Picture from Old Super Mario by Daiki Sugimoto
These past few month have been filled with interviews about high profile creators discussing retirement. It really put a perspective on what I see as a hobby, when the people whose works I grew up with are finally getting to the point that they realistically aren’t going to be doing what I love seeing them do anymore. As somebody that grew up with these media figures, this transition is going to be weird and I don’t know how I feel about it.
Shigeru Miyamoto is getting closer and closer to retirement age. In a Gamespot interview he clarified quite a few things that were going on behind the scenes. “I’m going to be turning 61 this year. So for me to not be thinking about retirement would be strange.” Both Nintendo and Miyamoto are trying to accommodate this transition through creating a more hands free workplace for the famed Nintendo producer and strengthening their communication with developers outside the Kyoto headquarters.
To think of a time when Nintendo wouldn’t have Miyamoto working for them is somewhat sad to think about. For years Miyamoto’s role hasn’t just been one of creative genius, but of crafting a quality in which Nintendo certainly has become synonymous for. Unfortunately though, the people that built the video games industry are getting older and we are starting to see them finally reach that point in their careers where they have to consider their other options. Some like Will Wright have used what they’ve built up to move to production and investment roles. Others like Richard Garriott and John Carmack have simply taken breaks with side projects they dream about instead of focusing solely on crafting tomorrows next entertainment hit.
There is this quote that Chris Claremont brought up to Newsarama that really sticks. “No matter how good of a ball player you were, you can’t keep going forever. You’re not going to be able to hit .300 when you’re 60. You still look around and you think, ‘This is weird. Have I missed something?’ Well, yeah, you have. Every generation has its own preferences and their own ways they want to tell the story, and not every creator fits in as comfortably as once they may have.” This is a somewhat saddening quote from the man who crafted the X-Men in to something I love.
I bring it up however because it doesn’t really relate to this industry. This industry isn’t built on the home run power of one star. It is collectively built on the teamwork of a creative many. Similar to how Martin Scorcese can still make a damn good movie at his age, video game creators build a project off the collective works of so many people which is a testament to the expertise of great producers and project heads. Unfortunately though, this is a very demanding job and burn out is common. Cliff Bleszinski is technically retired right now at 38. He’ll probably come back in the same way many others have, but the process of going from pitch to product is grueling in itself. This is why we are starting to see many developers picking up smaller projects, like Ron Gilbert is doing with Scurvy Scallywags and Hironobu Sakaguchi has done with Blade Guardian and Party Wave.
I think maybe that’s might be what Claremont is hinting at. Its not about the next great hit at that point. Its about rekindling the fun you had as a creator as you reach retirement age. Fortunately, Kickstarter has opened up avenues for developers to circumvent the production process to rekindle our nostalgia by providing us with games we want. Maybe this avenue is one last chance to give developers something they are good at. Maybe its just another chance to show their legacy. Its still weird however to see Miyamoto cite the Louvre Museum Guide he produced as a thing that keeps him creatively satisfied at Nintendo over other projects like Pikmin, but ultimately he’s still satisfied enough with these side projects to keep moving forward with the same franchises we come to expect.
This is what Warren Spector was getting at when he spoke at DICE and proceeded to bash Lollipop Chainsaw and ignite the defense of many fans. At 57.33 years of age, he went on stage to confess what this hobby and job was to him. Why retirement just wasn’t quite an option for him yet and how you are supposed to respond to the aging player base. We’re growing up alongside game developers. I’ve been playing Mario since the NES days like many of you. Unless I give the old games to my kids, they won’t know of it unless they go out of their way to find them.
Which makes a world where Miyamoto’s games are actually a lesson on history really interesting to think about. Game developers are getting older. Those guys that created the industry we love are reaching retirement age. What we are seeing however is a group of people come up from the same cloth. Developers with only their name to brand, building something they find compelling. Guys like Notch, Terry Cavanagh and Edmund McMillen have become stars in a relatively short time span by producing compelling content in a non-traditional sense. If they continue this for the next few decades, we might look back on them the same way.
It doesn’t seem that we’ll have a depression of creativity in this industry right now, but as the AAA title becomes steadily more elusive, will Warren Spector’s prophecy of the shorter game sphere prove true. In a world where where I get older, obtain more money and less playing time, is there still going to be developers that I want to head in to old age with me?
I don’t know, and that is really something fascinating.