Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 03, 2012
Amateurs and professionals

The word "amateur" has French (and ultimately Latin) roots, literally meaning "lover of". It describes somebody who does an activity out of love for it, not because he is getting paid for it. While that can result in a performance which is less good than that of a professional, it also can result in an equivalent but different result. Many people argue that for example game developers should feel a passion for games, that they should create games because they love them, thus that they should be amateurs. And it is certainly true that a lot of young people with a love of games dream of becoming game developers. Which is at the root of the many stories you hear of exploitation, long hours, and uncertain recompensation in the game industry.

On the player side the opposite trend takes place: Not only do discussions of games from the players' side often have an air of extreme seriousness. But with price money in e-Sport leagues and the selling of virtual items, some players actually are becoming "professionals".

I think that both of these developments are dangerous. Just like I wouldn't want to drive a car that has been designed by an amateur, I don't always like playing games that have been coded by amateurs. Between rushed releases of unfinished games, bugs, and half-baked "wouldn't it be cool if we had this" features, I really long to see more professionalism in game development. Including regular working hours and proper compensation for the game developers, instead of companies exploiting a bunch of eager kids.

Playing games is the quintessential hobby, something to do to relax and entertain, without a larger purpose or financial interest. Turning it into a profession very much diminishes the entertainment value. One of my commenters uses the handle "Angry Gamer", and the internet is full of people like him, constantly angry about games or their fellow players, because they just took those games far too seriously. And as a actual source of income games are a rather bad choice. If somebody would put the same amount of energy that he uses for theorycrafting a MMORPG into lets say studying engineering, his earnings potential would become much higher.

Thus I would say that games should be created by professionals, and played by amateurs. What do you think?
Development perspective:
I think the world’s best off with both. One might question the amateurism/professionalism of Notch and what he may or may not have borrowed from Wurm, but in a conventionally professional design environment, I don't think we'd have seen Minecraft.

Where does modding fall into, on this scale? Let's think of the longevity provided to Oblivion, Fallout 3, and even the Half-Life/Quake engines over the years. I trust you were around for Counter-Strike as a fan mod, and its eventual co-opting by Valve as an official product? Team Fortress was a Quake mod. Portal's history is a perfect mesh of amateurs who came to Valve looking for permission to do something crazy, then were snapped right up.

I think Amateurism in many of the indie titles I see on Steam gives rise to some truly fantastic ideas which, if successful in their own right, are played by professional devs who happen to be amateur gamers, and incorporated into professional design.

Does it mean occasionally we’ll have to play an unprofessional game with some good ideas poorly implemented? As early adopters not trusting reviews? Yes. But the diversity drives the industry forward.

As for ‘professional’ gamers? Whatever, man. Seriously. Those aren’t real gamers anymore. I have marginally less respect for them than I do for professional sportsmen (“Let’s see who can run around in circles the fastest and celebrate their circle-running ability with giant stacks of cash!”), if only because the competition isn’t as fierce, and my own social conditioning. My selfish opinion is that designing games to CATER to e-sports is a colossal waste of developer resources on games that I might like to play, instead. See: the complete lack of fun to be had in trying to casually play a multiplayer match of Starcraft 2.
I take your point, Tobold, but I think like most sweeping statements it's a bit too general. I loved Diablo 2, I loved finding items in Diablo 2, I did hundreds of Meph, Baal and Pindle runs. I would do the same in D3 regardless of its structure. If as a side effect of doing all those runs instead of having 8 accounts full of mules that eventually expire when I get bored (as happened in Diablo 2) I get Blizz bucks letting me play other Blizzard games for free and maybe even a small cashback then I'm delighted. I'm still an amateur even though I'm now getting paid.
@ Cam

"See: the complete lack of fun to be had in trying to casually play a multiplayer match of Starcraft 2."

Head to head player v player is always "casual unfriendly". Starcraft 1 probably wasn't designed for e-sports but had a very similar casual unfriendliness.
I'm not sure an angry gamer is any more serious than yourself.

Probably just that an angry gamer feels somehow meaning has begun to slip away, where others think meaning remains rich and present in their entertainment.
I'd say that 'amateur/professional' is separate from how serious someone is about something. Admittedly a non-serious professional probably wouldn't stay a professional for long, but I've known amateurs who are very serious.

It's important to have amateur games designers (although preferably at the 'more serious' end of the scale), as they're less financially dependent on the result than professionals, and therefore more likely to take risks and innovate. Even if you don't like the amateurs' games themselves, many of the professionals' games will have been influenced by them.

And regarding e-sportspeople (both serious amateur players and actual professionals): I have absolutely no objection to them, as long as they don't pretend theirs is the only, or the best, way to play games. Granted there's not really a point to it, but how the amateurs' spend their free time is up to them, and as for the professionals, I'd equate them to professional 'real-world' sports.
@ Cam

Until today I always beleived Team fortress was HL engine based! Turns out it was a port from quake.

Every days a school day.

Have to say for the most part I agree with you on this, Professionals develop and polish games way byond what most amateurs can muster up, but the larger companes do rather play it safe with sequal after sequal rather than something new and inovative. Sometimes it takes a small group of enthusiasts cobbling together a small project to kick start any industry again and move things forward.
Professionals do make more polished games, as a rulr. But in the end we get to choose the games we play, and we judge them by the playing experience, not on who made them.

I play a lot of games that are created by amateurs (e.g. Dungeon Crawl) and by independent software authors who earn something but probably not as much as they could have earned doing something else.

I even read amateur blogs! How would you feel, Tobold, if someone said it would be better if blogs like yours died out and only blogs written by well-paid professional journalists remained?

(Incidentally, amateur game developers are usually pretty good at coding. Where they tend to fall down is production values related to artwork etc.)
I have no issue with e-sportspeople but I don't want to play with them.
In his books, Robert Littell summarizes the difference between an amateur and a professional thus:

A professional believes that anything worth doing is worth doing well.

An amateur believes that anything worth doing is worth doing, even if done poorly.

I think the latter fits for most players. We play just to play.
I kind of feel like you're mixing metaphors by talking about both players and developers in the amateur v.s. professional discussion.

In business or science, typically a "professional" means that some certification, licensing, or credentialing process is involved.

And didn't the amateur/professional distinction in sports originally exist for Olympic competition? Thus professional meaning "having an unfair advantage".

Gerry Quinn makes an excellent point.I remember when Tobold struggled over his "buy me a cup of coffee" button.

Certainly Tobold doesn't think that getting a few bucks here and there is "dangerous" to blogging by blurring the amateur/professional line? Although certainly getting big bucks from the gaming industry is.

On the other hand, I wonder what would happen if SWTOR started clicking that button a few hundred times a day?
Assuming "professional" just means that you're getting paid to do it, the way you've defined amateur doesn't exclude a professional from also being an amateur.

I would define pro-gamers as just that: professional amateurs. People in the fighting game community live and breathe fighting games. Daigo Umehara, one of the best players out there in many fighting games, does nothing but practice and play pretty much all day. But he's not doing it just because it will prep him for a tournament to make money. He does it because he loves fighting games. He probably could study and find a job that pays more, but it's quite apparent that money is not what drives these people to play these games.
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