like he said "i would rather be loved or hated than ignored". Gears of War is the best game i have ever played... its my favourite series ever. The world they created is just amazing.. and yes gears 2 sucked big time and hopefully he redeems himself with gears 3. But if it wasn't for him there would be no gears and no ut.

l-lord
l-lord

blasphers like he knows much, his games are the most generic and marketing based over there.

garcia_jx
garcia_jx

Ah yes, Kill Switch. That game brings back memories.