This is a post I've been formulating in my head for a while. We're seeing a growing number of "creative directors" in this industry - and while I don't have anything against any given "crative director", I don't think the position makes sense for game development.
Why do I think this? I can't help but notice that lots of creative directors either quit or don't get invited back to do it again. Harvey Smith; Randy Smith; Chris Soares; Tomo Moriwaki; David Jaffe went from being an internal CD to an external one... All of these directors worked on games that were either hits (millions of sales) or critically acclaimed (80+ on gamerankings) or both. And I quit as CD before I even finished a single title, deciding I'd rather help start a company than continue what I was doing.
So what's going on here? It seems like in a sane world, these succesful directors would get invited back to do it again, paid whatever they want, etcetera.
Here's my theory. The "creative director" title arose because of the whole games-want-to-be-like-movies thing. We look to the movies, see that they have a "director" position, a guy who supposedly owns the vision for the thing, and say, "We need a guy like that." So we made the "creative director" title, put either a lead artist, animator, designer, or coder into the position, and tell them, "It's your game now. Make it good."
Here's the thing. In movies, the director has a fairly clear, well-defined job to do. He's on the set every day, directing. "Let's do another take." "Let's do it this way." "You stand here." Maybe he draws the storyboards like Ridley Scott used to, maybe he blocks the shot by eyeballing it, David Cronenberg style. Maybe he lays down track for the cameras like Spielberg used to.
And the director wasn't always considered the owner of the vision. Remember back when it was George Lucas's *Empire Strikes Back* and Steven Spielberg's *Poltergeist*? Thanks to the work of the Director's Guild, directors are now considered the auteurs behind films, but it wasn't always necessarily that way. It used to be that producers could be the auteurs. And that's the way it still is, in television: it's J. J. Abrams *Lost* and it's Joss Whedon's *Buffy*.
So suddenly we find ourselves in this "creative director" position. But we're not given a folding chair and a bullhorn. We don't block scenes. And here's where things fall apart - we don't do what we used to do either: we hire a new guy to take our place, because we're going to be so busy "creative directing" that we won't have time to be designer, coder, or artist. This was my experience - I was creative director, but I wasn't supposed to actually create anything. Level design was to be done by the designers; writing was to be done by the writer; coding was to be done by the coders; scheduling by the producer; etc.
The one thing creative directors are expected to do is set priorities - much like the "project owner" from Scrum - we decide which features to do first and which to never do. And as the project goes along we make course corrections, decide we want this and this and this and reprioritize. That's an important job. Somebody has to do it.
But it is not a full-time job. If you do Scrum you know that being "project owner" is part time at best.
So you've got a choice - you can pitch and do work - in which case you run the risk of stepping on toes: "Why is he designing? I'm the lead designer." Or you can do nothing but prioritize, in which case you run the risk of looking like you're coasting: "What does that guy DO, anyway, other than take the credit?"
EA has the same problem with a different name. They call their creative directors "producers" and they call their producers "development directors." And I've heard much badmouthing of producers at EA just as I've heard badmouthing of creative directors at other companies. The problem is the same - the producers don't have a full-time job to do but they've got a whole work-day to do it.
You also run the risk of the "rock star" phenomenon.
So what's the answer? Eliminate the "creative director" position, and assign "vision" or "project ownership" to someone else on the team. It can be like TV - the producer (and I mean a real producer, one who schedules and manages, rather than the kind of producer they have at EA) can do it, a sort of "creative producer". Or it could be the lead designer (think Eric Holmes). Or it could be the art or animation director (Fumito Ueda or Toby Gard). Or it could be a programmer (Will Wright, Sid Meier.) It could be the writer (Tim Schafer). You can still call them "creative director", if you must, but you DON'T replace their old position. (And I realize the temptation to do this is huge - you probably have a pool of talented, experienced guys who want a promotion and a cooler title, but I think the project will suffer for it.) These new 'creative directors' do what they used to do. And, on top of that, they're the ones who set priorities; they're the ones that choose what features and content actually go into the game; they're the ones who decide if you reiterate on existing content or add more. Depending on their style, they may be auters (we're doing this feature first because I said), collaborators (what do you guys think we should do next?), market driven (market reserach says this is the key feature), or a mix. But whatever they are, they're not just directing, they're also creating.