Valve’s Erik Wolpaw On How DayZ And Minecraft Fulfill ‘The Promise Of Games’

Valve’s Erik Wolpaw On How DayZ And Minecraft Fulfill ‘The Promise Of Games’

Among the many highlights from the Erik Wolpaw/Tim Schafer panel at PAX this past weekend was a brief exchange where an audience member asked what Wolpaw thought about the disconnect between authored single-player games and games that allowed truly personal stories to emerge, like Notch’s Minecraft and Dean Hall’s DayZ.

“It’s not [about] single-player vs multiplayer,” Wolpaw said, “it’s more, can you have an authored story in that situation? It gets tough. I look at stories coming out of Minecraft or something like DayZ, and honestly… it makes me just despair. If I had any guts or honour, I’d leave the industry.” The audience started laughing. “It seems like it’s the promise of games. It’s like, ‘I have full agency. Total, total agency.'”

Wolpaw paused. “I’m not actually quitting my job,” he clarified, and smiled.

Schafer picked up the joke: “He’ll be pulling a paycheck, but he’s not going to care anymore. Because DayZ and Minecraft are so good… and they have better stories than Portal. He was off-mic, and I just wanted to make sure everyone heard that.” More laughter.

When co-host Jason Schreier (you may know him from such publications as: this one) asked Wolpaw if he thinks there will always be room for narrative-driven games, The Portal 2 and Psychonauts writer said, “Oh, I think there will be. But, at some point, you’re going to go into the kinda ‘artisan cheese-maker’ model.” He then nodded to Schafer, half-jokingly. “Like Tim. You’re going to be making these games that directly appeal to a [specific audience]. It may not be one of these 20 million dollar massive productions.”

Schafer contributed his own thought on the matter: “I think [that kind of player-driven experience] is maybe the promise of games. But not everybody wants the same thing from games. There are definitely people who like something carefully crafted for them, cheese or games.”


  • I prefer games that which I create my own stories through random experiences with my friends.

    I’m tired of games spoon feeding me linear pathways & scripted events. Yet the mega publishers think COD “quality” single player experiences are absolutely necessary to make a good game. Indie games are what’s gonna innovate the market.

    We’re beginning to see a pioneering game market emerging .

  • DayZ and Minecraft only offer what the player takes from it. To look at it objectively and say “this game has amazing experiences” is a complete cop out. I’ve played a lot of DayZ and I have one story to take from it and nothing from Minecraft because I’m not all ooey-gooey over them. I HAVE however sat down and given the chance to do so, but they don’t. I don’t believe they inherently have a “personal story generator” contained with in them. Taking something from the game doesn’t mean the game provided the means for it, and for that reason I don’t believe that games without narratives are somehow stronger or more personal than having strong writing and giving us characters and events to deal with and grow close to.

    • Agreed. I like emergent storytelling and player agency is great, but there’s room for good writing and characters, and I think an interactive authored story can still be incredibly powerful – if not more so than when the player has to create meaning themselves.

      (Look at how DayZ and The Walking Dead games approach the zombie genre – I find more to like about the strong narrative, even if player freedom and random encounters are also interesting.)

    • Look at Left 4 Dead – strong character and event driven action, but different everytime. You play that game even once with some mates and you’ll have a story to tell.

  • I really enjoy the STALKER games because it has a strong crossroads. There are some cool scripted, story events. And that’s great. But the nature of the AI and the freeroaming gameplay means you often end up in unique and exhilarating scenes. Such as having a firefight with a group of bandits right down to the wire, when suddenly a bunch of mutants run in, finish off the bandits then come after you. Untill you’re down to your knife and a sliver of health.

    Sure with STALKER is usually going to be a combat moment, but I’ve had some seriously atmospheric moments with those games that blow all other scripted, run’n’gun FPS experiences out of the water.

  • I personally get bored of Minecraft or games like Day Z very quickly. I don’t want sandboxes, I want stories. If I was to just create my own stories then I would in my head (as I do) and write them down! (I am an amateur writer). So, I think there is definitely market for both. And market for hybrids.

  • The comparison I tend to put to Videogames is the experience I have had in my yoof with pen & paper RPGs. Driven by a narrative that had to compromise with the players ideas of where they wanted to take their gameplay, it still has something as a model for video games.
    Future gameplay could be moderated or modified by players who take a more storyteller role, while standard players can generally ruin what they are creating (or thats what used to happen)
    But i do like me some well written games

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