Ten Questions with the Academy: Ted Price

Ted PriceTed Price is a member of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences where he serves as one of its board directors. He spoke at the D.I.C.E.® Summit in 2003.  He works for Insomniac Games.

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

A: I prefer heavy production after the halfway mark of a game's development. At Insomniac this is the point where things are coming together fast, everyone is wholly focused on implementation and the game is improving by leaps and bounds.

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

A: 15 years ago I would have said something like "venture capital" because it's what my best friends have done. And since I was involved in finance it would have been an easier path to take (versus games). But Insomniac has taught me that my true passion is visual arts. So I think I'd be most happy doing something involving creating art. Could anything – modeling characters or sets, helping with cinematography, attempting concept work, et cetera. To go there I'd have to become a much, much, much better artist. But that learning process is what I'd relish most.

Q: What game are you most jealous of?

A: In terms of recent releases I think LittleBigPlanet did some things that make many of us in the industry jealous. It did so many things right. And I think everyone should give the guys and girls at MediaMolecule huge props for having the guts to take the creative risks they did. It's currently the game that my kids and I play the most. Pretty much to the exclusion of everything else.

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

A: I wish we weren't stuck in a platform rat race. It's a big challenge to deal with a new platform (or platforms if you're a multiplatform developer) every six years or so. And as a gamer, it's doubly frustrating because there are so many different platforms and because bigger/better platforms come out so frequently, it has become expensive to be a gamer. On the other hand, the platform race has kept technology in games advancing at a blistering pace. But we're at the point where slowing down would probably be a good thing for everyone.

Q: On a practical basis, what's the one thing you're going to tackle next?

A: I'm moving out of my role as a creative director of one franchise and becoming more of an executive producer for all of our games. I've been a CD since our inception. And because I also run the company, I've become a real bottleneck for the projects we do. Plus we have some incredibly talented designers at Insomniac who are far more creative than I am. My stepping out of the CD role allows the design team a lot more freedom to try new things. And as a result I think you'll see better and better games coming from Insomniac.

Q: Tell us one of your recent professional insights.

A: This isn't terribly recent but it's become more and more important at Insomniac: depth wins over breadth. At Insomniac we've always had a "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to design. We cram a lot into our games and do as much polish as we can before shipping them. This leads to big, sprawling games with a ton of variety. But it can also trip us up at times. I think we all want to make the perfect game – the one that people remember for their entire lives. And in an attempt to achieve this we're beginning to employ better scope control – we're learning to say 'no' when it comes to implementing one-offs or features that don't reinforce the most important aspects of the games we make.

Q: Are games important?

A: They're an art form equivalent in importance to movies, books and other entertainment media. And since games are now eclipsing other forms of entertainment in terms of popularity, I personally feel that they have an even greater influence on society than their more traditional brethren. Whether non-gamers like it or not, games are the dominant form of entertainment for people under 35. They can no longer be ignored. It's also easy for non-gamers to ignore the positive aspects of playing games. Games encourage social interaction. They can improve overall cognitive skills. They definitely assist in developing abilities such as problem solving, prioritization, decision making and a long list of other important life skills.

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

A: Of course. Other games are often a great source of inspiration. They're also important educational tools for developers. Those of us in development now owe a huge debt to gaming giants like Shigeru Miyamoto and Sid Meier – [people] who taught us what solid game design is. Fortunately these guys and many other gifted individuals are still designing games – we can all continue to learn new tricks until we can no longer hold a controller (or wear a head mounted unit or whatever peripheral will pop up next).

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

A: Controlling development costs while trying to make better and better games. Today, budgets for many big console games are out of control. As a result it takes monster sales to make a profit. Fortunately the market continues to grow with more gamers entering each year which means that the top games do very well. But therein lies the challenge – you need to be making the top games to stay in business if you're on the big consoles.


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

A: Connectivity is something that affects everyone. Because of broadband penetration, gamers and reviewers now expect beefy online features in games. And while some games provide amazing solo experiences without online, I think those games are going to become rare over the next 5-10 years. How are we affected in the development world? Well, developing online expertise definitely takes time and money. One can't just say "yeah, let's add some multiplayer features to this franchise" and expect things to go smoothly. Designing and programming for online features is entirely different from designing and programming single player features. We went through that pain a few years ago. Anyway, the day when most gamers are connected is inevitable and it's best to prepare for it now.
Questions by Evan Van Zelfden