I am Maxwell Neely-Cohen. I am in New York City. I'm primarily an author and novelist, but I do a lot of work trying to get the literary world and the publishing world in conversation with the videogame world, and as part of that I have been a producer on a bunch of videogames, both on the executive-producing financial side and more on the typical producer-role side, I guess. I've also, as part of that, have worked a little bit with AAA devs on different things usually as they relate to either book stuff or war and geopolitical stuff.
But mainly my work is giving and getting money to indie-game developers to make cool games. [Laughs.] I mean, that's the most honest way to describe my role in the games industry. I'm an indie-game impresario. [Laughs.]
The other thing that I should say is I do do a lot of -- I've done game jams around books and talks around videogames and storytelling and stuff like that which involves a lot of game-dev people.
Can you give any examples of games you've impresario-ed on?
The two most recent examples are I was an executive producer on Jason Wishnov’s There Came An Echo and right now I’m the executive producer of the forthcoming Fail Safe from the studio Game Over. But a lot of the work I do, especially when it’s just finding people funding or capital, is confidential.
Let's focus instead on something you can talk about, and actually especially qualified to speak to. Specifically, from your emails, why the writing in most videogames "totally sucks, and why devs don't hire actual writers." So, two things come to mind. First: To you, what is an "actual" writer?
You know, it's funny because I said that in an email to you but that was actually me quoting a BioWare producer who I met at GDC in, like, 2013. I actually wrote an essay for The Millions that sort of talked about this a little bit, about where a different BioWare person actually said the quote to me. This is not the exact quote, but something like, "We know there's all these unemployed MFA writers in Brooklyn who are more talented than 98 percent of the industry, but we just don't know how to access that." [Laughs.]
No, I mean, look, I'm not a games writer. I write book-books. I mean, I've never had a games developer or a games writer sort of disagree with that sentiment. I would love for someone to take the other position. [Laugh.] But a lot of it -- I guess there's two things going on. There's a structural problem, which is that the way games are developed, writing isn't even secondary. It's tertiary. It's writing content that just needs to be the written content whether it's sort of on the screen or dialog or whatever and it's four or five design decisions down. So that obviously means that, with a few exceptions, writing for games isn't particularly important in a development process.
And so obviously there isn't a lot of time spent trying to find talent, but also you're not going to attract talent that way, either. I forget the great quote and who said it about, like, all games writing is like, 50 different ways of saying, "Throw a grenade!" Or Anthony Burch once put it to me -- who wrote Borderlands 2 -- he was like, "Yeah, I mean, I wrote a lot of different ways of shooting someone in the face." And what's funny about is that is that isn't -- Anthony is a great games writer and Borderlands 2 is incredibly well written, so the thing that's funny to me about that is that isn't necessarily, "Make the writing bad." You know? Like, lord knows, William Burroughs could have done a great novel that was just 150 ways to shoot someone in the face.
It more just means that, like, who gets hired and how much time gets put into hiring and who people look for, it's all very safe.
Well, and it can be a very subjective thing. Do you get a sense from your experience in the games industry that people know how to assess what makes a good writer?
Yeah, I do. But when I'm talking about this stuff, this is where it's, like, I have on my hat as someone who is not in the games industry and that, like -- people can clearly tell the difference between the sort of writers who -- I mean, look, David, you started at Rolling Stone. You understand the difference. Right?
And I'm pretty sure you started at Rolling Stone when David Foster Wallace was still at Rolling Stone. Or certainly Matt Taibbi was there.
You know what I'm saying. Granted that's non-fiction, but the point is there's taste, but that doesn't always, at the level I'm talking about, equate with judging talent. It's sort of like: You can hate athletes and still understand they're professional athletes and can kick the crap out of 99.9 percent of people. And so within the games industry -- or within Hollywood it's the same where, like, it doesn't necessarily translate to being able to write bazillion-dollar movies. But they still understand there are literary writers or poets who are operating on a sheer level that is impressive. But that doesn't mean it's valuable depending on what you're trying to do.
But even objectively speaking, writing was never all that valuable to videogames. Now that I hear you talking about this, though, I'm trying to figure out when did this start to change? When did people start to realize, "Hey, wait, games can have good writing?"
Part of the problem, though, is that -- did you read the Ian Bogost Atlantic piece on videogames are best when they don't have characters? So, an extension of that logic is that I think the best written games are not games people think as being written. 'Cause it's not the dialog. That's a weird thing to say.
Well, but that's like screenwriting.
Yeah, but when people talk about writing in games, they're usually talking about this thing that's similar to screenwriting where -- this is a weird example but, the Civilization games were very well-written games. Alpha Centauri is an incredibly well-written game. The first few Sim Citys were very well-written games and that doesn't fit in with what people think of, if that makes sense. So I think it depends.
When we talk about, "Why is it so bad?" That is people talking about dialog. My favorite example of this is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is probably the most influential non-fiction writer right now is a huge comics and videogame fan. He was playing Dragon Age: Inquisition when it came out and just, like, so into it, and tweeting about it. And of course he, like, loves it. But at one point he posts a screencap or an example of some dialog and it's just like, "Seriously guys?" [Laughs.] Like, you have this incredibly immersive experience and this is the best you can do? And so it's less about the games needing to be written as -- the writing is almost always behind the rest of the narrative experience.
I mean, some of that may have to do with just the way historically games have been made.
Well, yeah. I think it's all because of that.
But I think that can also change.
But also it's like -- and this is a real concern: There is an argument that I don't know that I ascribe to, that there's elements of culture that don't know what good writing actually is. [Laughs.] I don't agree with that. But it's an interesting question.
Not everyone who watches TV is an idiot, you know?
Right. I sort of am in the camp that, like, "No, people know."
They may not care.
But I tend to think people know. But yeah, and once again, this isn't a thing about taste. It's just about talent. There isn't a lot of money or effort put into something that actually does make a big difference and does ironically correlate with a game's success, you know? Games that have real writing talent to whatever degree as part of them tend to do much better than games that don't.
Something I'd be curious to hear you talk a bit about is how insular the games industry is, or how the business and the audience doesn't really have a sense of how small it is comparatively. Or how much stuff that happens in those circles actually ripples or rates elsewhere.
Yeah. I think the industry is incredibly insular. Especially relative to every other creative world. And I don't think it necessarily always used to be that way. But those were still the exceptions.
Even Hollywood -- Hollywood has a real relationship, even at its worst studio, whatever, has real relationships with real musicians and real artists and real designers and all these things who have nothing to do with movies. Hollywood, even at its worst, has that. Games almost never does. And that's really weird. [Laughs.] I think that really hurts the industry. Really hurts the industry. And it doesn't totally make sense. I mean really doesn't make any sense when it comes to music. Every once in a while there's an attempt to get someone interesting to do a soundtrack. But it's pretty rare and it's not even people who are all that interesting.
It's very insular in that sense. In a creative sense. In that there are a lot of very talented people in other mediums who would do amazing things in games who are just never even talked to.
These are going to be rote examples, but there have been a few times where it's been attempted. Steven Spielberg tried to do a Wii game. There was that Guillermo Del Toro and Kojima game that just fell through.
But that's at a level -- I guess that's not what I mean by artists, right?
I mean, in both those cases, that's a business decision. I mean, the closest thing to what I'm talking about, which did really happen, is yeah, Trent Reznor did make that Quake soundtrack.
[Laughs.] I totally forgot about that.
Yeah, like, that happened. Right? [Laughs.]
And he did some music for Call of Duty, too.
And it's not just artists. The point is -- it's also weirdly an IP problem. Like, for example, Bethesda, when they were in their early stages of developing Skyrim, the HBO Game of Thrones deal went through and they went and met with Bethesda about making an open-world Game of Thrones game.
And Bethesda basically had this very tough decision, and they decided, "Oh, we'll just make another Elder Scrolls game, even if it kills us a little bit." That's such an interesting example to me because they probably just should have made the Game of Thrones game. Right?
I was going to say, I bet they're kind of kicking themselves now.
And it doesn't matter. I love Skyrim. It's awesome. It's not a statement about that. But you built this incredible, dynamic system to be able to have this massive open world and you're not using it for all the things you could be using it for.
But anyway, to go back, I guess what I mean is there isn't a lot of collaborative crossover and that's usually very important in creative movements. In the history of creative movements, that's always very important.
I think what we're seeing in a lot of parts of the games world is a hesitance to include others.
This may sound like a batshit example to people, but, like, Kanye West is friends with or fans of artists and filmmakers and writers and all these sorts of people. And that's in a real social sense. Even someone of Kanye West's stature or insanity or whatever way we wanna put it -- I mean, I love Kanye. But, like, it's not like there's any game devs in that circle. [Laughs.]
This will sound like another batshit example, but I had heard Kanye was supposedly interested in doing the soundtrack for Samurai Gunn?
Whether that's true or not, how Samurai Gunn wasn't a bigger game is insane.
I just get the sense that the games industry is difficult to play nice or collaborate with if you're from a different discipline.
I just think it's myopia. Like, I don't think people even try.
From which side?
From the games side.
I would agree.
And I think people from the outside don't know how to try. And granted, this is my dream. If I had a billion dollars tomorrow, this is what I'd do: I would give Ta-Nehisi Coates $150 million and be like, "Make an open-world Civil War-era RPG." Right? Just 'cause -- if you use this stuff to create that sort of world, it would just be unbelievable and ironically incredibly commercially successful. [Laughs.]
But the point is there's no pipeline to make that happen, right? There isn't. That sort of logic doesn't really exist. And also, I mean, if you're someone like Megan Ellison, who's a rarity even in Hollywood, the point is Megan Ellison loves movies. And there's never been someone like that in games. There's never been someone really smart and young and different who has a lot of money who's like, "I wanna make this."
Bored rich people drive a lot of art.
Sol Hurok was this Russian immigrant to the United States who became very, very, very wealthy and throughout the '40s and '50s and '60s put on all these classical music concerts out of his own pocket. And then he read about the Moog synthesizer and -- only read about it -- and was like, "This sounds like the most awesomest thing in the world." And so just put up all this cash to basically, like -- before it had even really reached anything yet to have the first electronic music concert ever, which was at Carnegie Hall. The point is, as an influence point, that sort of seeded what would become electronic music. Decades -- and I don't mean, like, EDM. I mean, just those instruments existing. Because they were incredibly expensive at the time and he was willing to put up the cash.
You know, there's everything from, like, someone like Tony Wilson with Factory Records in the UK or Malcolm McLaren with punk or -- obviously the history of hip-hop is filled with backers of different sorts. [Laughs.] Some were drug kingpins and some were random rich people. It's like a crazy history. That continued well into the '90s. I mean, Rupert Murdoch's son founded Rawkus Records, which is Mos Def and Talib Kweli and Common and all those guys.
Money matters a lot. [Laughs.]
I always hear people in the games industry say that games is bigger than Hollywood.
Yes. Let's talk about that.
I want to talk about that and, well, how influential is the games world, really?
Well, I guess here's the crucial disambiguation: being a good business versus being influential. Where games, in their current paradigm, are in theory a really good business, and the reason is it's the highest price point you can get away with.
Being able to charge $60 for a product is just, in entertainment, incredible. In theory, if you have a hit, you can really crush it. Which is why someone like Rockstar is so smart. Rockstar has basically decided, "That's the model. We're only going to hit homeruns. We have no interest in anything else." [Laughs.] "Literally no interest. We have no interest in growth. We have no interest in becoming big and offering more -- we're just gonna hit home runs."
And if you can do that at $60, it's very easy whereas with movies you're stuck with, whatever, now: $14.50? Whatever it is.
A paltry $15.
Yeah. A paltry $15, which is a difference of two-thirds, right? [Laughs.] I'll put it this way: In business and finance, a one-percent difference is huge. And I think people, when they hear "one percent," they think it's a little. But, in money, it's not.
Depends what it's one percent of.
Yeah, but when you're talking in these numbers, one percent matters a lot. So, games, in theory are this tremendous business. It's weird. It's also a question -- this question of influence is a question of past versus present versus future. Like, over the past 20 years you could make an argument that they've been the most influential medium. Not that there's ever any way to suss out or win that argument, but there's very little evidence to suggest that's the case in the present or the future.
Yeah, but when you hear "games are bigger than Hollywood," what's your sense of who tends to be saying that and what they're getting at?
Well, I'm someone -- I use that argument all the time because in a business sense it's true. Right? I'm often on the money side of things and for a long time, that was true. That from a business-model perspective, games were ahead of Hollywood. And I think that's really interesting but that doesn't necessarily conflate with influence.
We can compare it to Hollywood, but let's compare it to music. I gotta check if this is exactly right, but I'm pretty sure Grand Theft Auto V outgrossed the entire global music industry.
That may be wrong. I may be making that up. But we'll check. We'll check.
Whether that's true or not, obviously you make a lot less money from music these days. It's insane to argue that there's any single figure in videogames as influential as the 100 most influential music artists. That's a fascinating example.
I'm trying to unpack that. So, what does that mean? Like, what does that mean about videogames and what does that mean about what's happened to other mediums?
Yeah, I don't totally know. This is where you and I could fly off the rails and have an interesting conversation about the music industry in 2015. Look at what Dr. Dre has done, right? Or Puffy has done. As this business-influence thing. It's incredibly influential and worth billions and billions of dollars, but that doesn't get counted as music sales.
Here's another weird example of this.
It's like when people compare sports, they talk about how -- the NFL is by miles the most popular sport in the United States and obviously gets the most revenue, right? But what they're counting the revenue from the TV deals and to whatever degree the attendance. That's what they're counting. But the one case you can make for basketball is: Yeah, but basketball is the only sport that has figured out how to sell sneakers. [Laughs.] That's a fuckload of money.
So the point is basketball ratings or basketball TV deals aren't exactly the most accurate portrayal of basketball's influence, even from a business perspective.
You also had a theory, speaking of sports, that the videogame industry is largely propped up and wouldn't be as big as it is if it weren't for sports videogames.
Yeah. This is a very half-baked theory. But I've always thought that to a certain extent -- the weird thing is this is less about a financial argument, though it plays into it a little bit.
Without sports, the games industry would be in rough shape because in the early years -- and I mean the early years of videogames, that was the natural thing to model. So much of the creative development was centered around sports.
I mean, I remember, like, in the early '90s, Sega had Madden so Nintendo had to get --
Yup. But I'm even talking about pre-consumer.
Well, but we were talking about the industry not playing well with others. It seems to play well with sports.
That is the one exception, and that, I guess, is my argument: The one exception is sports. And the funny thing is "real gamers" hate those games. But that's the only other sphere that creatively and commercially games has figured out how to play nice with.
Here's the thing I don't get, though. People will slam on Madden and then dutifully buy the next annual entry in whatever series it is they're loyal to -- when really there's not that big a difference.
No, there isn't. And also Madden is a brilliant game. [Laughs.] And I don't mean it's a brilliant football simulation. It's a brilliant videogame. And that's nothing compared to -- FIFA is a brilliant videogame. And there are -- and I'm not really into competitive gaming. It's not my thing. But I know there's a couple competitive FIFA players who are converted StarCraft players who had never watched a game of soccer in their life. But FIFA is an incredibly well-made game. [Laughs.]
Something you also wanted to talk about was how people who make sports games have to objectify men.
The funny thing is, this is also ironically contrary to what a lot of nerd people -- counter to what a lot of Gamergaters might think or whatever, games are not very good at actual sexy in some broader pop-culture context. Like, most people, you could show what you thought the sexiest thing in games were to normal people and show them your average Rihanna video and they'd pick Rihanna every time. Is that a fair way of putting it?
Depending on preferences, yeah.
But I'm saying just as a polling technique.
The funny thing is this is an even less gendered argument than you might think, but even with that said, there's not a lot of great male sex objects in games. Games has never had a Ryan Gosling. Never happened where something has auto-generated that kind of Ryan Gosling or a Justin Timberlake or a Brad Pitt or an Elvis. Whatever we wanna put it.
They got Mario.
Yeah, Mario? Not hot.
But the thing about sports games is they're forced to model Cristiano Ronaldo, which I think is really funny.
Do you get the feeling that people who work on those sports games are siloed and are unable to take that knowledge to other factions in the game industry where --
From what I understand they are siloed. Right? Like, but it has nothing to do with -- I don't think that's a nefarious plot. EA Sports props up EA in the sense that it's like -- I'm gonna go really dorky here. It's like owning energy in your portfolio, where the energy sector's all about long-term stability. Which is funny considering what happened to oil prices this past year but the point is that EA can count on Madden and FIFA every single year. [Laughs.] Which is important and that also changes the way you develop a game, because you know what you're doing every single year. I think the people who tend to be into developing those games, it's not that no one ever moves, but if you're really into it, you're probably going to stick around for a while, right? So they are probably siloed.
No, but I just mean that sports games are unique because that's the only case I know where developers are forced to try to model a male sex object. Like, and there may be other examples, you know? I mean a male sex object from the larger world, that's I guess what I mean.
And it's funny because it took me a while to realize it, but they actually don't do that for women, either. Karlie Kloss has not shown up in any videogames, right? And neither has Rihanna, so, whatever.
Something else from your emails you wanted to talk about: "The underrating and under-discussion of platforms and development tools."
Yeah, well. This actually plugs into what we were talking about before, which the other deceiving thing about the way games industry is measured as a business is that those numbers include hardware sales. Hollywood doesn't count people buying TVs.
Like, when people talk about the size of the videogames industry, they're counting how many Xboxes and PlayStations are sold.
It's funny because when I'm talking about the industry stuff, I'm actually talking about the finance-world stuff. So, I'm saying the way that Morgan Stanley would look at the videogames sector -- and that's the way that these comparisons eventually filter down to someone like the ESA. So, because Morgan Stanley understands that without platforms, there are no games -- they're not doing that out of deception, they're doing that out of logic.
Who knows if we'll end up living in this world, but you can imagine if all roads were privately built, that would have an effect on the way cars were bought and sold. [Laughs.]
Little bit. It would change it. So, anyway. But platforms -- I guess I just think that platforms are everything. They determine the kind of games you can make. They determine the reach of those games. Their economic fortunes effect every single game that gets made for them. So, one example we had talked about previously was you know that Microsoft and Sony had to go through this very expensive development cycle during the worst recession since the Great Depression matters, right? And that I wonder if a lot of AAA's lack of creativity wasn't this nefarious plot or incompetence or any of this, it was actually just CEOs making a smart risk play to make sure their employees still had health insurance. [Laughs.]
That I guess the motivations behind people making games, especially big-budget games, like, sometimes are just about business and I think it's important to point out that that isn't always evil.
No. I did another interview for this with Lorne Lanning that's an actual example of how money is being spent differently at game companies now is not allocating money for R&D.
What do you think that telegraphs?
Well, but I guess what I'm saying is that the reasons they're not doing that may be giant macroeconomic reasons. That's what I'm arguing.
Yeah, no, I would agree.
The games industry acts like the recession never happened. [Laughs.] And I'm sure people have, but I've never heard someone in the industry have an honest conversation about 2008 and what that meant.
Which is a little surprising to me, right? And I think that's -- this is just something I wonder about that I know you've wondered about, too: What did that actually do to people? How did that change their decisions?
Anyway, to your point about R&D, I guess that would depend what it means to each company, right?
Yeah, it's just an odd form of triage, that's all. People can and will get desensetized to the same stuff over and over again.
Yeah, but we'll go to the bigger picture which is, look, Microsoft and Sony may decide not to make consoles ever again because the R&D costs are so high. In that case, R&D means something a little different. But the point is that making new hardware is incredibly expensive and if Microsoft and Sony decides it isn't worth it, it's obviously going to change what sort of games come out. It totally changes the logic of what you can conceivably make a game for and have it be a populist game. We'll put it that way.
Your point for all this was creating tools and platforms might be more important than creating games.
I think it's much more important. I think -- and this isn't about me liking them. This is just fact. It's like, right now, Apple is the biggest games company in the world. They're the biggest company involved with games on planet Earth. I think a lot of people in games don't think of it that way, but it's true.
I get the sense that when I talk to people who don't make games for mobile that Apple is a pesky house guest.
But this stuff is all related. That determines what all this stuff means. The availability of platforms is very important. That's what I mean by that. If you're in a world where there's only smart phones -- you know? [Laughs.] You're gonna have to figure out how to make games for that platform.
But anyway, the thing about tools, I guess what I mean is both the real creative energy and the real money in a different way is in creating the tools to make or host games. But particularly, creatively, I think creating tools to make them is the most important thing anyone can do right now.
Something else you wanted to talk about was "indie devs seem to be unwilling or reluctant to basically form larger teams." And you're talking, like, eight to 10 people, right?
Yeah, even eight to 10. But even, like, 50. It would, like -- imagine if the NBA didn't exist right now today. And Kevin Durant and LeBron James and Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook and all these guys were just locked in one-on-one tournaments for forever, or only three-on-three tournaments.
And obviously it probably would be a little cooler if they played real games, right? And obviously, the funny thing is I love indie games. I have enthusiastically supported individual developers to the degree that I've written them very large checks. So obviously this isn't saying -- I'm not sitting here saying, "Oh, indie games aren't cool." I love indie games.
This is more a thing about ambition. There are no rules against going out and killing AAA. Like, you can just go do it. And it wouldn't take very much.
This is obviously a little bit of a niche, PC example, but Cities: Skylines embarrassed Maxis and EA with a team of whatever it was. Twelve people. They basically were like, "Yeah, we're just gonna make this game and have it not be awful." And they did that. And they totally succeeded. And that was an example -- that was a straight clone. That wasn't even anything new or creative. I feel like there's a lot of talent among indie developers that is lost on the fact that they don't -- there's a real aversion to making something big and ambitious. There's a lot of -- a lot of people are into formalism, and that's fine, and certain experimentation, and I'm all for all of that. But it surprises me and it disappoints me that there isn't even one example of an indie dev calling up some rich friend they know and grabbing $20 million and -- [Laughs.]
You make it sound so easy.
It's funny. It's obviously not easy, but it's the kind of thing that you're surprised it doesn't happen once. Like, it would be surprising if everyone did it.
My impression of that space, without naming names, it's largely populated by a couple people who stick to themselves, really know what they're doing. Then there's this glut of people who are desperate to be anointed by --
Yeah. Do I even need to finish?
Right. I mean, you're right. But it's just strange that all those people who want to be anointed wouldn't just get together and make something crazy.
That's kind of the thing I think a lot of those people don't realize, which is that the entire industry used to be indie. The things you're casting aspersions against? They got started by having to go Radioshack with diskettes in plastic bags and be like, "Hey, can we put this somewhere?"
Yeah, and also that's how anything starts anywhere, right? And the other thing is not that they're great at everything, but Silicon Valley doesn't have that aversion. It doesn't. It doesn't have an aversion to making teams. [Laughs.]
This is the thing I've been thinking about recently, too. I was having a conversation with a colleague who actually teaches out your way in NYU and he was saying games would be way better off if they stopped trying to be like Hollywood and realized they were part of tech.
Yeah, I think it's a fair point.
Because I hear a lot more people say, "I want to be an artist or an auteur" than, "I want to make $3 million."
It's an interesting question. Just what's weird is at its highest level, the people in Silicon Valley think they're trying to be artists. Which is the weird part of that. [Laughs.] When you get to the crazy level -- did you read the Marc Andreesen profile in The New Yorker? They're a venture capital firm, which is one of Silicon Valley's biggest, and so much of that language is artistic or philosophical language and not about sheer bottom line. Because venture capitalism isn't actually that great of a business, relative to other parts of finance.
No, I mean, I think that's an interesting question, but I think this relates -- this also relates to what I was saying about tools. Like, the tools don't yet exist for one to three people to make Skyrim. But I don't know that that has to be the case. [Laughs.] Which is terrifying, but if you can see the tools to make -- if people could figure out ways, like any other production process, to change the labor requirements and allow games to be mass produced by fewer people, that's when things would really change.
That would be a revolution and totally redefine videogames as we know them.
When there used to be a middle tier, the bigger budget space had to be more experimental and more courageous because there were companies not quite at their level but close enough to nip at their heels. I'm not a huge hardware or platforms smartypants, but isn't that also how the Unreal Engine came about and passed down? Or Unity?
Yeah. Listen, I'm a big fan of what they're trying to do but it's again: Who's their competition?
I know they "have competitors," but I'm saying that if there were tons of people trying to do what Unity was doing, things would get really interesting. [Laughs.]
That's what Unity is trying to do, is democratize development. And that's laudable, but that's more about engines and less about creating things that enable people to create content more quickly. Like, that's what the electronic-music revolution did for music. It gave all these sounds and all these things that people could use, and it took a lot less time to make. And it's not that there isn't a long history of electronic-music instruments, but the ability [in music] to have that happened real quickly.
It's happened a number of times in music in different ways. Like, the advent of sampling, of the sampler, you know? That happened, just, bam. You know how drum machines and synthesizers have sample banks? You can modify and all that. No one in all these game engines has ever created really comprehensive content banks because no one's figured out how to make that economical. But that doesn't mean there isn't a way to. And eventually this stuff will happen because that's what happens.
At a certain point, the cost to produce content in this sense inevitably keeps coming down. But it'd just be nice if it didn't take four decades.