10 questions for Tom O’Connor: LittleBigPlanet producer and close friend of sackboy on non-geeky MMOs
1 What game that you’ve played in the past has had the biggest effect on the way you make games today?
It’s actually hard to pinpoint a single game, because working in games development you tend to play lots of different games that influence you in different ways. And I think they kind of almost subconsciously come through in the games you make and the ideas you have. So it’s hard to pinpoint one game in particular. I think coming back to LittleBigPlanet and seeing the idea for the game that Media Molecule had, it made my head just go like, ‘Oh my God!’. But what’s been great is that even back then we didn’t think we’d be where we are today – and that just shows how someone’s idea can just explode.
2 We’ve had motion control, 3D, and cameras… what will be the next big innovation in games?
I think what’s really interesting is the way people seem to be wanting to use devices together – people have multiple devices now. At different events over this year, we’ve seen that different corporations are starting to show how they want their devices to talk to other devices. I think that’s definitely where the market’s going: it’s just the beginning at the moment. People want to take their experience with them wherever they go, and the more we can do to support that the better.
3 What have been the high and low points of your career so far?
One of the highs was [recently] seeing the review scores coming in for LittleBigPlanet on Vita. That was amazing, because it’s been a tough couple of years working on the game and it shows that hard work pays off when you release a quality title. And the low points? It’s difficult to think of too many lows, but any time you see a negative comment about something that you might have had a personal involvement in is always a bit hard to take. But you tend to take [that criticism] on board and make it better for the future.
4 Which matters more to you, review scores or sales?
Personally, review scores. And even beyond that, user review scores – what the people who invest their money into it think of your game. To me, that’s the most important thing.
5 If you had to make one golden rule of game design what would it be?
Make your game as accessible as possible, and don’t alienate people by making something too complicated. I think of [the design process] like this: make something as accessible as possible to get people into the game and then have a nice, steady difficulty curve. That’s one of the most important things. Give everything context – “Why am I doing it?” – and reward people, as well, for what they achieve in the game.
6 If you were to sign a star developer from any team, who would it be and why?
I’d like to work with somebody like [Limbo developer] Playdead. They’re a really great, innovative, creative team who make the game they want to make. I’d love to work with those guys.
7 If you weren’t a games developer, what would you be doing instead?
If I wasn’t working in games, I’d probably still be doing something in media,
maybe in TV or film. Something like that!
8 What’s your advice for people trying to get started in the games industry?
There are so many avenues you can take to get into the industry. Try to find out what it is that you love about games and what interests you the most. Also, go to as many events and meet as many people as you can – don’t just send CVs into development teams, but also send examples of your work.
If you want to get into art, send examples of your art. One of the ways we’ve employed people on LittleBigPlanet is through them sending us levels they’ve created, which are almost like visual CVs. That gets us interested, because they’ve invested the time to actually put this stuff together. There are a lot more university courses now to get into game development – it definitely helps to get some kind of professional background and experience of what the industry is.
Personally, I got into the industry by testing games in QA at Sony, and then I moved around into production roles at Electronic Arts, Activision, things like that. Be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up – it’s best to get as much experience as you can. Persevere and eventually people will recognise your skills.
9 You’ve got unlimited time, an unlimited team and an unlimited budget. What game do you make?
Wow, unlimited time! I’d probably make some amazing, persistent MMO game that wasn’t geeky. It would be something that anyone could pick up and enjoy and get something out of. I think there’s a lot you can do with the fantasy genre without having to use goblins and fairies and things.
10 What do you think it will take for games to be accepted as part of mainstream culture?
I think we’re already there. Different devices have made new avenues into gaming. People with smartphones have started to play these bite-sized cheap games. Those people start to want a lot more from a game, and I’ve seen people move from those devices to home consoles. We’re definitely getting there. We’re still a young industry, but some of the quality of the games these days, mixed with some of the more casual games, has made everyone a gamer in one way or another.