Amy Hennig thinks AAA game development needs drastic changes. The award-winning video game director and script writer has forged a highly respected career since her early days with Nintendo, navigating the industry as it continues to grow and change, while being directly involved with successful Naughty Dog franchises like Uncharted, as well as Jak and Daxter.
Having worked in the industry for such an extensive period, Hennig has seen numerous changes in how games are made and played, as well as how different the staffing of game development teams has become. With recent news that huge names in gaming like Activision-Blizzard and EA would be laying off substantial swaths of their staff, many outside and within the gaming industry have been left wondering exactly what is going on. The question becomes particularly pointed when consideration is given to the fact that Blizzard brought in record profits last year, only to turn around and eliminate 800 jobs.
Last month, at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, Hennig spoke after being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. According to GamesIndustry, during her speech, the gaming development veteran addressed many of the realities currently being faced by AAA game developers in what is a rapidly changing industry. Though the idea of downsizing development teams is a difficult one to deal with, Hennig sees outsourced labor as the future of game creation, something that is more in line with how film and television is made. She said:
"If we're in a studio system, but we're all free agents, what would that look like? This is all speculative, because we're still living in a world where big companies have these giant staffs. But even so, we never really used to do external development. Everything we did was more or less in-house. And more and more - particularly for art, visual effects, and things like that - we are working with external vendors a lot. It wouldn't be possible to make these big, impressive games if we weren't. So it feels like there's already a move in that direction. Whether it just becomes that we still have big teams and more external partners or smaller teams and more things are externalized remains to be seen."
Having spent such a lengthy period of time working in the video game industry and having made such a prominent name for herself there, it’s easy to forget that Hennig’s career path was initially intended to involve the film industry. It was a job with Atari as an animator that pulled her out of film school, making her realize that her heart was in gaming rather than film. She has also previously stated that she’s found a great use for her filmmaking education in game development, in ways that she hadn’t previously expected. And with more AAA gaming titles increasingly blurring the line between gaming and cinema (Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 even offers gamers a cinematic mode option), the future of gaming seems to indicate that the difference between video games and movies is growing smaller with each new release.
It’s especially interesting to see one of the biggest names in video game development calling for a new, industry saving model at time when filmmakers seem to be engaged in their own debate regarding what’s best for their industry. The discussion surrounding films released on streaming platforms potentially means big changes, as does a game development model that sees artists working in a freelance capacity rather than as a part of a huge team. Whether or not AAA game franchises will begin to employ this strategy on a regular basis remains to be seen, but if, at present, industry torchbearers like Amy Hennig see a future in such a model, there’s a good chance that a substantial sea change is coming.