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Angela Webb: In Her Opinion: Creativity. Where is it?

Column By Angie Webb on August 10, 2010

Where is the creativity? Recent MMOs have become stale, and new creative design seems difficult to come by. Right now, all the games out there look the same. Studios are pumping out games that look identical to one other … just reskinned a bit differently. And with a lot of people, as soon as you get tired of a new one, you go back to the old stand-by: WoW. Are designers being given the support and tools they need to meet the demands of unforgiving fans?

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Creative thinking sounds like it might be easy. But is it? Designers are expected to come up with new ideas on demand. Some need to make old things work differently and others need to create brand new concepts. Companies make designers go through so many hoops before hiring them, and they want pioneers who can think outside the box and be innovative. But how inspired can you really be if you’re sitting behind a desk all day?

The designers I know have meetings … a lot of meetings. They go and talk about their intellectual ideas in a room with other designers. Whiteboards seem to get used a lot too. They draw their clever ideas for everyone to see using stick men, design jargon, and flowcharts. They follow that up with a looooong boring document. The producer skims over it to get the general idea, but the only one who really reads it is the engineer who has to implement it. And even then, a lot of the time, they don’t.


If asked, a lot of designers will tell you that to be a better video-game designer you must play more video games. And then, go play some more. And once you’ve finished all those, go play a few more. And then maybe top that off with a few table-top games for good measure. The idea is that playing more video games will make you a better video-game designer. I believe that it will only make you better at playing video games.

To be fair, playing video games can help with the realistic side of design, because it shows you what’s already been done and what’s possible. Experiencing a new tech educates you. Knowing what’s out there is also important when writing a design document. When you’re creating a complicated system, you must keep your engineers in mind, and know what is possible and what isn’t.

Also, seeing new games lets you know what is popular. Knowing what art and animation styles are resonating with audiences is key when designing, especially if you want your design to win over a targeted audience.


But, being a creative video-game designer should not mean your homework stops when you leave your computer. Games these days need to be original, and originality is not going to come from creating games that are duplicates of others. Watching what everyone else has done is simply going to have you “recreating” instead of innovating.

Leaving your desk is the only way you’re going to start thinking outside of that design box. You must experience things. The more information you have in your brain to pull from, the better and more creative your ideas will become.

Designers, listen up. It’s time to make time for more and different creative outlets. If your office doesn’t teach you how to be creative, then let me, because you guys need inspiration!


To start with, designers need to give themselves field trips. Getting out of the office does a world of good for your mind. Going to lunch or grabbing a beer after work is great for team building. But I’m talking about a real field trip. That means getting out of the office, during office hours, and doing something creative.

For instance, if you’re designing new monsters, then take a trip to the zoo.

Watch how a bear actually walks around and eats. Look at all the different animals there and make mental notes of what you see. Looking at live animals might inspire something that you might never have though of if you were simply sitting in a meeting room staring at a whiteboard. What better way to spawn a new monster idea than to experience the closest thing we have to monsters?


Exercise your mind. Read a philosophy book. Philosophy is an excellent way to help you think outside the box. Picking a philosopher with whom you completely disagree challenges your mind, and helps you think differently … as does discovering a philosopher with whom you DO agree.

The important thing is to be thinking, not about games, but about ideas.

Doing new things gives you new perspective. Designers, get out there and listen to new music. Go eat dinner at a new restaurant. Go see a movie you did not want to see. Just do something different and new.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Doing creative things is vital to having a creative mind. Trying something new is the purest way of giving birth to a new idea. And new ideas are so desperately needed in this industry right now.

Perhaps you designer types should attempt designing something you’ve never considered before.

Try a chair.


Make a plan for a new chair in the same way that you would approach a new game idea, and use the same process. Or try something new entirely. Does your design hold “weight”, in the same way as the chair should?

Painting is a great way to release creativity. Putting paint to canvas is more difficult than it seems, especially if you want the finished product to look good. For some it will it feel like leaving your comfort zone (which is fine … just do it), and for others it will feel pretty natural. Either way, dealing with colors, shapes, and form, and using your imagination, is one of the oldest forms of creativity. Hey, it worked for the cavemen!


Cooking, like painting, is another way to get your hands and mind involved in something new and creative. Discovering and trying an old family recipe, or finding a new one, engages so much of your brain and body, and requires you to stay focused. Accidents or lack of ingredients just require you to get creative. Do this on purpose.

Creativity can come from places you’d never expect. Museums, theme parks, plays, concerts, and art festivals are wonderful places for inspiration.


I’m not saying that cooking Lobster Thermidor for the first time is going to make your MMO better. However, doing new things, being creative, and gaining inspiration from outside of your cubicle WILL. You’ll end up being a better designer … I promise.

It saddens me to see designers and creative types cooped up in offices, like rats in cages. It’s not their fault that “suits” expects inspiration to just spontaneously happen with nothing to inspire them but a cubical and a monitor…. and maybe some man dolls.

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