Warren Spector Tells Gamers To 'Vote With Your Feet' During Keynote Speech

At the keynote speech for PAX Australia 2015, veteran designer Warren Spector used the main theatre to encourage gamers to support games that allow for more player agency and emergent storytelling.

PAX attendees started lining up before the doors opened to hear Spector, a designer who worked on Ultima 6, Ultima Underworld, the Deus Ex games and Epic Mickey, speak for an hour on emergent storytelling and the player experience.

Heavily laced with anecdotes and historical lessons, Spector recited a story in which he witnessed a QA tester on Ultima 6 solve a particular puzzle in a way he hadn't envisioned — and that his entire career as a designer had been spent trying to replicate that moment.

"We’re kind of in a rut, it’s like we’ve forgotten something important about what made games special," Spector told the crowd, breaking games into three categories of low, medium and high player expression.

The designer then tacitly criticised the original Uncharted and Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series, saying while neither of them were bad games they limited players' "ability to interact with the game world so the story can unfold the way the storyteller wants".

"It’s a great story, better than any story I’ll ever tell in a game, but it’s not a players’ story," Spector added of the Uncharted series.

He went on to explain that gaming was the medium of the 21st century, and that players should be prepared to reward games and designers that fully exploit the medium's unique characteristics.

"Gamers: vote with your dollars," Spector argued. "If we all play our parts, if we all do that, if we make games that share authorship ... we will be the medium of the 21st century."

"I was at PIXAR giving a talk about game narrative, and there was a point where I said movies were the medium of the 20th century and games are the medium of the 21st — at PIXAR! And there was a quiet lengthy silence after that, but it was true. I was right."

Spector's pick of games that rewarded such behaviour included Dishonoured, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Fable, Mass Effect, The Sims, World of Warcraft, Papers, Please and Journey, although the crowd's strongest approval was saved for the Fallout series and Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic.

Spector also used the end of the keynote to mention Richard Garriott's latest project, Shroud of the Avatar, and the crowdfunded RPG which he is consulting on, Underworld Ascendant.


    I really don't need or want emergent storytelling in every game I play. Yes, there's a lot to be said for the unexpected emergent possibilities that can be happen in stuff like GTA, Deus Ex, Far Cry etc, but there's also plenty of room for tightly designed more linear games like Uncharted, Tomb Raider etc.

    It's hardly an either/or proposition - there's no reason why we can't have a variety of good games with both approaches.

    I'd almost agree with him if 'emergent gameplay' didn't run the risk of becoming industry shorthand for not having a narrative at all; putting players in a sandbox and giving them the tools to be horrible to one another, then calling the results a 'player story'.

    I'd rather see a dozen Telltale or Uncharted games for every EVE Online.

    It's interesting to see his list of 'games that do emergent gameplay well' include several games where the 'choice' is nothing but an illusion. The story beats unfold exactly the same way.

      Yeah, while the open world thing can provide some interesting possibilities, often it feels more like they're giving you this huge world but then just telling you to go off and make your own fun. Which works for a while, but often it ends up feeling like the actual game mechanics are stretched too thinly over too much filler.

      I play an Uncharted game for 10 hours and get 10 hours of solid entertainment. Or I play, say, Far Cry 4 for 30 hours... and still end up with about 10 hours of genuine entertainment :P

      What's lost in the rush to open world, emergent games is the art of level design. That feeling you get when playing through a really well designed piece of game (like some of the set pieces in Uncharted 2 or 3), like the designer is sitting there trying to make sure you get the maximum possible entertainment out of every minute you're spending with the game. I guess the equivalent in an open world game might be, say, attacking an outpost in Far Cry 3 or 4, which is more carefully tailored to being PLAYED, compared to the 90% or so the rest of the map which is there to be explored more than played, if that makes sense. If you happen to find something fun to do there, good luck to you, but a lot of the time it's just something you're having to traverse to get to the next bit of fun.

      Nothing wrong with either approach, sometimes I enjoy the exploration in and of itself, even if nothing particularly interesting is happening at any given moment. Hell, I spent a fair bit of last weekend playing Everybody's Gone To The Rapture where pretty much all you do is walk around very slowly exploring an empty village, and I absolutely loved it. But when I find myself time-poor, as I often do, then I prefer the more tightly designed approach that Uncharted etc offer.

    Actually he said gamers should vote with their dollars, feet were never mentioned

    “We’re kind of in a rut, it’s like we’ve forgotten something important about what made games special,” Spector told the crowd, breaking games into three categories of low, medium and high player expression.

    The designer then tacitly criticised the original Uncharted and Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series, saying while neither of them were bad games they limited players’ “ability to interact with the game world so the story can unfold the way the storyteller wants”.

    yes, i get this, and i get why people want to create it. but what he calls the ability to interact with the game world is pretty much you get an choice to do something good or something evil at a plot point. you choose, but the game world doesnt really change, just a reaction to that NPC or group of NPCs. its not really emergent storytelling when the game world pretty much stays static and unchanged even when you have made this choice.
    for me emergent storytelling is the actual game world changing around you. kill some bad guy, his mates hunt you down. the bad guy was some overlord, it starts a war. kill a king and change who is on the throne, the kingdom either becomes good or bad and you have to deal with better or worse conditions. i know that this kind of thing would probably only work in a sandbox game, but to me this is emergent storytelling and i would buy a game that could do this.

    The thing about games is that they have the ability to be much more varied and versatile than any other medium. Sure they may be the new storytelling medium for the 21st century, especially with VR coming in but they don't have to be.

    The same as the old action movies that had only a small pretense of story games can do this too. there's even more room for games in particular to do this as there are so many different mechanics to explore and they don't necessarily need a story attached for them to provide an experience that you can enjoy.

    Gamers already do vote with their feet. They buy what they want to buy. No one's forcing them to buy CoD or Assassin's Creed each year, maybe there's a majority of gamers out there that just want to play those types of games and you know what, there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes all a gamer wants at the end of the day is to be dragged through a story/mission much in the same way they'd sit down and watch a TV show.

    Don't get all high and mighty saying that 'Game X' is better than 'Game Y' because it has a better narrative or gameworld interactivity and so people should be buying 'Game X' because Warren Spector say it's the right choice, if those games are made and they sell well then it's what gamers want to play, if it doesn't sell well then 9 times out of 10 it's because no one wants to play it (the other 1 time can be put down to bad marketing).

    Basically, continue doing what you're already doing. If you're happy playing Destiny/CoD/Fallout/Train Simulator/any number of indie titles then who the hell is anyone else to tell you you should be playing something else.

      It's really, really hard to take developers seriously when they talk about the industry, sometimes.

      "Such and such is what's wrong with the industry... which is why I've invested heavily in my new upcoming title that addresses those concerns and does things differently! Subscribe to the game's twitter and youtube channels and get ready to spread the word to your friends about the upcoming Kickstarter."

      Something is wrong with the inudstry, so I'm doing something about it in my new product... on the one hand it's admirable... a genuine attempt to put their money (or yours) where their mouth is, to work on what they see as the solution.

      On the other hand... my inner cynic snorts derisively anytime someone says, "The future of gaming is what I'm doing." Oh really.

        I liked reading about Pete Hines' keynote speech last(?) year at PAX where he just told stories he's come across working in the industry rather than having a pop at a certain part of the industry. Then again, he's entitled to his opinion. I don't like how he seemingly used his speech to give a little plug to the game he's working on though

        I don't see why there has to be something 'wrong' with the industry. The gaming industry is bigger than Hollywood, books, TV and music. It's the only entertainment industry that has shown consistent growth over the last decade or 2. The industry is thriving, yes studios are shutting down here and there, but I'd point to my original post about games that gamers don't want to play.

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