A lot has changed in the 18 years that Shaun McCabe has worked in the video game industry, having contributed to AAA games like Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man while at Insomniac Games.
More people play.
Many play for money.
And the tools available for video game developers to build have grown in both number and sophistication.
But as tech advances the industry, one very important aspect of the industry remains unchanged.
“At their core, video games seek to engage players with compelling fantasies that allow them to experience the impossible,” he told The OVG. “That’s the same today as it was when I started my career 18 years ago.”
The Entertainment Software Association estimates that 211 million people in the U.S. play video games.
To reach a number that high, the industry has had to evolve beyond the age where most gamers were children or teenagers.
“Games used to be thought of as toys, something you grow out of,” McCabe said. “Today, adults make up 75 percent of the gaming population.”
But as technology advances and players increase in sophistication and experience, it creates a burden on video game developers.
They must consistently deliver as expectations increase, McCabe said, even as developers build in different genres.
For instance, he said, Ratchet & Clank had a smooth development cycle while Marvel’s Spider-Man presented challenges near the end of development.
“With every product, we learn more about how to anticipate needs and manage scope,” he said. “Will we ever be able to consistently nail it? I don’t know but I’m certainly not going to stop trying.”
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EXTRA LIFE: What’s the difference between developing for existing intellectual property vs. original titles?
Building on existing IP means players generally understand what a product is. We don’t have to spend too much time, for example, explaining to players who Ratchet & Clank are and whey they do what they do. Even if someone hasn’t played it before, there is a chance they have heard of it, which is huge. At the same time, players want something fresh. So the core challenge is striking a balance between evolving the IP and retaining the core elements players love.
A new IP, on the other hand, requires extensive product education. Very few new IPs end up where they start – it’s a journey. So we have to be careful about what we choose to share with players. Perceptions harden quickly and once set, are hard to shift. On the flip side, a new IP means you’re not beholden to as many expectations. Players might understand the platform, genre and company legacy. But you have the freedom to innovate with reckless abandon. That’s incredibly exciting.