GDC: 6 important lessons in creating AAA games according to Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski

Gears of War creator, Cliff Bleszinski, spoke at this years’ GDC 2011 about his experience in creating new IPs from the smash hit Gears of War to the recently released Bulletstorm. Showing off 50 slides in under 45 minutes, this over-caffeinated speaker highlighted the lessons he has learned throughout his career and even humbly admitted that he has a lot of catching up to do to meet the other visionaries in the industry.

According to Bleszinski, many developers fail with new IPs due to one of six factors:

1.) If you want to survive in AAA, MARRY not DATE

Bleszinski stressed that gaming companies should not “half-ass” their triple-A games. In other words, they shouldn’t be striving only for good review scores and sales, they must be willing to go out on a limb and take that huge risk. Without the risk, there can’t be that solid “WOW” representation from the consumer.

2.) Most IPs fail – only 1-2% sell more than 1M

It’s pretty shocking to know that most companies with original ideas are willing to risk important marketing dollars without having the confidence of it becoming a hit. Bleszinski thinks that this could very well be the reason why bold and new game franchises are delayed time and time again. It’s almost impossible to gain traction this way, and he recommends developers to build up projects to define their studio.

3.) Make an IP that will live on with uberfans forever

Franchises like Shenmue, Sonic the Hedgehog, Portal and Halo are good examples of games that continue to live on because of its undying fans who always thirst for more. Bleszinski gave an example of the Gears of War tattoos hardcore fans are using to forever cement their love for a videogame. For him, this is a sign that his franchise has already done much more than the 10-15 hours it takes to complete a single-player campaign.

4.) Stay mysterious

Surprising gamers, as Nintendo showcased in their talk about the 3DS, was something that adds to their overall enjoyment by “reeling them in” instantly. Bleszinski emphasized the importance of games that hint potential greatness, but surpass audiences’ expectations by adding something totally unexpected to the gameplay. Games like Minecraft and Red Dead Redemption are great examples from yesteryear.

5.) Value PEOPLE in your company, making the IP more than the actual process

“Key visionaries” and “evangelists” were key words Bleszinski used to explain the importance of teamwork and creative ideas over the usual developmental processes. Knowing that, IPs need to truly achieve on all fronts to be successful (1-2% is a very underwhelming statistic).  This was a very bold, but very true, statement. Plenty of gamers have shown their undying love for all things Nintendo simply because of the things that Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto makes. The same applies to Tim Schafer, Peter Molyneux, Hideo Kojima, and so on. Bleszinski ended his point by mentioning that these key people became additional selling points for the games due to their unique personalities and dedication towards high-quality videogames.

6.) “OWN YOUR IP WHENEVER POSSIBLE”

The caps are there for a reason. Bleszinski shouted and reiterating this key lesson to his audience that because the risk for an IP is so high,  having it succeed and not having your company reap the full benefits would be a disastrous situation. Being able to make all the decisions is critical to the creative process of developing a game. An example was even made by the Epic Games design director who referred to big name publishers in that “more often that not, if you put your neck out, it will most likely be cut off.” Creativity is the key to making better games for the future and Bleszinski wants to be sure that developers don’t hold anything back.