Feature: With adventure games on topics including apocalyptic robots, dangerous physics, and Rabbis in his portfolio, DAVE GILBERT of Wadjet Eye Games knows a thing or two about the genre. We catch up with him to discuss why innovation’s not really all that important, the privileges of being indie, and why we are our own best audience.
Game makers just want to make games. It seems like simple common sense, but as you climb higher up the corporate ladder, that fact starts to slip away. Making games can easily become about boosting sales, following trends, and being a cog in a machine. But not indies. Most indie game developers make games because, at the core, they just want to.
In the fall of 2001, Dave Gilbert decided he wanted to make games. It was something he did on a whim, simply for the fun of it. 11 years later, Gilbert is the man behind Wadjet Eye Games, an indie development and publishing studio that’s quickly establishing itself as the source of some of today’s best adventure games.
Realistically, Gilbert needs to create games so that he can pay his bills and support his family. But the real reason he makes games is for himself. “Some people ask ‘who do you make your games for? who’s your audience?’” says Gilbert. “And I just say… me! Whenever I make games for a specific audience, or I try to tailor them to a market, the games are always weaker as a result.”
A niche for every genre
When Gilbert was first starting out and discovered that his games were doing best with a casual market, he tried to cater to it. “That was a mistake. Because that market completely shifted and changed into something else entirely. I’m not going to follow trends. Mainstream companies have full time staff to do that, and there’s no way I can do that, so I’m just going to make the games I want.”
Judging by his success, the games that Gilbert wants are the games that many fans want. Wadjet Eye Games have released some real adventure game gems since entering the industry. Gilbert’s own games, the Blackwell series, were his original project, but now half his job is to help other developers get their games finished and published. There are plenty of mediocre adventure games floating around the indie scene, but each game that Wadjet Eye Games selects to back is an almost guaranteed win. Gilbert has no secret formula to finding and making good adventure games: he just picks the ones he likes.
That’s the beauty of indie, says Gilbert: “I think the whole indie idea is that you can focus on niches. Adventure games are very much a niche to begin with. Gemini Rue taught me a lesson: it doesn’t only appeal to adventure game fans. It’s also appealing to people who love a great sci-fi story, or love a certain kind of TV or movie.”
When you try to create a game for a specific audience, says Gilbert, you run the risk of generalizing too much about that audience, especially in this genre. “You can’t lump all adventure games together. I think that’s a very narrow way of approaching adventure game design.”
That’s not entirely true where large companies are concerned. “AAA companies, I don’t know if they could sell as many copies as they would need to pay all their staff, and cover the budget that the game would need,” muses Gilbert. “There’s a reason why AAA goes for the mainstream: because they have to.”