Manveer Heir on Writing and Marketing in Video Games

In Marketing, Video Games on August 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Manveer Heir, Senior Designer, BioWare

As a nice coda to my post “Marketing Gender in Video Games,” Manveer Heir, Senior Designer at BioWare, has an excellent interview with Gamasutra about diversity in video games. Heir’s thesis is that more diversity, in both the marketing and the writing for games, will strengthen the entire industry. “It’s not video game affirmative action. It’s about actually pushing our medium to make better games, to tell better stories in our games,” he tells Gamasutra’s Brandon Sheffield.

Much of Heir’s argument is pretty standard diversity-speak, but the subject has particular resonance in this industry because of the capacity for role-play and story-changing elements — things that are only possible in video games. The big payout, Heir says, comes when writers and studios are willing to take risks and push boundaries with what is considered to be “archetypes,” or the kinds of figures we assume to be “heroes”:

I’ve played certain characters over and over in video games. Every time I save the world, it gets less interesting. It doesn’t matter what the journey was to get there. Ultimately, I know what’s going to happen. I know I’m going to save the world at the end, and I’m going to play the same like archetypical character to get there, because mythology says there are certain archetypes — the savior.

So, to me, thinking about the sexual orientation, the gender, and the race of a character can change… Even the age of a character — that can change the way your game is structured, what your game is about, the things a game can comment on, the mechanics of a game. They can bleed into several areas.

I find that to be incredibly interesting because I don’t want to see this medium get ghettoized, like what happened with comics, where we’re just making superhero things the entire time. Then there are games that are certainly trying to be more serious and more mature. And I’m not saying all the games need to be like that, but I would like to see a subset go that way, because that’s what I’m interested in. So, for me, if we make more diverse characters, when we do it well, we can make new and interesting experiences, which potentially can tap into new and interesting emotions.

The designer also has some revealing things to say about big, “risk-averse” developers and publishers, noting that part of the reluctance for leading the way in diversity issues (an he acknowledges the indie developers are ahead of the curve on) is due to the size of development budgets:

I think that taking small steps is more likely given the risk-averseness, especially in the triple-A space. Nintendo just announced a new console at E3. Sony and Microsoft will, too. As developers, we have to worry about new hardware… Our budgets are probably going to go up again, right. Our budgets just keep growing at an insane rate every time we get new hardware, because of the fidelity rate. And because of that, I think we’re going to become more and more risk-averse.

You can see most major publishers doubled down on that on video games, and make less video games, trying to make that small amount much higher quality, versus making 20 and hoping that two hit. So, I don’t think you’re going to see that change. I hope it happens. Maybe there will be somebody in the independent space that will sign a deal with a major publisher, but they fund a lot of it on their own, or something, to get it done.

I can hope, but I’m not holding my breath. So, yeah, I think any progress is good progress, even if I’m talking to you in 20 years about similar things. I hope that in 20 years I personally would have been able to do something on my own by then, to at least help advance things, but who knows where the world will go in the future.

It’s a thought-provoking discussion. Check it out here.


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