Today before leaving work, we had a chaotic debate following the days' testing of our game "Scrolls." I love debating design. But... I tend to have better arguments and clearer thoughts AFTER the debate. Probably because at that point you don't have other people arguing against you.
Anyways... Part of the debate was about the inclusion vs. the exclusion of a certain feature. It doesn't matter which feature. The thing that bothers me is that after quite a few years of having similar debates, I can see a pattern. I seem to always find myself being alone in the corner wanting to EXCLUDE a feature.
It is probably natural to want more. More features equals more game, which equals better value, right? Wrong! (In enough cases to be held as a guiding principle.) I've actually had debates where it was unclear whether a feature was needed or not, and found myself arguing against the stakeholders to spend less of THEIR money.
Consider Hollywood movie studios. Their business is older and they seem to be able to hold on to their seniors, so chances are they have a better grasp of the creative process than the game biz. When they look at their product, and it is perceived as confusing - THEY CUT STUFF OUT OF IT. They don't add tutorials, tooltips, icons and buttons. They know that exposition is a bad thing and should be kept to a minimum.
I believe this to be true for game design and game production as well. I know it is true for illustration and visual arts. When a painting is unappealing, you should start by considering if you can remove something. A Mark Twain quote comes to mind; "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
The people in the game dev business are generally not idiots. They usually don't want cluttered games, high learning thresholds and long tutorials. Still, being passionate specialists, they are reluctant to consider budgets. I don't blame them. Budgets are boring. Games are about fun, challenge, adventure, problem-solving bla bla bla.
Maybe true about GAMES in theory, but in practicality game DEVELOPMENT is another beast altogether. IT IS ALL ABOUT BUDGETS. There is the actual budget of course. Then there are budgets of calendar time, man hours, marketing, specialist knowledge and performance limits.
On top of that you have some less obvious. Your audience, although an endless source of joy, also have budgets. I'm not talking about their allowance. They have budgets of acceptance. Acceptance of cluttering, of unintuitive interaction, unpolished graphics, lack of interpolation. Their willingness to think hard about a puzzle is budgeted. Their tolerance of repeated failure is budgeted. A very scary fact is that YOU DON'T KNOW HOW BIG THESE BUDGETS ARE! Some games (hello Minecraft) have proven that these budgets can be greatly increased when the motivation is high enough. Unfortunately that is "the philosophers' stone" of game design. If you could be sure you've gotten enough motivation into your design, your problems are over. Humans are tricky buggers to understand...
Hold on for the big finale:
* Budgets have a very unforgiving internal logic. If you spend less, they will be easier to meet.
* Therefore the burden of evidence must lie with those who wish to spend.
I hope, if you've read this far and agree with the logic, maybe next time I won't be as lonely in the corner of reductionism.
I will now proceed to posting a link to this on twitter. If this means my colleagues (past and present) reads this and go "WTF it is us he's talking about! It's been (X hours, months, years), are you still arguing, moron?" - Then the answer is Yes. No. Actually I've been thinking to write this down for a long time, but just thought of the Hollywood analogy today. Also I tried using fewer parenthesis and more screaming.