Richard Garriott, the creator of Ultima, has only a few exceptions to his opinion that most game designers are lazy and talentless.
“I think there’s really very few great game designers. I think Chris Roberts is one of them, Will Wright’s another, Peter Molyneux is another. They clearly exist, but on the whole, I think that the design talent in our industry is dramatically lower than we need, as an industry. It’s a very hard skill to learn,” Garriott told PC Gamer.
“Other than a few exceptions, I’ve met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. I’m not saying that because I think I’m so brilliant. What I’m saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there’s a reason why.”
Garriott said that people who like games eventually think about making one. If they have skill with art or programming, they can study, gain qualifications, and get a job. Pure designers, on the other hand, are gaming fans who can’t do anything else, and often make their way into the field via related disciplines like QA.
“In my mind, most artists and programmers are just as much of gamers as the designers, and I usually find in my history that the artists and programmers are, in fact, as good of designers as the designers,” he added.
“They’re often better, because they understand the technology or the art. So we’re leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they’re not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer. It’s really hard to go to school to be a good designer.”
Garriott later said that even talented designers have one other fatal flaw.
“And every designer that I work with – all throughout life – I think, frankly, is lazy,” he said.
“But if you follow, they generally say, ‘You know, I really like Medal of Honor, but I would have bigger weapons, or I would have more healing packs, or,’ you know. They go to make one or two changes to a game they otherwise love versus really sit down and rethink, ‘How can I really move the needle here?’”
Garriott said that even when it come to simple tasks like designing a map, he pushes himself and his peers to do more.
“How do you really think about the whole thing holistically, to go, ‘yeah, it’s fine to wander through and kill a few things and get a treasure at the end, but why? What’s your motivation for being into it? What are the side stories? If you have these characters in there, what were their lives before they showed up on this map? If you didn’t think of one, go back. Do it again. I want you to know it.’”