Some of my favorite movies of the last half-decade have been late-career works by filmmakers who have been honing their craft for half-a-century. Paul Schrader’s First Reformed in 2018, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman in 2019, and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans in 2022 are all among the best works those directors have produced.

Quentin Tarantino has long planned to call it quits after ten films, citing his belief that directors tend to get worse as they get older. And while that’s fine for Tarantino (though I would love to see him make more movies), it’s a shame that game developers rarely get to put out late-in-life work. It’s a young person’s game, and the hard living of crunch and stressful deadlines tend to push senior developers out before they even get to test the theory.


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Think about gaming’s elder statesmen. John Romero, one of the founders of id Software and a key developer during the company’s fertile period which produced Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom, and Quake, is only 55. There are few figures in the industry with the same level of seniority and respect. Gabe Newell, similarly, is only 60. Roberta Williams, who recently worked on a remake of Colossal Cave Adventure with 3D graphics, is one of the key elder industry figures still working in games, and she’s only 70 (and she initially retired in 1999, only returning recently).

Doom 1993 cover art showing the Doomslayer fighting off a group of demons in Hell with a submachine gun

In 2006, Edward W. Said’s On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain was posthumously published. In it Said, who died while working on the book, argues that an artist’s approaching death affects their approach to their career. The awareness that their time on earth is nearing its end seeps into their work, altering their view of their art. There are plenty of examples in other art forms, but gaming isn’t amenable to the development of a ‘late style.’ Most devs get out of the game long before they’re anywhere near old enough to be seriously contemplating their mortality. That work, to Tarantino’s point, might not always be as good as what they produced when they were younger. But building a culture that is more conducive to older workers (if they want to remain) would result in a more interesting medium.

Instead, the game industry tends to exploit the young who are eager to get a foot in the door. They get jobs in games in their 20s, when they’re willing to work long crunch hours and are less likely to have a family who is eager for them to get home. This is still common in the triple-A space and many developers, as they age, leave the blockbuster grind in favor of pursuing smaller indie projects over which they have a greater degree of control. Or, leave the field entirely for more money and less work in tech.

But if the success of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom teaches us anything, it’s that a studio with a high rate of retention can produce things far beyond what can be achieved simply by crunching junior workers until they’re burnt out. The Zelda team that made Nintendo’s latest is, by and large, the same team that made Ocarina of Time. Workers have come and gone, but much of the team (including senior leadership) is still intact. The result is a masterpiece.

Impa Standing in Hyrule Field

Gaming doesn’t have its Paul Schraders, Steven Spielbergs, or Martin Scorseses. Our elder statesmen would be in the middle of their careers in another medium. That isn’t to say that all older game developers are going to make a masterpiece each time they’re at bat. But we’re losing out on late career masterworks because game developers can’t stay in the industry long enough to produce them.

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