You might not be familiar with the name John Carmack, but he is the one of the brains behind the classic video game series Doom (the other brain is John Romero who we recently interviewed), Quake, Wolfenstein 3D. Last year, Carmack released Rage HD for iOS which showed that the iPad and iPhone could be taken seriously as a gaming device. Now, he's working on Rage, a post-apocalyptic shoot-em-up that will arrive on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year.
When you talk to Carmack, you quickly get the sense that he finds an immense sense of pleasure of pushing the boundaries of hardware to create more immersive game experiences. He did that with Doom in the early '90s and then again with Rage HD for IOs. So I was naturally curious to learn what this gaming pioneer has to say about new phenomenon that has turned millions of regular people into game devotees almost overnight -- social games.
What's your take on social games?
I think one of the interesting things we're seeing from both the iOS and Facebook games is that there is a large range of people who want to do something fun on their electronic devices, but they're not the hardcore market that wants to sit all weekend with a controller in their hand and and play a game.
We've got the hardcore people who look down their noses at the casual gaming stuff and say, "That's not a real game. Real games require $500 GPUs."
How are social games changing the industry?
I love that it's harkening back to the arcade experience. It seems like "serious gamer" is a lifestyle decision, and I'm not a serious gamer, I'm an engineer, and I'm not spending 20 hours over the weekend playing games. I have a lot of empathy for the people who just want to play a fun game on their phone for a little while.
The MMO social game experience is different from the casual experience, although they have their overlap in different areas. Seeing Angry Birds is a prime example of, "it's just fun to go do that." It doesn't have all the traits of what a triple-A blockbuster game has, but it's got 50 million people that are having fun with it.
Are social games good enough?
It's not a connoisseur experience, but it's important to recognize that most of what people consume in the world is not a connoisseur experience. In some ways, the Facebook games are kind of the Walmart experience of gaming, but Walmart is one of the most successful companies in the entire world.
You get a little bit of the sour grapes from some of the hardcore crowd on social games, from both developers and users. But there are people that are sitting there doing that instead of playing other games and they're having fun. More power to 'em. It's not my market, but they're producing value for a lot of people.