The Xbox 360's Gears of War may have sold millions of copies and garnered multiple awards, but that didn't stop critics from pointing out that the game's cover-based gameplay and gruff-marines-facing-insurmountable-odds storyline wasn't exactly breaking new ground. Epic Games producer Rod Fergusson has now jumped to his game's defence, saying that games should be fun first and innovative second.
Fergusson, speaking to GameSpot AU at the GO3 Conference held in Perth, Australia, this past weekend, says people are missing the point when they criticise mainstream games like Gears for a lack of innovation.
"That was the thing that bothered me with some of the early European reaction to Gears, that it wasn't being innovative enough," Fergusson said. "There's no mandate in the games industry that we have to make games that are totally innovative--the mandate is to make games that are fun."
"I'm sure everyone has heard of games where people say, oh, it's very innovative, but it's not fun to play. Well, that's death, even if it is innovative. It's about finding that sweet spot between evolution and revolution.
"By taking more evolutionary steps rather than revolutionary ones, it allows you to take something gamers know and improve on it. And I think that's what a lot of the game industry is about. For example, our cover system--it's something that kill.switch and other games brought to the gaming world, but Gears was able to say OK, we're going to take this, and we're going to evolve it and make it stronger. And I think a lot of games do that."
Fergusson said that the industry still needs innovation to move forward, however. He said the independent games sector should be the key place where innovation is encouraged, as independents face less commercial pressures than larger development houses.
"There is obviously still a need for high innovation, there is a need for revolutionary titles. A lot of the revolutionary stuff will tend to come from the independent game industry. They have the opportunity to be edgy and not worry about having to sell a million units," he said.
"You can still be revolutionary, but you have to focus on what are the anchors, what are the ways that your game can be approachable to the mainstream audience without being so revolutionary that it becomes a game that no one gets or understands--you don't want to innovate for innovation's sake, instead of innovating for fun's sake."
Fergusson was one of the keynote speakers at the GO3 Conference. In his speech, Fergusson outlined some of Epic's detailed planning before Gears of Wars was released to maximise its potential as a system-selling game. Fergusson said one of his company's key strategies was to develop a unified marketing approach from very early in the game's development. This allowed the brand to develop strongly months before its actual release.
"I think this is one of the strengths of Microsoft, that they have this continuity of message, this idea of having visual identities, making sure that their marketing is consistent--it's something relatively new but they're executing well on it. There are not a lot of games that you can put an icon up and have people immediately recognise what game it is, but we have that with the Crimson Omen." he said. The Crimson Omen is the round gear-shaped logo with a skull inside used for Gears of War.
While Fergusson would not be drawn on the existence of any Gears sequels, he did say that the film version would carry on the same themes as the game--destroyed beauty, humanity's last stand, nightmarish horror, and never fight alone.
"We already have these strong themes, and working with a film company, we had to come up with some creative guidelines where we set out the do's and don'ts of our IP. But ultimately, you have to give control to the creatives in that medium and let them do what's best for that medium. Is it scary? Sure. But you have to allow them to create in their own space," he said.