Ten Questions with the Academy: Scott Foe

Scott Foe

Scott Foe is a member of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.  He works for Nokia.

Q: If you weren't in game development, what would you be doing today?

A: If I weren’t in game development, I'd be spending a great deal of time convincing whatever Hollywood studio I was working for that what we really need to be doing is making videogames.

Q: Tell us one of your recent professional insights.

A: Having launched within the last year a free web game, Reset Generation, I've come to discover just how violent and horrifying the free-games/social gaming market truly is. And I've come to question: Does brand loyalty exist in free gaming? Or do the spoils go only to the aggregator? Think purchase psychology: People are generally psychologically happier with purchases that they are locked into, because they rationalize that happiness. People are generally psychologically less happy with products which can be switched out on a whim. In short, managing scope vs. quality to produce outstanding product is not guaranteed dominance in the free games market.

Q: What's your favorite part of game development?

A: I love concepting – would guess that coming up with wild ideas it's everybody's favorite part of game development. It's all downhill from the day that pre-production begins, because thats when hard work must not stop and when, ultimately, compromises must be made.

Q: How do you want to be remembered?

A: According to the trades, I've been a "rising star" now for a decade. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be remembered.

Q: What game are you most jealous of?

A: I'm most jealous of any game that comes from Blizzard.  I remember talking to a friend of mine, one of Blizzard's producers – who would probably kill me if I dropped his name – about a game I had produced and which had (at that time) recently shipped. I was telling this friend that there was a nagging user interface issue that I regretted shipping with. My friend told me that had that been a Blizzard game, they would never have shipped it.  I think all game companies should put as much stock in consumer experience, polish, and brand expectation as Blizzard puts when they go about producing a title.

Q: In the game industry, what's your super power or special ability?

A: I would like to say that Entertainment Property Development – creating the characters, the stories, the themes that make for amazing entertainment – is my super power.  I would like to say Entertainment Property Development, but I think that my greatest power is in execution: The road to hell is paved with pretty PowerPoint slides. You have to be able to execute and carry that idea from a stack of concept art and design documentation to a finished product that you can feel proud of. You have to be able to execute like Jack the Ripper

Q: What's the one problem of game development you wish you could instantly solve?

A: There are so many problems with game development, but, I guess if we solved them all that we wouldn't have jobs. I would say that the number-one problem facing game development, and one that would be fairly easy to solve if we could all just get together and shake spat-on hands, is the muddling of responsibility and authority throughout games management: Which is a complicated way of saying that all levels of management should recognize that the people reporting to them know their respective jobs better than management does.

Right now in the games industry, Scrum, an agile production methodology, is becoming more and more common practice. Scrum relies on a philosophy similar to the American military doctrine of "Commander's Intent." "Don't tell people how to do something, tell them what you want and let them surprise you."

What works so well in the trenches of game development is so desperately needed in the upper-echelons of games management. How many games have come to ruin (and dreams shattered) because upper-management forced technology-sharing on teams, or insisted on mid-production changes that just didn't make sense? Commander's Intent: Live it, love it, fight with your life the temptation to go against it.

Q: Do you think it’s important for developers to continue playing games?

A: I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's not impossible that a revolutionary game could come from somebody that does not play games. That said, I only want to team with people that are avid gamers: There's a certain nagging tax that you don't have to pay in your workflow when your team is all-gamer. That programmer probably won't have to keep coming back to a designer to ask if the feel of the camera is right: Being an avid gamer, that programmer knows that the camera feels all-wrong.

Q: What's the biggest challenge you see facing the industry?

A: I seriously question how heavy games publishing organizations need to be to compete effectively in the current and future markets? Is there a true advantage in the publisher owning the developer? Does worrying about (and investing in) creative activities dilute the publisher's focus to market and distribute? One of the biggest challenges facing the games industry will be that facing publishers to both renovate and innovate organization, processes, and practices for tomorrow.

Q: Finally, when you look at the future is there one great big trend that affects everyone?

A: I think the core industry is going to witness a complete sea change, where the differentiation between hardware platforms is trivial, and emphasis is almost entirely on software platform – and an emphasis on software platform means a double-edged sword for content creators. On the one hand, games content will be easier to create and more widely enjoyed than ever before. On the other hand, a move to software platform will ultimately lead to the "MP3ization" of the games industry – and piracy like we've never before known. Hopefully, we as an industry will be prepared to cope with these eventualities.