Surely we need less assholes in the industry, not more? What kind of idiot says we need more??
OK, so let me define some terms for you.
When I say asshole, I mean vision holder, for on large projects, they need to be the same thing – or at least considered the same thing by the team.
The reality is that large projects need a vision holder that has passion in his project, totally believes in what he is making, has a firm vision of what that looks like and has the forceful personality to push his team into making what he envisages.
And, when you say no to people, when you say “No, this needs to be this way, this is what I see in my head. Make that happen”, you become an asshole.
People have accused David Jaffe of being this – of being a dictator on the original God of War, but my view is that GOW would not have turned out like it did without a forceful and competent personality like David on the case. He knew what he wanted to make and he set out to make it and he followed what he believed was right. And the results speak for themselves.
Incidentally, it’s my view that this is why David did not follow up, by leading GOW2 – because he specifically did not want to be ‘that guy’. I think he’s very uncomfortable being portrayed as “that asshole in charge”, because once you know him, you know that’s entirely a false persona. He’s just gives a shit about what he’s making.
Now the reality of game development is that it’s filled with passionate people. The more engaged you are in what you are doing, the more you care about it, and the more you want it to be the best it can be, and you probably have a vision for that (or, in the case of coders, how it is best implemented). The problem comes when that passion and desire / vision is incompatible with the main vision holder – putting frogmen into Bioshock might be ‘cool’ to you, but it’s not what the main guy wants to see. So out they go. And it sucks to you, because it was your baby, so the main guy is obviously An Asshole.
The guys up top have to be confident in their decisions and forceful enough that when they kill someone’s baby, it stays dead. And that’s hard – very hard – to do without being an asshole.
I’ve met exactly three people who can do it – one is Phillip Rosedale, creator and Chairman of the board at Linden Lab, another is Will Wright, who can cut your legs out from under you with one concerned question, and the last is Matt Booty, who was the sound manager at Midway when I was there, rose up to be CEO and is now at Microsoft, heading up Mobile Dev Rel.
So while it’s entirely possible to make games and be the vision holder without being an asshole, the reality is that most people are going to have to be perceived as an asshole to get the job done, in time, to sufficient quality, because that’s the only thing that passionate people will respond to.
I think that almost every awesome game – save, perhaps, Half Life – can trace its development roots to one guy with a pushy personality who saw what he wanted and made people give it to him.
Now, of course, giving absolute authority to anyone is also a danger. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, right? And yeah, if the guy in charge is an asshole, produces his product and it’s crap, well, then we all have a problem, right? How do you deal with that?
Dunno, honestly. Worth asking the question though.