Naughty Dog feels triple-A developers could learn a thing or two from indies

Saturday, 14th September 2013 22:30 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Naughty Dog’s creative director and writer Neil Druckmann is of the opinion that triple-A developers can learn a thing or two from indies, especially in the way in which characters are portrayed in games.

Speaking with GI International, Druckmann said he’s been particularly impressed with some of the storytelling techniques independents have been using, specifically Gone Home and Papers, Please – both of which he was “blown away” by.

“With big AAA titles, it’s sometimes hard to make these gigantic shifts as far as what a game is or what kind of story it could tell,” Druckmann said. “As more and more examples come to light, I think more people are pursuing better narratives, and I hope criticism of games and game narratives is becoming more sophisticated. I think before you would have had a hard time talking about tropes and how women are represented in games, or how characters of color are represented in games.

“But now I’m kind of excited by the discussion and the kind of criticism games are getting. I think that change is going to happen much more rapidly going forward, and people who don’t engage in that discussion, who don’t try to appeal to audiences that are coming on, are going to be left behind.

“I feel like AAA games… we’re on this cusp of at the very least seeing strong, non-sexualized female protagonists starring in games. You’re going to see a lot more of those, and a lot more that are commercially successful.”

Druckmann feels that in many cases, triple-A developers feel they need to play it safe due to there being “so many parts of a giant corporation” working on releasing a game; therefore, companies become risk adverse.

“But once you have enough evidence to say ‘Hey look, this is actually not a risk, this can succeed commercially,’ then creativity can flourish and new avenues can be pushed,” he said.

The Last of Us is the latest title to be released from Naughty Dog and it’s currently developing a PlayStation 4 project which has yet to be announced.



  1. Panthro

    Completely agree, AAA devs almost never take risks and end up having to recycle stuff within games just to make sure they will score a profit resulting in games lacking creativity and feeling too similar.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. xino

    what risk? Publishers are the ones calling the shots.
    Devs can’t do nothing but to listen and change the stuff.
    Unless the Publishers are someone like SEGA who can give a total complete freedom to the devs to create what they want to create in mind.

    also games are too expensive that is why enemies, bosses are always being recycled and especially when the game has other content such as Multiplayer.
    It’s all about the need to satisfy all gamers.
    Single player game will last longer and has rich content but no multiplayer. Those kind of games won’t last long in terms of sales momentum.
    Single Player with Multplayer components will last longer in sales because multplayer is the lasting appeal though single player will take a hit in production value.
    Though you have many gamers complain a game has no multiplayer and others complain multiplayer games make the single player suck.

    there’s nothing to learn from Indie.
    i’ve only seen 1 or 2 innovative feature in all of indie game and that is Fez- the 2d-3d shift effect.
    and I think Timeshift, the 2d game were you rewind time and can use 5 different players.

    the rest of indie games are the same thing, side scrollers. Not much offering innovative features.

    in the end..nothing to learn from them…
    though i would say narrative is what could be learnt from them, “thomas was alone” and “Basion”.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. DSB

    It’s an obvious point, but it’s worth making.

    I’m kinda glad he mentions criticism as well, because it really should be better than it is. Instead of inspiring people to care about the substance, everybody’s tallying scores.

    I’m not saying criticism is essential to the progress of any medium, but I think it would change something if 80% of reviewers didn’t simply “like” a game as long as it was mostly functional, and looked reasonably pretty.

    Cheerleading isn’t criticism.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Christopher Jack

    @2, That’s just not true. I don’t see Sega handing out the Aliens license allowing the devs to make some sorta sex emulator- although I doubt it could have done any worst.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. wildBoar

    Mmmm, I don’t like how everyone with a brain is expected to jump the “female-representation” bandwagon, videogame characters are usually poorly written period. There’s been loads of sexualized female-characters, true, but there’s been many great ones too, and some have been both. If it’s the intelligent approach to the debate I’m hearing from Druckman that’s awesome, but I’m also slightly paranoid that it’s the Sarkeesian, Kotaku nonsense that’s catching on… Ugh.

    But in any case, why do we have to keep popularising this notion that the ENTIRE industry is sexist? Speak for yourself Neil, every character in Jak & Daxter had fucking rocket tits.


    #5 1 year ago
  6. DSB

    @5 Yeah, it’s a pretty silly thing to focus on. What about different ethnicities and sexualities? I really don’t think we should start checking boxes, but there’s obviously a state of creative bankruptcy in terms of what’s actually represented in games.

    Borderlands 2 was a pretty cute hamfisted demonstration of a lot of the themes that you pretty much never see in games.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Dark

    “we’re on this cusp of at the very least seeing strong, non-sexualized female protagonists starring in games. You’re going to see a lot more of those, and a lot more that are commercially successful.”

    interesting , maybe their next game will have a female protagonist
    but so far i think every female character in any ND game are just bland and i never liked them , well maybe except for ellie.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. fihar

    Aside from the fact that she shouldn’t be that good with firearms, I like Elena.
    Then again, I also like Emily Rose so I might be a little bit biased on that one.

    Anyway, mainstream products will always stick to a formula. It’s just the way it is.
    Even if there’s one part that sticks out, the rest tend to follow a certain template. Video games used to be exempt from that rule, but then the industry grew big.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Blackened Halo

    I dont think so. According to me, 90% of indie titles got much higher scores then they really deserved

    #9 1 year ago

    First of all Sony make.believe right… Then, we need better devs no EA or Activision they lost their soul so i hope some Indies work for better experience in games last but nozt least don’t buy anything EA crap…

    #10 1 year ago
  11. Cort


    Seriously? ND have delivered some of the most developed and relatable female characters in gaming, none of which felt dropped in or added to meet a head count.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. absolutezero

    Aside from stating the obvious there are some other things that AAA could learn from indies. That more team members and more money does not directly lead to a better end product. That dumping more tech onto the top of whatever it is the game is trying to achieve will not outright improve the experience. How to tone back on bloat and have that core idea and exploit as much as possible.

    Its easy enough to say “Take more risks” but when dev studios are being closed all over the place its pretty hard to move away from what sells.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. DSB

    @12 I’m an idealist and all, but I also think it’s too easy to say “The industry is failing because it isn’t mainstream enough”.

    Taking risks is essentially how you grow and reinforce the market. There’s a million ways to leverage that risk, the easiest of which would be to start tooling budgets according to expectations and ambitions.

    Want to make a narrow art-game? Cool, if it’s good, it can still be succesful, just not with a 50 million dollar budget.

    I think it’s very, very counter-productive to assume that being obvious = Cash. Being obvious also means you wear people out, and it also means you keep serving the same goop to the exact same people.

    I’m always yapping about movies, but that’s because movies get it right. You really have something for everyone. Classy, tasteless, smart, dumb, adrenaline fueled, mellow-as-hell. And you can’t ever say that the smaller movies haven’t made a huge difference for the whole. They’ve made all the difference in the world, and inspired the much bigger ones.

    I mean if the idea is that mainstream equals succes, just like that, then how come we have so many bad CoD clones falling flat on their face? It’s just not that simple.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. absolutezero

    That a particularly large bugbear of mine, huge amounts of a games budget pumped into marketing.

    Theres a horrible idea that if you have an interesting concept you can make it appealing by shoving in trite tired ideas from other popular games. Mirror’s Edge jumps instantly to mind. Its another thing that indie get right but its not by choice, these games are nearly always hugely focused because they don’t have the money to add in superfluous mechanics.

    Its going to be nearly impossible to get all the developers toiling away in publisher dungeons to think any differently when our industry spearheads are CoD and GTA. Monster budget, monster marketing behemoths that sell because of what they are not really what they do.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. DSB

    I’m not sure the problem is marketing, so much as it is about how the executives running the show actually view their own industry.

    If you look at what they’re actually telling shareholders and the public, they seem to think they’re selling sodapop, or diapers, or sneakers. It’s a boxed product to them. The words creative industry means absolutely nothing.

    In that realm, all they have to do is set up these ultra rigid parameters for what they want in their product, fully expecting their peons to make the most of it, and then they just have to manufacture whatever they come up with, and send it out the door with a generous marketing budget.

    Just create a mediocre sweatshop, buy them an awesome license from Marvel or some shit, slap that on the box, and kick it out the door with as few expenses as humanly possible.

    It’s a boxed goods approach to a creative industry, and I think that explains something like their obsession with marketing quite well.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. sb319

    I must have missed all those indie games with amazing plots and character development.
    Can anyone point me in the right direction, of even a single example of what this ND guy is talking about? Sincere question. As far as I can see, AAA has absolutely nothing to learn from indies in this regard.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Phoenixblight

    @17 Bastion, TO the Moon, Dear Esther, Gone Home, shelter, Thomas was alone, Superbrothers: Sword and sorcery just to name a few that most triple A titles can’t touch with plot and character development.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. pcbros

    Games developed and “published” by indies will always have a creative edge over AAA games. We are talking 100% creative freedom combined with the fact that a lot of these developers don’t have to reach a certain amount of sales to score a profit. Consoles gamers might not realize this, but a lot of indie games are actually released for free on PC. Cave Story and Spelunky are two examples.

    Developers who make the games they want > Developers who make the games that they think will sell.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. sb319

    @18 tbh I really didn’t think much of any of those in either respect.

    #19 1 year ago

Comments are now closed on this article.