We sat down with Quantic Dream founder David Cage (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls) to discuss the game industry’s Peter Pan syndrome, the technological limitations facing creators, and the parallels between the evolution of the film and game industries.

As the data you presented at D.I.C.E. demonstrated, the console space is dominated by platformers and action games – I would classify them as popcorn experiences. But I think you could also make the argument that this is also the case for books, television, and film. Isn’t this a shared issue in the media?

What I like about cinema and literature is the great diversity there is there. So yes, if you are looking for superheroes saving the world, you can probably find that in films. Look at the success of The Avengers last year. So there’s a market for that, and there are people doing it, and they can be successful. But at the same time, if you are looking for dramas, comedy, tragedies, or very different types of films, you can also find them. In games, the problem is that action, violent, and platforming games are 90 percent of the industry. So we don’t have the same choice, the same diversity. And this is what I would like to see change. 

Where do you think this lack of diversity comes from? The creators, the businessmen, the consumers, or the press?

There’s not simple answer because it probably comes from everywhere, and it’s probably a chicken and the egg thing. Do people buy the same games because we just give them the same games? Or do you we make the same games because this is what people want? It’s really difficult. I like this quote from Henry Ford that said: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” That’s absolutely the case. You can’t expect people to tell you what games they want to play. This is not their job; you need to come up with proposals and then ideas, and these are the games that we wanted to make because we strongly believed in. And yeah, it’s very different from what you know, but give it a chance and then we’ll see if people are not interested in other types of experiences. My guess is that they are; they are eager for something new. There will always be a market for violent games and platformers, no doubt. That’s why I’m just saying can we have different types of games taking more risk and just offer this level of diversity to people so they can pick up the games they like. 

Do you think the inflation of budgets for games is inhibiting this kind of risk-taking?

It’s definitely one of the reasons because making games, especially triple-A titles, is more and more expensive. As technology becomes more and more complex and we want to raise the bar, and you want to face competition, so you want the best graphics, and the same engine, and the same base gameplay, etc, etc, so it costs a lot of money. When you take so much financial risk, of course you need to make sure that you’re going to get this money back so you tend to take less risk with the content itself. So let’s make a shooter because we’re pretty sure that we’re going to sell some. We know that the market wants that. There’s a market for it, where if you work on a totally new concept, it’s a huge risk. 

This is also why the indie space is so interesting. They don’t have the same pressure regarding budgets. They have pressure, too. They spend less money, but if they don’t sell it they’re going to die, so it’s another type of pressure. They can work on shorter cycles most of the time, with less money, so they have to be creative, because this is what they sell I think many interesting ideas in the coming years will come from the indie space. 

When I think back to the history of film and when it expanded from popcorn entertainment experiences to more serious concepts, it seems to me like the ‘70s was a really big growth area. Suddenly you had gritty films from John Cassavetes and Sam Peckinpah. This golden age happened well after the invention of cinema, when it didn’t take much other than a small budget and a camera to make a film. Do you think these types of projects in the video game space will happen more as we democratize the toolsets and it becomes less inhibiting for people to get into video game development?

I hope so; I hope so. I hope that development will become less and less demanding in a matter of time and resources so people can focus much more on the content than the technology behind the content. 

When you look at the history of cinema, there were many, many eras that we could connect with, you know, game space. First of all, cinema started in a time where movie directors invented and were building their own camera because they wanted to improve the technology and do something that they couldn’t do before. So they worked on the technology and invented new cameras. 

This is pretty much where we are. A company like Quantic Dream, we have 50 engineers in a team of 200, and we develop the engine. We build our camera every game, which is quite a strange thing to do because on one side you develop technology and on the other side you want to be creative. Cinema solved this because at some point they had companies appear that focused on technology so film directors would only focus on creating great content because they didn’t have to build a camera. They had someone who could think about it for them. 

We’re not at this stage yet with games. Then we saw another era in cinema where film studios became really big. You were going to watch the next film by this studio or this studio, but directors and actors were employees, sometimes having a tenuous contract, until things changed totally in the ‘60s and ‘70s – I would say ‘70s in the U.S., where different people, including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, started to add the arms of the independent structure and producing their own content and selling it afterwards to the big studios. So the relationship has totally changed. These indie people at the time made a real revolution in the cinema industry that is still the case today. All these things happened through 100 years in cinema. I’m impassioned to see them happening in the game space and hopefully it will take less than 100 years.