Right now I’m watching Penny Arcade’s Strip Search reality show in what certainly feels like a devout fashion. While it stands out on its theme of bringing together a group of strangers to compete in an artoff, it really is just as formulaic as any other reality TV show out there. In that regard I would say that Penny Arcade found success simply because it’s just a good show at tying together the Penny Arcade brand and what they represent. They put something into this and they certainly got something worth watching out of it.
Which left me here sitting and wondering why every show with gaming involved (that isn’t focused on competitive gaming) has been painfully underwhelming. Sony is the only one actively trying to support something fresh, which kind of led me to wonder if they could do better than The Tester, which shouldn’t be a huge hurdle honestly.
While there are a lot of assets to game creation, it essentially boils down to three fields. If you are in the games industry,you do either art, programming or music with crossovers as it applies. That makes doing what a simple direct competition like Strip Search or American Idol does pretty hard based on just a single person’s skills. So a show would have to focus on a team vs team scenario. With that little caveat out of the way let’s break down how to make the ultimate game development reality show. Ideally the top three publishers for this event would be Sony because of their push to bring more independent development to the platform, Double Fine because they are doing really creative things as a publisher (and they have a relationship with a film production company), and Microsoft because they have a platform that can promote this really well if they actually feel like investing in it.
There has been a surge in popularity recently of these things called “game jams.” These are little events where game developers of all walks of life sit down for a short period of time to create something. This is actually a fabulous way to test potential candidates. Realizing an idea in a short period of time is extremely difficult to do, but it is a necessary part of development (what with deadlines and all). Proof of concept is the first stage and represents everything a game will be.
The contest would play out with multiple challenges covering different themes, genres or styles to see who can do the best job of representing their game or concept after a set schedule. That is until the final where the remaining two teams would battle to showcase a proof of concept of their own creation. As was the case with Double Fine’s Prototype Battle Royale, there is an opportunity here to present the game developers and publishers want to the viewing audience. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hold a final fan vote to choose the next new title from a big name publisher?
A contract to publish their game with a production bonus to get the winner’s game fully realized and advertised accordingly.
Lets start this all off with the fact that the indie development community has proven time and time again that they can make great games without jumping through studio hoops (possibly literally in this case). However,the games industry has far too many nameless and faceless drones working behind many exceptional products. This not only puts a face on smaller developers, but gets them integrated into systems that they could expect to promote their product more efficiently.
Since game creation isn’t something you can just showcase off to a judges booth, this also creates another barrier to work around. Ideally I would want fan interaction to be a major part of this. In my mind, studios would also think the same thing, but that’s always a big hurdle. Since playing a game and seeing a game being played are two very different things, why not just do it right? Put the games up online for people to play with after your judging panel decides the winner.
Which leaves the judging panel themselves. Every gaming company has an identity and inside every major developer there is that person. They have somebody that did a thing that makes them stand out amongst the vast number of employees that they work beside. Your David Jaffe’s, Cliff Bleszinski’s or heck even Peter Molyneux’s of the world. That is your credible judge to bring merit to your future investment. Then, you need anybody else. Maybe a third somebody, but ideally there is that one person who comes in and represents a brand that the publisher owns and still needs to make money off of. I listed those 3 because they all are currently in the process of finding their next something, which gives them a smidgen of extra time to dedicate to a entertainment show.
I hate to spoil the fun of all this for those that enjoy the magic of television, but every show follows a formula. Strip Search is contest (prize)/contest (punishment)/elimination battle. Kitchen Nightmares dumbs that down by just doing Prize/Battle/Elimination. Shows like American Idol are set up to actually promote drama through sleep deprivation, stress and hunger as they lead up to the winner (who will be announced right after the break) while The Real World tries to put dramatic humans in a bubble to see the outcome. Everything has a formula so the hybrid would have to follow the classic, “Obviously you two did the worst job at creating something, one of you two are gone,” system. I think the sleep deprivation will just happen with a tournament like this.
Give the teams an office building full of tech. Give them a timeline to create according to the theme of the week and let them create. Those that succeed in winning the week’s competition get some fancy and expensive software or something from any number of companies that have a marketing budget. Give the developers a break every few days after a challenge to participate in some real fun outside of the glare of their monitors and you basically have the foundation for a good reality show.
There are people right now creating games with absolutely no money and no promotion. Guys like Jonatan Söderström were talked about for years before somebody finally sat him down with a publisher. The result was last years surprise hit Hotline Miami. A reality show could really be a way for developers to move up, publishers to capitalize more on marketing and publishing, and its a way to get fans interested in a new product.
There is just too much talent out there right now not to have them compete for my amusement.