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February 18, 2006



I'm not exactly sure what the title "creative director" means. I always thought it meant someone who's job was to look over ALL (or a large number) of projects simultaneously and give input. In that case I agree with you, I generally don't appreciate that position nor do I think it's very effective.

On the other hand, maybe this is what you were getting at, I think a "game director", the person who has the vision for one game, the person that ultimately makes decisions about what features get put in, what art fits the vision, etc, I believe that person is essential for a good game. They are part of the team, they do real work but like a movie director they also go around and essentially direct everyone on the team. On my currect project our "game director" lead the lead artist to make several styles but ultimately the game director picked the final style we went with. We leads design meetings for input and brainstorming about designs but ultimately he picks which ones go in and which ones don't. He actually did the first animations for the lead character and the first enemy probably to set the tone and also probably because there was no one else to do it until later in the project. He is also effectively the producer coordinating with marketing, getting us to make demos, dealing with the sound dept.

My personal experience is things workout best when the game director is the lead designer and the producer and does some real work (art, animation, programming) on the team.

Jay Barnson

Interesting observation.

I think the game industry's "Hollywood Wannabe" attitude has crippled it for well over a decade. It was rampant when I got started in 1994, completely enamored with the concept of "Full Motion Video" and being able to use real Hollywood stars in our games. We keep forgetting that not only is our medium fundamentally different from all linear storytelling, but also that the Hollywood model is BROKEN in so many ways. Do we really want to become like that? Do we really want to limit ourselves to this?

I don't deny that having a "keeper of the vision" is absolutely critical to a team of even small size. But is it a full-time job? Should they be making daily rounds through all the departments and lean over people's shoulders and make pro-active decisions? I don't know.

But we need to come up with a solution that fits the needs of our industry, not one that lets us play "let's pretend" with movie studios.

Some Guy

While it may not make sense to have a full time position, I think it is necessary to acknowledge it as a role seperate from the others. On the best projects I've worked on, someone naturally fell into the role. On the worst, many people fought over the role or worse, NOBODY took on the role. It's easy to spot a project where that happens - people usually describe it as having "no soul". But I have yet to work on a project where the role was explicitly assigned, whether it was as a singular or joint position.

I think we're stuck so much on titles because we're used other creative industries using them. But we need to remember that they're forced to - agreements between unions and studio spell out very specifically who gets what title and why. We're not bound by that in the game industry. Let everyone make up their title, or don't list anyone's title - it only matters for their resume in the end.

The important thing to do on a project is to determine the ROLES that need to be filled. Assign a person to multiple roles, or multiple people to one role. Make sure all the roles are filled, that none are overfilled, and that everyone understands who fills them (and hopefully why). I think that if you can accomplish that you're at least starting off on the right foot.

I keep coming back to this as well although it doesn't directly relate to the post or my other point: our industry ain't as unique as we like to think it is. The movie industry for example struggles with incomplete "design" (script) that is revamped several times, often while production is underway. They have unfilled and overfilled roles. They have idiots in positions that can't do their jobs. They go over time and over budget. They throw stuff away and reshoot it. They produce not only bad movies, but movies without soul (look at most Disney animated sequels for an example of that). They MAY do a little better than us because they've been at it longer, and because some of their building blocks are real and all of ours are bits and bytes. But most films fail, and records, and books, and comic books, and plays, etc. etc. etc. - just like most games do. And so perhaps I can tie this all together after all by saying this: it might be true that we don't have much to learn from other creative industries - not because our industry is so different, but because it is so similiar.

Oh, and I have heard that one of the CDs on your list (not you) was completely unsuited for the role.


Like Greggman, I would have thought that the creative director would be the person that guides the artistic style of the game in a specific direction. Comparing it directly to the role of directors within films is somewhat unfair, because as you say, the general day-to-day work of a TV/film director is along the lines of "point the camera here, then point it there, then zoom in there", which of course is all-but pointless within a game (outside of cutscenes at least), where the camera is better suited to free-roaming or player control.

As I said though, I prefer to think of a director of a game as simply the one that tries to steer whatever concept spawned the game towards completion. Look at Peter Molineux with Lionhead for instance. You get the feeling that the games Lionhead produce are very much Peter's ideas, and he has had direct input into features of the game, while not neccesarily getting down and dirty with the coding itself. I would argue in fact, that it is partially his fault for the reputation his games get of being rather sprawling yet incomplete, as it should be his role as the director to cut down on the superfluous or unachievable elements of the game, and keep the design of it more focused. Then perhaps Lionhead would avoid the slipping deadlines, over-ambitious-yet-unsuccesful gameplay attempts, and we'd get tighter, less buggy games from them.

Jamie Fristrom

From the comments so far, it sounds like people agree (or at least are willing to admit the possibility) that owning the vision is not a fulltime job - Gregg's director is also an animator and producer; Peter Molyneux CD's many projects at once...


I see the job of a game director as closer to the movie director in an animated movie than in a regular movie. His role is closer to Brad Bird than Steven Spielberg. Just like games, an animated movie doesn't require somebody directing the "actors" directly at all time. Yet, watching the special features on the DVD of The Incredibles, I didn't get the feeling Brad Bird's job was part time. Quite the opposite in fact.

Game directors don't have a very definite role yet. Team members are used to work without one, so they don't have the reflex to turn to the director for creative decisions. The usual method of working is that everybody does what they think is the best possible, then the director (or whoever does the job, you need somebody to do it even if that's not their title) asks changes for the parts that really don't cut the mustard.

Movies, on the other hand, seem to have a lot more detailed control from the director. The actors are quite competent at showing emotions (at least they're supposed to be), yet the director will look at every single take and make the actors redo them until they're perfect. That kind of attention to details requires a full-time job.

In my experience, game directors don't go to that level of details in their influence so they don't have quite as much work. Is that lower level of control a good thing or a bad thing? On one hand, it gives more creative liberty to individual team members and thus should help morale. On the other hand, it makes it harder to have a unified vision: if everybody contributes bits and pieces, the end result is a mix of a bunch of individual visions with no clear focus. I guess we'd have to try a more hands-on approach to see if it works.

How do the Japanese do it? They seem to have the "director" role credited more often than the West (e.g. Hideo Kojima).

Opionated views on games development, business and creativity: http://sacredcows.pagtech.com/

Jamie Fristrom

Couple things: Brad Bird wrote The Incredibles, so he's directing & writing...

On the "completely unsuited", I don't know which guy you're talking about, but part of my point is that the role is unsuited for just about everybody - no doubt everybody on my list, including myself, was considered completely unsuitable by at least a few members of the team, either because they appear to be coasting or because they're stepping on toes.


I'm not arguing that it's not a good idea for the game director to do more than just direct. I think it's a great idea, especially since the role of the director isn't so precise. However, I think that as projects get bigger and the position's role gets better defined, it will make more sense to have full-time directors.

Even in movies it's pretty common to have directors who do more than one job. Robert Rodriguez directed the actors in Once Upon a Time In Mexico, but he also wrote the script, held the camera, edited the final movie and created the music.

BTW, I thought this was a very insightful post and discussion, so I blogged it: http://sacredcows.pagtech.com/?p=32 (you don't seem to have any way of posting Trackbacks, a shame).

Jamie Fristrom

I tried the trackbacks for a while and got more trackback spam than actual trackbacks...

Soren Johnson

We don't have Creative Directors, but I suppose I filled the role of "project ownership" on Civ4, but functionally I spent most of my time programming the game. I believe that it is the latter role which gave me the ability to do the former. In my mind, the range of games is WAY more diverse than the range of movies, which prevents the type of permanent role specialization that lets directors "just direct" (like Editor, Cinematographer, Set Designer, etc...)


Its just an ego thing like always.

Chris Archer

Well apparently Jamie and I were thinking about the same thing around the same time. My first Blog post http://www.developingfun.typepad.com was in reference to this same issue, except I think the Game Director position is missing from most games out there and really should not be.

The Creative Director and Game Director are different in my opinion, as the CD is a senior manager on the project, distracted with the daily gring as Jamie explained, the Game Director needs to be someone who cares about nothing except for the content and vision and has the time to play, explore and direct the game. This is a full time job if done right.

While I have a different take and generally agree with Greggmans post, I think this is an issue that needs to be resolved quickly on your projects. We are missing the creative spark in our industry and we need to find a way to get it back or else we are destined to continue creating average games.


woah, Brad Bird directs his animators who are in essense the true actors in animated features. They have dailies just like in normal films except in these the director can push his actors for better performances, push for certain emotions, emphasize certain points, etc. although he is the writer of much of the incredibles, pixar also has a story department that will pitch scenes to not only brad but others in the story dept as well but later in the project he is in the trenches working out all the kinks in the story just like they do in hollywood and figuring out what scenes can be cut. I don't remember what the special features were like but how did you get the impression that he doesn't have a full time job?

While I think it's Molyneux call as to what things to cut, I think it's his producers job to get him to make those calls. At some point the producer has to say "Peter, we don't have enough time to get these features in. We can to cut 2 out of these 5 otherwise the other 3 will suffer!" Unless extremely experienced, whoever owns the game's vision will most likely be too close to the project to foresee scheduling feature cuts. i mean, did they really need to show ants when you zoom into the grass in black and white 2?

Robert Rodriguez is like the equivalent of old school game development when they were done in teams of three except he's figured out how to do it more efficiently.

I think the CD should have involvement in the actual development of the game. The CD tasks aren't full time and the rest of the time should be spent pulling some weight. As far as the CD stepping on toes, that's so bizarre to me. It should be pretty clearly defined as to what tasks are being addressed by the CD. So I would have to disagree with Chris Archer. Since a CD isn't a full time gig, having both a CD and GD sounds like over staffing and overlapping and confusing responsibilites. Ideally you want the CD directing the vision of the game but have confidence in the team and through good communication with the leads and senoir position holders, things get done right. Leads/Senoirs also go to the CD for feedback. If the requires just pulling the CD over to look at something or a weekly or bi-weekly meeting. Whatever it takes. Which also brings another thing. The CD must be available. The producer makes sure the team doesn't bite off more than they can chew and that they finish what they start (on time). The CD should be mindful of the schedule so the rest of the team isn't put in a hard position commonly known as crunch time. Also so when pulling weight, they know where to pull, what holes to fill. They might get started on the menu layouts, or work a specific section of a level, or code some water effects, light a scene, etc. So not only does the do CD prioritizing stuff, but have excellent communication, trust, and respect with leads/senoirs, experience and mindfulness of schedulling to not only guide the vision but to maintain the projects focus through completion and an on time submission. Creativity will come from all parts of the team that communicates well but all in all, it's easier said than done to find such a leader. I think it's one of those positions that really requires a lot of experience in the industry knowing how to get things down as well as a strong team to back the leader up which not all companies have the luxury of. Sorry, the paragraph is all over the place. I hope you get my points.


woah, excuse my lack of proofreading!


Off-topic, but about the ants in B&W2, I think they're there for the same reason you can see a worm wiggle inside an apple on a barrel in the first Black & White: marketing. That worm wowed the press when it was first shown -- imagine, you could zoom fluidly from seeing worms to seeing the whole world! You'll notice that there isn't another place in that game where details go to that small elements, only that single apple.

My theory is that Molyneux put that worm there specifically to have something impressive to show the press. It serves no other purpose, but it served that purpose very well. The lesson I learned from this is that spending some time on creating a single "wow" element can really help selling a game. The other lesson to learn, based on the public's reaction to B&W, is that if you have those wow elements in few specific places for marketing, the public will be let down that the whole game isn't like they've been shown.


Well, I came back to read the comments, here's some more :-p

I guess as for the title "creative director" and my fantasy of what that means, I've never in my life thought it was a useful position. My illusion is that some jerk who sucked his way up to "creative director" is a guy like Jamie mentions that is perceived as "coasting". He sits in his office, browses the net, listens to music, plays games and spends 10 minutes a day annoying various teams with his "professional opinion" [roll eyes]. (Note: that's my experience of people with the title "Creative Director") In that sense I totally agree it's a BS position and there should be no such position.

My vision or fantasy of "Game Director" on the other hand is probably one of the busiest people on the team. He has the responsibility of not only carrying the vision but of making sure every thing made fits that vision / art style / game play theme as well as having to have everything speced out BEFORE it's needed. The game directors I know, at least the good ones, are always extremely busy because they have to spec out in an understandable way nearly everything. Sometimes they can delegate but even then they have to check that over. They have to walk from desk to desk, hopefully daily so they can see what people are waiting for, what things have come up that no one thought of, what things are going down the wrong path so they can be re-directed to the right path and then after all that go back to getting more specs done, hopefully visually so there is no mis-communication. The best ones even have the talent to do lots of the stuff themselves (art, 3d, photoshop, illustator, scripting), not so they actually do it (though they often do) but so they can whip up a concrete example if they have to.

Whether or not you liked the Crash series or the Jak series, Jason Rubin was a good game director. He had some people skills issues but he kept on top of everything, walked around asked how things were going, what people were waiting for, followed up on those. If someone was waiting for art he'd find out who needed to do it and make it get done or re-arrange schedules if it couldn't be ready. He was techincal enough that he could suggest techincal solutions for effects. And, he was never afraid of doing something himself. In CTR once the camera system was in place he went and setup all the cameras for every track knowing that everyone else was busy. In Jak and Daxter, once the particle system was in he started setting up particle effects all over the levels.

My current game director is similar, Tsutomu Kouno and he's clearly the busiest man on the team, often spending nights at the office to have things ready for the next day. The game is HIS baby. Like a movie director if a name was going to go on the box it would be his. He's the one that presents it to the public and has the most pride in it (the conversely the most desire not to show something bad).

I believe the best games are driven but such a person who is the "Game Director". The best game directors work hard and are easy to respect and therefore easy to follow (or be directed by).


Very fascinating thread. I have a question about roles. What's the difference between an Art Director and a Creative Director?

At our startup company we have an Art Director and Several Designers, but no one that really "owns" any one title, and no one with a title of CD. Our Art Director does a bit of CD work, but so do we all.

I would like to see the role of the CD to be one of feeding ideas into the pool of all projects, and making sure the projects stay within the clients focus, but not nessicarily "own" them like a director of a film would. Is that possible?

Account Deleted

A post definitely worth reading as it points out what a game director shouldn't do but also some misconceptions! The idea that the position is bad and pointless because some CDs are not doing their job right could apply to each and every position individually.

I will repeat it a few times through my post, the Position of CD is NOT for all Studios.

A creative director is the one who drives a studio vision (and not a single project vision like a producer or a game director does)cohesively with the contribution of Art Directors, Producers\Game Directors, etc. towards a unified studio Identity be it on gameplay Art style etc etc. This is necessary while building a Brand name and your studio\production company is associated with certain quality or specializes in a style\genre of games. This is not a position meant for a studio that handles one title only... obviously!

A creative director is someone with many years experience in production(Art Director, Lead Game Designer, Producer), in gaming, handling business and management overall, who can be entrusted with the task to guide multiple production teams simultaneously without stepping on their toes but by providing feedback and support towards the use of features, choice of genres, promotion, design elements and many many more in order to ensure that all company products adhere to the studio\publisher philosophy. Obviously someone like that is not needed in every studio. The idea that someone like Molyneaux or Miyamoto's position in Microsoft studios or Nintendo respectively is being useless and pointless I think is not making much sense although presented with some facts.

Truth is, many lead programmers, art directors etc. think the same about producers. Artists about their art directors and so on. The answer is.. The job of a CD is simply not the same with the rest of the team, same as the job of an artist is not the same as that of the Art Directors'and so on and so forth. Same as a producer to his team, or an art director to his art team etc etc. he has to be available to all teams at all times being able to give solid guidance and advice.

Having that said, in order to do so the CD should play many games and surf sites and join gaming communities so that he is aware of what the competition offers or plans to offer what gamers like what they want in their favourite games recruit new directors and producers or creative teams for his next projects.While at the same time keep a certain distance from the projects so that he is able by keep a clear head out of the heat and make design and other production related decisions without empathy.

My English is not perfect but I hope what i am trying to say got through.


I always wanted to become a game director or creative director After doing some research this sounds like the position I dreamed of but after reading this im a little confused. I thought the gaming director or creative director was the most important part of a games development, such as Hideo Kojima or Kazunori Yamauchi (my idols). Are u talking about bad directors cause I think creative directors are still important.


Hideo Kojima, just as an example, at least on MGS2 and earlier, never took the title "creative director" - he was always a designer, first and foremost, and never delegated that responsibility away, and he took on additional responsibilities as his team got larger, such as production. What I'm specifically on about is creating this position we call "creative director" that doesn't actually do anything but set priorities and give feedback. This might seem at odds with earlier articles on management that I've written: good managers are supposed to delegate, right? They should be so busy managing that they don't have time to do any actual work! But in this case, I think the functions of setting priorities and providing feedback are not full time jobs, and - especially at the beginning of the project - the person whose name is going to be at the top of the credits, the person who 'owns' the game, ought to make fundamental parts of the game themselves.

Tyler Havener

[ I love to add to ancient posts... especially ones that seem to breathe over time on their own. ]

The problem is certainly not due to a lack of people who "want" the title or get promoted into the position (from lead artist, animator, designer, or coder). The problem is their relevant experience.

Not everyone can be a creative Creative Director; they don't have the breadth of skill necessary to enjoy the job.

Speaking from a very general point of view, good creative directors will have widely diverse experience, reasonable business acumen, be somewhat talented with writing, and be passionate about the creative process. Rarely are they the master of production techniques or sharp timeline managers. They feed on setting a very basic outline and then inspiring others to do what they do best: create.

As I would imagine it is in gaming, most production staff are somewhat technically minded and entrenched in the details.

A good creative director wouldn't be too concerned with these things, and SHOULDN'T be concerned with the details. Rather, they'd sit back, watch genius at work, and keep the vision from being derailed.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

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