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By Antony Farmer
Gamasutra
CGDC Roundtable Report, May 1998

Features
CGDC '98 Roundtable Reports

Fascist Game Design

The basic gist of the discussion was which approach to design works best: one person with a strong vision and the clout to make it happen (fascism), or a group of people who achieve consensus (communism). In the moderator's opinion, each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

The moderator would like to point out that the roundtable topic was chosen because of the passion it engenders on both sides of the debate. Because of this controversy, it was an invigorating discussion for those who participated. Facilitating such a controlled argument requires focus and diligence, which made it difficult to take comprehensive notes during the session. Hopefully, the following will suffice.

Note that counterpoints are provided for discussion points whenever they were provided by another attendee. These counterpoints are written in italics for ease of reference.

Wednesday, May 6, 11:30am

Demographics

The room was overflowing with attendees, thanks in part to the time slot. About 50% called themselves designers, 25% were programmers, and the rest were producers and the elusive "other".


Those in favor of fascism...

The following points were made in favor of a "fascist" approach.

  • Someone has to be the final arbiter - better it's a designer than a producer or publisher! Needless to say, this caused a few moans from the producers and publishers in attendance...

  • Fascism works if the dictator is a channel for ideas, not the sole source of them. This is especially true during the production phase, when the designer has to weigh new ideas against the original vision for the game.

  • People on large teams (the norm today) generally like to know who's in charge. They like making suggestions, but take comfort in knowing someone is the shepherd for the design.

  • With communism, people avoid decisions - consensus is required for everything.

And those in favor of communism...

The following points were made in favor of a "communist" approach.

  • Fascism has a tendency to crush creativity and/or buy-in. If a person constantly has their ideas rejected, they'll stop making suggestions altogether. This can be mitigated to a degree by the designer making it a point to tell people why their ideas don't work. If it's largely one person's opinion vs. another, though, the designer must take charge and simply make a decision.

  • People tend to ignore fascists and do what they want anyway - which hurts the game in the end.

  • You get consensus from day one, from everyone involved. But it takes longer to reach it...

  • Once you have buy-in, people tend to think broader than just their discipline. The programmer will consider design implications to code changes, and the designer will reciprocate.


Things that make the moderator go "Hmmm"


These points were interesting to the moderator because they had not been considered prior to the roundtable.

  • Perhaps different models should be used during pre-production and production. Enlightened Fascism may work best during production, but you need the consensus of Communism for the "green light".


Which is better?

The overwhelming majority were in favor of a benevolent dictatorship.

Thursday, May 7, 10:00am


Demographics

There were a large number of programmers in attendance, considering the time of day - which overall contributed to a smaller crowd. Most considered themselves designers/programmers, though, which is also notable.


Those in favor of fascism...


The following points were made in favor of a "fascist" approach.

  • Dictatorships are very efficient.

  • Communism prevents decisive action. But also prevents poor decisions...

  • "Vision" issues are best left to one final arbiter. But technical issues are solved better by groups.

  • Design by committee yields watered-down, least-common-denominator products. Or does it yield products that appeal to a broader scope?


And those in favor of communism...


The following points were made in favor of a "communist" approach.

  • Fascism results in far more turnover than fascism. Whether the game is a success or failure, people tend to leave in droves (seeking creative freedom/control) after the project is complete.

  • Under fascism, information flow is restricted - only the dictator has the vision. Everyone else has to ask them what to do, so they become a bottleneck of sorts.


Things that make the moderator go "Hmmm"


These points were interesting to the moderator because they had not been considered prior to the roundtable.

  • Will one method work better/worse at a developer vs. at a publisher?

  • There are companies that were founded by a creative person who do not suffer from that person going around mucking with the creative process (usurping control from the designer). Really? Wow...


Which is better?

Fascism wins against the committee once again. This was interesting because "pure" designers were outnumbered in this group. Apparently, those in attendance had poor experiences with "design by committee" scenarios.

Friday, May 8, 5:00pm


Demographics

The room was about half full for the first 5 minutes or so, as expected given the time period. Surprisingly, though, by 10 minutes into it about 3/4 of the seats were occupied. Again, the majority of attendees were designers, with the rest being producers and programmers.


Those in favor of fascism...


The following points were made in favor of a "fascist" approach.

  • If one examines the biggest blockbuster games, few (if any) come from communism. That depends on how communism is defined - what about a small group in charge (junta?).

  • Only a fascist can maintain a coherent vision for a game. But how many times does the narrow focus of one individual exclude appeal of the product to tertiary markets?

  • Lots of people like fascism because it allows them to shirk responsibility ("Hey, it's not my fault - blame the designer!"). And this is a good thing???


And those in favor of communism...


The following points were made in favor of a "communist" approach.

  • There are decisions broader than the team, so it has to be communistic. But marketing should not be dictating design. Rather, they should be consulted during the design process.

  • Don't underestimate the value of having complete "buy-in" throughout a game's development. EA has proven the value of getting marketing excited about a product early on.

  • Communist teams/companies have higher morale overall. Yeah, until the game flops!


Things that make the moderator go "Hmmm"


These points were interesting to the moderator because they had not been considered prior to the roundtable.

  • It is especially problematic when there are two Kings. For example, in a developer-publisher relationship where the Development Producer and Publisher Producer are vying for control.

  • What about democracy as a model? A democracy requires an entire team up-front (not usual) and a vote on everything of importance (not feasible).


Which is better?


Enlightened Fascism won out again, but there were several notable votes for a more communistic approach.

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