“There’s a lot of people in Hollywood trying to figure this out right now, but they don’t know what we know.”
During a DICE Summit 2019 conversation between Amy Hennig and Tim Schafer, Hennig discussed narrative in games, streaming, accessibility to a wider audience and more.
Hennig, best known for her work on Uncharted, spoke about her canceled Star Wars project with Visceral Games and making narrative games as a whole. “As much as we would all very much own the fact that we love to play these narrative games… these things that are very intentionally authored, structured like familiar stories from film or TV or theatre, and they’re by definition finite – it’s becoming harder and harder to make those games anymore,” said Hennig. “Partly because of business model, and cost of development, but I think it’s a shame.”
Jumping off from that, Hennig feels the games industry is potentially set to change with the rise of streaming, saying “We’re at this inflection point – everything’s gonna change. We don’t know. Is there another console generation after this next one? Is everything just gonna be streaming to us the way music and TV and movies do? Once we have the widespread adoption of 5G, is it just gonna be something we take for granted like we do with music and TV and film now that, you know, at the touch of a button, you are now in this experience? And even better than that, is it gonna reach people that we haven’t traditionally reached that don’t consider themselves gamers?”
“I’m excited about the fact that we may be able to crack into a much bigger audience that would actually welcome interactive content,” Hennig continued. “Most of them are stealth gamers anyway – they turn on a Netflix show and play a game on their iPad at the same time. Why don’t we just make something for those people so that they’re not multitasking?”
“[There’s a feeling] there is a huge shift coming in 2-5 years, maybe a little bit longer, where our content is gonna be able to reach people a lot more frictionlessly than in the past. We should be starting to make things for them now.”
Speaking of narrative-driven games like Uncharted, The Last of Us and Until Dawn, Hennig said “The games are just as watchable as they are playable… they are just as entertaining to be in the living room while someone is playing. And it’s not that the rest of the people are there as passive observers, they’re collaborators.”
Ultimately, Hennig thinks the industry could, and perhaps should, include this group of interested but perhaps disenfranchised consumers, saying “Trying to convert people who don’t consider themselves gamers, there’s so many obstacles for them: are they gonna buy the console… do they want to touch that 15, 20 button controller… it’s incredibly intimidating… You get away from the word game and you think about more like taking what we know how to do and make these much more accessible experiences for people that would really welcome interactivity if we made it for them.”
“Those of us that are in this room, we have a very specific set of experience, in terms of: we know how to tell good stories and create memorable characters and worlds. We know how to do real-time development and how to do performance capture and virtual production. And we understand interactivity. You’ve got to understand that intersection of those three disciplines is really small, so there’s gonna be a revolution in how we receive content. There’s a lot of people in Hollywood trying to figure this out right now, but they don’t know what we know.”
“I think we have this incredible window of opportunity where we can be stepping into that void for a much larger audience to create content that is meaningfully interactive but kind of crafted for people that aren’t necessarily there because they want to beat the game.”
Hennig left EA back in early 2018 following the shuttering of Visceral Games and the transitioning of its single-player game to EA Vancouver. Since then, she has said she doesn’t blame EA for canceling Visceral’s Star Wars game. After leaving EA, she started her own studio, and will be presented with a lifetime achievement award at GDC next month.
Colin Stevens is a news writer for IGN. Follow him on Twitter.