Google’s Chief Game Designer leaves company, wants to actually design games again

Sometimes you realise it’s just time to move on.

Noah Falstein has left his post as Google’s Chief Game Designer after four years with the company, making the announcement official in a post on his blog. Falstein explains that he’s leaving because “the opportunity to actually build the big, consequential games” had “failed to materialize”.

While you might be thinking “Why would Google design games themselves?”, keep in mind the historical context at the time of Falstein’s hiring. Back in 2013, Google was still the parent company for a little game developer named Niantic, which had just released the innovative augmented reality game Ingress the year before. Falstein brings over 30 years of game development and design experience to the table — an ideal candidate if Google had set goals to foster development of new, innovative gaming initiatives from within.

But it became apparent those gaming initiatives would never come to pass. During the Alphabet restructuring of 2015, Niantic became an independent company and went on to create the wildly popular Pokemon Go, which continues to garner awards and acclaim while still pulling in over 65 million users monthly. Meanwhile, aside from one-off titles like Tilt Brush and smaller scale experimental games like Quick, Draw! and the regular Google doodle games and gaming-related April Fools’ Day easter eggs, Google does not appear to have any intentions on designing the big, consequential games that drew Falstein’s attention in the first place.

Here’s Falstein’s statement in full from April 6, 2017:

Four years ago this month I became Google’s Chief Game Designer. It seemed an auspicious time to be able to make games at a company known for its world-spanning technology. Unfortunately, the opportunity to actually build the big, consequential games that I had been hired to help create failed to materialize, even as the world market for games has continued to grow in size, diversity, and geographic reach. Accordingly, I’ve decided to leave Google, and today, April 6, was my last day.

Google is a tremendous company and I know I will miss the perks, the excitement, and most of all, my colleagues there. But with 37 years as a professional game developer, making games is in my blood. I’m not ready to give up on it, certainly not when there are exciting new fields just opening up. I’m particularly energized by the confluence of games, neuroscience, and VR. Before I came to Google I had the pleasure of working on a number of health and neuroscience game titles, and that field is now maturing, and I think about to come into its own both in terms of its benefits to humanity, and feasibility as a business. Related to that, I think the emotional connections possible in VR, most prominently shown in the empathy evoked by a sense of physical proximity and eye contact that no previous technology can match, is going to open up an entire new merging of movies, interaction, and games that may need a new name. I don’t know what’s next, and that’s part of what attracts me. The only way that I or my long-term colleagues stay fresh in an industry that is constantly changing is to evolve to meet that adapting environment.

Whether neurogaming, interactive VR films, or some other yet undreamt-of territory will be my next challenge, I’m eager to begin exploring

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