Notes from GDC: The Summits, Part 1

with Kellee Santiago, Jonathan Mak, and Pekko Koskinen

This was the first talk at the Idie Games Summit and unfortunately I came in a little late. When I sat down the panelists were discussing the difference between ‘intrinsic rewards’ and ‘extrinsic rewards’. As far as I could understand, things like points or levels are extrinsic rewards, in that that they are separate from the fiction of the game’s world, while something like a beautiful explosion, or a character’s dance, is an ‘intrinsic reward’ because it takes place inside the gameworld. This reminded me a lot of Alex Galloway’s writings on the diegetic and non-diegetic in games, and led into Jon Mak’s subject which was “input and output”.

His central point was that when all is said and done games are simply software where people use something to input a command and expect an output. He said that he was really interested in the way that a very simple game can be an incredibly rewarding experience if the output is interesting. Bringing up Everyday Shooter on the projector as an example, he showed the game stripped of all it’s complex visuals, and pointed out how boring it was. Then with a few key strokes he added the visuals and showed how much more interesting the experience became. His point was basically that while gameplay (input) is very important, designers mustn’t overlook how the output is expressed, through visuals, sounds, etc.

Finally, Pekko Koskinen started by saying that while most people there had gathered because of video games, it should always be remembered that games are not a medium. Indeed, he pointed out that games can be found in any medium, from human language to sculpture (I guess he meant board games) to screens. He then mentioned a really intriguing project that he was working on: a massively-multiplayer theatre piece taking place in a Finland. All this led to his final point, which was that in the process of making a game most people focus on the product of the endeavor being the game itself. What we design when we design gameplay though, are behaviors. Therefore we should think of our product as being the players themselves, rather than being games.


This is a summary of one of the panels that I attended during GDC ’08. It’s pieced together from notes, so if you have any specific questions just ask them in the comments and I’ll answer as best as I can remember.