Jon Hare and the Stupidization of the Videogames Industry

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Matt Barton's picture

“Tiny Wings is an insult to professional game designers.”

This week, I chat with Jon Hare, founder of Sensible Software and a guy who doesn't mind telling it like it is. The gist is that back in the day, computer games were made for intelligent people and designers could take bigger risks--after all, an intelligent gamer isn't turned off by a true challenge or learning something new. According to Jon, that changed dramatically after the introduction of the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and the Sony PlayStation. Once the ordinary children could play videogames, the industry got really nervous about anything remotely intellectual and the result is the endless sequels and dumbed down games we're saturated with today. Warning: Jon pulls no punches here. If you're a diehard console or FPS gamer, expect to be offended by this video.

Download the mp4.


ExciteMike (not verified)
So... a simple, pretty unique

So... a simple, pretty unique game that is very fun to play and is enjoyed by huge numbers of people. That's an insult to game designers everywhere. Makes sense.

Wait no. That makes no sense at all and I can't imagine how someone could believe it. If you manage to make your game that interesting and do it while remaining so simple to play, that is actually a pretty great bit of game design.

It is just one other kind of game. Halo is another kind. Crazy crosswords are another. Seriously go look at a store shelf. Browse the iOS app store. Poke around on Steam and see what that has. It would take an amazing degree of blindness to think that there is less variety now than there was 20 years ago or to think that today's games tend to be simpler. Obviously some of them are simple and some of them are easy and many are very samey but mainly there's just more of everything and if you actually look that includes many challenging games and many innovative games.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Well said, ExciteMike, I

Well said, ExciteMike, I agree completely.

Richard Davey (not verified)
Specsavers hire this guy

Because that must be an incredible pair of rose tinted specs he's wearing, that they so badly distort the reality of today, as well as years gone by.

Gamers today are "dumb" compared to the 80s-90s? Wow. There are a lot more gamers today, covering a much wider spectrum of people, sure. But to say this has caused all games made now to be dumbed down is ludicrous. Open some back issues of Amiga Format, C+VG or YS. Count the number of genuinely innovative games in any one single issue. Games that weren't wannabe arcade knock-off's or movie tie-ins. Open Steam and look at the latest games list, and compare. I'd wager there are more innovative and fun games released every month right now than we had every year back then.

I'm not going to even touch on the Tiny Wings comments, they're too insane to think about.

SER (not verified)
I don't think innovation is

I don't think innovation is gone from the gaming industry. As has been mentioned look at steam, etc. However, these are mainly smaller releases, by smaller companies. Look at major publishers. So much money is at stake, that they cannot afford to take chances. They need to appeal to the widest possible audiences to make a profit. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this, but it does lead to countless sequels and games following the same proven formulas. I'm not going to call this dumbing down, but it is business reality.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I think Jon's point is that

I think Jon's point is that gaming was opened up to a wider demographic, and suddenly it wasn't just nerds playing games anymore. Keep in mind, too, he's talking about Europe, which obviously went through a different transition from computers to consoles than the U.S.

Anyway, I think the basic point is that consoles made it so that even dummies could play videogames. According to Jon, the logic is simple -- more dummies than smart kids, so cater to the lowest common denominator. The same is true for any mass entertainment, obviously.

Also, he acknowledges that iOS and such are introducing a lot of innovative new games to the mix. To use Chris Anderson's metaphor, we're now enjoying the "long tail" of gaming. Before we were limited to only the most popular games because we had to buy them from shops, etc. Now we're free to enjoy every new game, regardless of popularity. A lot of those will of course be crap, but a lot of those will be crap to everyone else but treasure to us.

I think Tiny Wings just offends him somehow.

Joined: 01/21/2009
Weli sure agree with

Weli sure agree with simpler... as I own consoles and a PC i have played several games on both and the console versions are often ( not always) much easier. I always figured this was the controler issues (as most are FPS, but some are RPG's). I'm not sure where to stand on that, a game that frustrates you becuase it was made for one kind of input maybe should be "dumbed" down a bit...

I think inovation is lost, amount of different games is there.. Amount of games does not tranlate into anything but "more games" Ther eare several interesting games out there.. Super Meat boy.. but its not new in any shape or form, there where a MILLION of these on the NES.. it just seems new as that type of game had went away.

I do think games have gotton much easier and shorter... dumbed down? maybe not, but way to short. Where I really think the change has come is in the fact people wont grind away at games like they used too. Take a game like Castlevania. 3 lives with chacvens to add to it, no saves.. you beat it or you started over. NOW one school will say thats painfull and to hard.. and I can see that point of view. Was that done to prolong the game or ??? It was possible, i did beat it.. and it wasnt months.. it took a few weeks. Was that to hard, was it to frustrating? I dont think so.. but I doubt you could get any "modern" gamer to do it. Even health in video games (mostly fps) has went to wimp mode.. i get shot to much I duck in a hole and wait... you can keep the game going forever. Again is it good or bad.. its easier, there is no other way to desicribe it... but is it better or worse.

Frustration is the enemy, and balanceing gameplay with it something thats very hard to do.. I think alot of games are walking a thin line and just to be sure they edge to easier.

I just dont know to be honest. Alot of epople who think new games are dumbed down think some of those old point and click games where good. Sorry walking throuhg 8 screens avoiding danger to pick a rock you have to put on a twig, and then stick in a hole that only shows up when the tide is out, then a bear will come fishing and you can steal his fish to feed a bird with a key.... that makes no sence and alot of old game puzzles where like that. They where 100% trial and error, not logic in any shape or form. (to me)

great debate.. I have to agree things are easier, if that means dumbed down, it bad.. not sure.. I know I hate short games.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
By the way, guys, there's a

By the way, guys, there's a great blog post in response to this by Mersey Remakes:
You’re all idiots.


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