Quick Q&A: ‘We Have To Stop Underestimating Gamers’

Quick Q&A: ‘We Have To Stop Underestimating Gamers’

Since she stepped away from producing Assassin’s Creed games at Ubisoft Montreal, Jade Raymond has had a lower profile in the gaming scene. This week, Raymond is back, having overseen development of the new Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the first major game from her new Ubisoft Toronto studio. She’s got four answers for us today… and one question for you.

1. You’ve worked extensively in both cities, so you’re an authority on this: if a person has to choose between vacationing in Toronto or Montreal, which city should they go to?

Jade Raymond: Toronto and Montreal are only 45 minutes away from each other and the plane lands right on Toronto Island, so why not do both? For gamers and geeks like myself, I suggest kicking off your visit in Toronto with Fan Expo, happening in August.

Then shift gears to the high class world of film premiers to check out the Toronto International Film Festival. During that 1st week of September in Toronto you can’t swing a dead cat without knocking over a celebrity and if you are good at sweet talking your way past door staff, there are many fun parties going on.

After that I’d suggest heading over to Montreal for the POP Montreal music festival and maybe also check out piknic electronik while there. It’s pretty hard to beat a summer night out on a terrace in Montreal.

2. If you could have things your way, when would people find out about a major new video game? Two years before release? One year? The day it’s out?

Raymond: That’s a tough one. When you’re working on a new game and excited about it, you kind of want to tell everyone about what you’re doing. There’s nothing like showing your game for the first time at E3 and hearing what fans think. That feedback from gamers is what keeps the dev team going.

But, on the flip side, I also think that we reveal way too much about your games before they are released. As a gamer I wish that more was kept a surprise.

I personally prefer having no expectations and then being pleasantly surprised when I play the game for the first time.

3. How do you decide who we’ll fight and where missions will be set in a new Splinter Cell?

Raymond: I’d love to have Sam fight Godzilla. But seriously, Splinter Cell and Clancy in general are about realism. Our goal is to let players experience what it could be like to be the most elite covert operative in the world.

We started our research on Blacklist by bringing in one if the most decorated ex-Navy SEALs who was also Delta Force, a guy from the FBI and an ex-MI6 agent who now runs a private security firm. When you get these guys talking, it’s definitely a case where truth is stranger than fiction. The events and missions in Blacklist are based on events that can and do happen. But because none of these guys want to be in the credits, I can’t give you any more details. These are scary dudes!

4. You’ve talked about concerns that a younger generation might be more sceptical of the appeal of big-budget, action-oriented video games, that those might not appeal to a younger Occupy type of crowd. What can those kinds of games do to be appealing to that type of person who might think blockbuster video games aren’t for them?

Raymond: We have to stop underestimating gamers. Gamers are intelligent and educated, and they appreciate quality entertainment.

… and, as is becoming tradition with these Quick Q&A’s, we’re inviting our interviewees to turn things around. Here is Jade Raymond’s question for Kotaku:

1. Why can’t people who post on forums be more original? I read those forum posts… Can you please share some thoughts that are a little more enlightening!?


  • Well, this comments thread is utterly depressing. I thought this site was better than this. Apparently not.

      • Producer of several well recieved AAA titles? Nope! Airhead! Stripper! Trollop! Whore! Any woman who presumes to talk to people about things cannot possibly do a man’s job!


  • But, on the flip side, I also think that we reveal way too much about your games before they are released. As a gamer I wish that more was kept a surprise. I personally prefer having no expectations and then being pleasantly surprised when I play the game for the first time.

    I could not agree more. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I remember the days when you didn’t know much, if anything, about a game before it was released. Gaming magazines (that’s what we had before the internet, kids) didn’t do a lot of previews, and when they did they were generally only a month or two before the review. Although I suppose that may have also been due to much shorter development times in those days. But generally the first you knew about a game was when the review got published or even when you just tried the game out.

    These days there are so many previews, trailers, interviews etc in the 12-18 months prior to release that it’s like you’ve played the whole game before you even buy it. Off the top of my head, the only retail game of the current gen that has really taken me by surprise like that was Demon’s Souls. There was very little hype prior to release, but then it arrived to rave reviews and became one of my favourite games of this generation.

    • Gaming magazines (that’s what we had before the internet, kids) didn’t do a lot of previews, and when they did they were generally only a month or two before the review.
      Oh, let’s travel back in time, children. Back to a time when Gaming magazines were where I found all my news – but more importantly, they had the demo CD on the front cover.
      That demo CD is how I fell in love with Civ, Age of Empires, too many game series to mention. They came from that shoddily mass produced CD that was so thin and wobbly when your drive read it it sounded like it was vibrating so hard it would fling out, bursting through your case like some kind of data filled shuriken about to lop your head off.

      That’s what I miss. Once upon a time it was demo to game. Now it’s Teaser Trailer – Pre-Rendered Trailer (optional to stay on this step x6 or 7, depending on the company) – Gameplay Trailer – Interviews w/ exclusive trailer for the media interviewing – Open Beta – Final trailer – Launch and Demo at the same time – Patch – DLC.

      Man I feel old and grumpy today. Goddamnit, I just want my small demo to test out whether I enjoy the game or not, not a 3gb demo launched the same day as the game…

      • CD? Bah!

        I used to buy gaming magazines with the demos on cassette tapes stuck to the cover! 😛

        • I was thinking the same thing lol….now if only they had gaming magazines back when we had cartridges….yeah Vic20 you hear me!!

          • Ooo… you want to talk cartridges…

            My dad died very suddenly about 4 weeks ago. My siblings and I have been gradually going through his house sorting out what to keep/throw out/give to charity. I actually unearthed a couple of cartridges for my old Hanimex game console which I got back in about 1981 or 82! No sign of the console itself, but my dad doesn’t appear to have thrown anything away since the early 70’s, so it’s probably buried in there somewhere… 😛

          • Sorry for your loss, man. I can totally relate. It’s really great that your dad kept all that stuff tho. I regret getting rid of my SNES and Atari. My kids have had a blast with my SNES and 64 though. All I can say is its annoying, but keep all your old systems.

        • Tapes? Bah!

          If I wanted to play the games featured in magazines I had to painstakingly copy the code word-for-word from a listing printed in the smallest font printers could possibly produce.

          And when there was a bug, do you think I had a debugger? My arse I had a debugger. I had “Syntax Error in 32” and had to work the rest out on my own.

          Kids these days.

          • Luxury! Back in my day, we had it tough – we had to get up at 2am, chop down a tree, pulp it and make our own paper just for the punch-cards to program the game!

    • That was my exact reaction to Demon’s Souls. A few friends carried on about it and when I saw it on the shelf over here I figured why not. So many hours now lost to the Souls games and not a single regret.

      Part of the fun in AAA games is seeing those big set piece moments that make you go “woah” but marketers seem to think these are ad moments so you’ve seen them all by the time you play it so you’re only left with the low points. Drives me mental when there’s nothing really left to see.

      • Oh yes! That was what I enjoyed about Dark Souls. The fact that I didn’t know what to expect exactly and I didn’t use any guides. Just trial and error.

        Demon’s Souls I played afterwards and admittedly I checked a couple of things online while playing. Which took away from the game.

  • Oh for fuck’s sake, people. She’s clearly an intelligent woman and you guys salivating over her appearance and just talking about being in love with her instead of commenting on her answers to the questions are demeaning her as well as this community.

    It’s no wonder females involved in gaming are moving out of the spotlight or even the industry entirely. If they’re in any way attractive nobody wants to know what they think, they just want to talk about how hot they are. And if they’re not considered attractive,nobody wants to know what they think, they just want to insult their appearance.

    The industry is trying to grow up, the fans should try as well.

    • Please! Jade is only trotted out because she is an attractive female. They know their key demographic will pay attention because of it.

    • You obviously come from the neutral country full of beige. All hail the White Knight from the Kingdom of Beige Neutrality. Here to lock us up for noting attractiveness. Prepare to be castrated!

      • If it wasn’t Jade Raymond, the comments would be about the responses to the questions, but instead, some people here just want to talk about how she looks.

        Anyway, I mostly agree with her on number 2. I tend to steer clear of reading about games or watching too many trailers, especially for the games I plan to pick up. Though I do believe they can be useful in introducing games to people who wouldn’t have otherwise considered them – this was the case with me and Bioshock Infinite.

  • i’m a bit sick of this OMG JADE RAYMOND shit, & I’m all for equal opportunity & stuff, so I’m just gonna go out there & say it:

    randy pitchford is hot. i totally disregard his work in the gaming industry & wish to express my interest in jumping his bones.

    /piss taking

  • When escapist games become to “real” it helps to have some reminder that it’s just a game. One option: Easter Eggs.
    Halloween would make an interesting Egg level: get to fight characters from other games. Other options involve replacing bullets with soap bubbles.
    Finally, if you can’t amuse – try shock. There are plenty of real massacres on record – could Sam Fischer have saved lives in any of them? Norway, 2011?
    [US School shootings have their own Wikipedia page, with the first one listed occurring in 1764.]

  • We have to stop underestimating gamers. Gamers are intelligent and educated, and they appreciate quality entertainment.

    Finally, someone with a fucking brain. I’m sick of been spoon fed by AAA. The only times I die in a AAA game these days is when I’m either barely paying attention due to a complete lack of challenge or I’m being silly. OH BUT IT’S OKAY, because it’s a great piece of literature, don’t you understand?

    What happened to the SNES days? I get my ass kicked by Castlevainia 4, and it FEELS GOOD when after 5 hours of dying repeatedly I finally triumph. Not only is it a great sense of accomplishment, but it means you’ve gotten better at the game; that’s right, no need for avatar strength to simulate growth, you actually grow yourself, as a player. What happened to skill curves? Why does every game HAVE to be finished? I thought finishing a game was an accomplishment, but now it’s just an expectation.

    And not to mention, what the shit has happened to puzzles in games? The puzzles in Skyrim are seriously the most pathetic thing I’ve seen in video games since Superman 64, and everyone just ignores it? How could something so unbelievably asinine make it into the final product? What about the new Tomb Raider? Quick time events! Oh, you fucked up on the most simple and primitive form of interactivity? Don’t worry, we’ll start you almost exactly where you left off. Now let’s take a look at Last of Us: third person cover based shooter? Oh it’s original, you see, because it has a good story. The absolutely unoriginal and mind numbingly recycled game design? Don’t worry about it, games aren’t about gameplay anyway.

    Today, challenge in AAA is an illusion. We need more people like you in AAA development who actually want to make great games and not ‘literature’ that panders to our egos. I don’t want to be some magical super soldier with gigantic muscles, I want to be a lowly peasant with nothing but a pitchfork, stuck in a forest full of Slendermen and rabid wolf-bears. I want to work my way up to the power fantasy so that the OP avatar strength actually has some meaning, if it even needs to be there at all (there in lies the difference between an RPG and a game with ‘RPG elements’; an RPG implies a challenging strategy experience of creating a character with both strengths and flaws, and ‘RPG elements’ implies avatar strength because the designers are too shitty to create levels that challenge you in intelligent ways that make you grow in skill as a player).

    God don’t even get me started.


    • I would like someone to come up with a better generalisation than “gamer”. Something that encapsulates the expectations they have with a game, perhaps by referencing their quintessential game, or game era.

      Personally, I consider myself a “Silent Cartographer Gamer” – that Halo level was what introduced me to modern gaming – the open level, the well-designed backtracking – and Halo made me consider games as legitimate forms of entertainment (and, after looking into the backstory, legitimate forms of literature), where before I was almost purely reading fantasy/sci-fi novels. Conversely, the Library was at first horrifying, then devolved into frustration due to it’s atypically high difficulty curve.

      Some people came to games via arcades, or arcade-style games. Some people came via simulations, some came from puzzles, or from sports, or from board games, or sidescrollers, or shmups. Each of these people will have a different idea of what they constitute as “quality entertainment”. I’m not invalidating your views, but just be aware that there is a much larger community of people that like some of the changes that have occurred since SNES.

      • I understand that side of the experience and by all means, I’m not questioning the value in video game literature and the possibility of literature being a game mechanic, but I am questioning what this direction has done to AAA development. Because AAA development focuses on the “Citizen Kane of Video Games” as you’ve probably heard, an attention to game design has considerably been rejected.

        As a (extremely amateur) writer myself, I love a great story, and I love it when that story is synchronous with the level design/game theory. I love it when a game effectively communicates a literary theme through an interactive scene, because that’s when it really hits close to home. What I don’t love though, is corridors full of the same enemies, defeated with the same strategy, without any struggle whatsoever. Recycled, rehashed and careless game design is prominent in AAA today because publishers/developers currently think that story is what constitutes a great game. What I am saying is that, story CAN constitute a great game, but story doesn’t by necessity, but great gameplay always constitutes a great game, regardless of how average or ill-thought out the story is.

        I actually consider myself a little bit of a ‘silent cartographer’ gamer myself, too. That level is a great example of the literature working effectively with the gameplay; it rewards you with interesting mystery as you explore and use your wits to overcome the games challenges. Because the level design/gameplay is quite explorative and ‘problem solving’ (I don’t think that is a word, but it should be, at least as video game jargon), the reward is uncovering the mysteries of the lore, a relevant reward. The game is designed around the story, and the story is written around the game, but in a game like Tomb Raider, the game and the story barely intertwine, and when they do, its in the form of quick time events. Shadow of the Colossus, to me, is the greatest game to accomplish synchronous literature/gameplay, along side Half Life.

        I mean, obviously it’s all subjective and it all comes down to taste. The opinion I put fourth was yes, an opinion, or at least my valid criticism (as backed up by evidence). I do understand the other side of the spectrum, but I don’t understand why a game can’t have challenging, well thought out game design a long side a great piece of literature.

        By the way, I really enjoy this level of discussion. Thanks for the insightful response.

        • Disclaimer: Opinion follows 😛

          Why can’t we have “challenging, well thought out game design alongside a great piece of literature”? The core problem is how subjective “challenging” is as a design goal – people have different levels of skill (how likely they are to succeed) and tolerance (how likely they are to retry after failing). This inevitably leads to difficulty scaling, which is normally done lazily by tweaking health and damage numbers, and the result is… well, Borderlands, I suppose.

          But let’s step back from difficulty scaling to the core idea of “challenge”. You said: “I get my ass kicked by Castlevainia 4, and it FEELS GOOD when after 5 hours of dying repeatedly I finally triumph.” I can quite confidently say that this was one reason why gaming didn’t really appeal to me during the SNES/N64 era – my “to read” pile filled a bookcase, so even at ten, I valued my time too much to spend that amount of time for so little gain.

          I understand the game design is a little different from Castlevania, but a case I normally bring up is my experience with Sif in Dark Souls, a six hour loop of fight/die/wander-back/repeat, after which I finally prevailed. To some, getting past such an obstacle proves to them that they can do this if they put their mind to it. To me, it proves that if you throw dice for long enough, you’ll eventually roll a pair of sixes. Dark Souls went back on the shelf when I reached the next boss chamber.

          Challenge is defined differently for everyone, not just because everyone’s skill level is different, but because everyone’s tolerance is different. Some will give up after the first death, others the fifth, others the tenth, hundredth, etc. Some will keep coming back to a level until they beat it, even if it takes them years. And trying to get that challenge level right for such a wide ranging audience is nigh on impossible.

          As for story constituting the be-all and end-all of a great game… I agree that that’s the wrong way to make a game. But the other extreme is just as wrong, imo. I would be remiss if I were to simplify the issue to “either you prefer story over gameplay, or gameplay over story”, as each has its place, but never should one overwhelm the other.
          I feel that good gameplay, when done well, will always hold longer appeal; Civ V, Anno 1404 and 2070 have swallowed many weekends and, because they rely on mechanics instead of story, each game is different. However, I don’t want every game to be like that – if I had to completely relearn new gameplay systems and idiosyncrasies every time I bought a new game… I’d probably have stopped gaming a long time ago. I simply don’t have that kind of free time to enjoy them, and I’d get burnt out pretty quickly even if I did have the time. Ideally, I’d love a game that integrates the story with good gameplay well, but I disagree that great gameplay always constitutes an enjoyable game. Mechanically great gameplay with no reason to continue will leave me looking for something else to do after about half an hour; mediocre gameplay with an interesting story will keep me playing for hours – the story provides the impetus.

          Last of Us was a brilliant game, perhaps the best thus far this year, but it wasn’t without fault. Mechanically, the gameplay was lacklustre – but it wasn’t trying to have amazing gameplay. It’s a great example of why a game can be great without having stellar, flawless gameplay. You don’t need innovative gameplay, you need what works. And it just so happened that a linear, third-person stealth-action game was what worked. For comparison, look to Bioshock Infinite – a game with generally boring combat, but with an amazing story. The gameplay was only just good enough to carry the story, but it would have better been served through a different gameplay mechanic than shooting people, methinks. Something a la Deus Ex, perhaps, would have fitted better. Similarly, Spec Ops had the most generic gameplay I’ve seen in quite some time, but it was the perfect delivery mechanism for its subject matter, and remains one of my favourites from the last few years.

          … And I really wish I had a more cohesive way to conclude this comment…
          Again, this was my opinion, and the last thing I want to do is appear to be pressuring my views on others, so please take it as such 🙂


  • Dear Jade Raymond: Don’t read Kotaku US comments threads. Read Kotaku AU. Universally higher standard.

    …Just not this page, people are funnin’ with you.

  • I’d conjecture that the majority of forum posts on the internet are rubbish because people either don’t think or care enough about what they put online, or they just get caught up in the heat of the moment. I normally take at least five or ten minutes or more to consider my response online (editing, adding bits here and there, removing chaff), and IRL I prefer to be able to do the same – although this has lead to many people thinking me unsociable for preferring written communication to verbal.
    But back to the original point – people get caught up in the moment, and are usually working with the same information. Under such circumstances, people forget (or never learnt how) to think critically about their arguments. “This is bad”; but why? The lack of critical thinking results in terrible feedback, because people can’t explain why they do or don’t like something.

    For instance: I don’t particularly enjoy platformers. Why? Because I fail to feel any impetus to continue playing. What could be the cause? I’m not a competitive person, so scorescreens hold no appeal whatsoever (replay value is therefore basically nil); if it has a story, there is very little coherency and even less progression, and twists are either obvious or forced; characters are usually one-dimensional, shallow creatures. Take Mario, for instance – I know Mario obviously has spent significant time with Peach, and so he obviously has a reason to care; I was introduced to the character as she was kidnapped – what is she to me? And after traversing a number of different places to be told “Oh, thanks for the help, but you’re looking in the wrong place” – just wears down my already lacklustre enthusiasm to rescue her. Similarly, Rayman Origins provides a barely coherent story – “here are your friends, who appear to be extremely insensitive to their neighbours; go rescue them from cages, so you can go back to being the general nuisance of the neighbourhood”. That doesn’t appeal to me, because I’m generally on the side of the old codgers that imprisoned them.

    Even this admittedly minor example takes more time and effort than most people are prepared to contribute to some random post on an internet forum – which they view as being for sharing enthusiasm, rather than contributing useful feedback to the pubs/devs.

  • Max Power say – originality lies in the eye of the beholder. One given to many wordly experiences, finds less originality in the world.

    Enlightenment 101… Having said that (in the most ancient and wisest Asian accent I could muster), should you actually read this forum and be able to reply – given your propensity to produce phenomenal games, I am interested in any new IP you’re working on, so any phrase I can setup a Google alert on would be much appreciated.

  • We’re all individuals! (I’m not!)

    Sorry, Life of Brian moment.

    I tend to post interesting thoughts on subjects that I feel are deserving of an interesting response.

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