Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ruin The Magic?

This post will likely resonate most with those in the game development industry, but I think it also applies to almosy any form of entertainment/artistic expression.

Picture, if you will, the following hypothetical situation: as a game developer, you are sent to a conference (E3, GDC, etc) to represent your company. At some point you find the time to wander the show floor and come across a title that floors you. The inner geek in you goes wild and you find yourself reverting to the fanboy that initially motivated you to enter the industry in the first place. In short, you cannot wait to play this game. Sound familiar? Of course it does -- for most of us, we wouldn't still be developing games if we had totally lost this passion.

Now imagine that you meet someone from the development team of that game. Not too hard, really. Game developers are generally a pretty social lot, happy to talk shop with fellow geeks. Still nothing unfamiliar here. As we gain greater experience in the industry I'm sure we all find our contact list of developers growing.

Final step, a friendship develops (or, perhaps, the contact in question has very loose lips). Suddenly things that aren't supposed to be shared start coming out: development horror stories, issues with management, long hours of crunch, etc. We've all heard these stories a thousand times in our industry, but what happens when we start hearing them from people developing the games that we most passionatly want to play?

As a player and developer, where does your allegiance lie? When the highly anticipated title finally ships, does the fan in you win out, or the developer? Do you purchase the game and rationalize to yourself: "well, I want my friend to get a bonus for all his hard work, so I should buy it to help ensure good sales"? Or, conversely, does the developer in you win out: "I really want to play this game, but I don't want to support the sort of development horror I know went into the creation of this title. If I refuse to purchase it, I'm doing my part in taking a stance against these practises".

My bet is on the former. Game developers make up only a tiny minority of the total market for a title, and the knowledge of what went into its creation is certainly not spreading to the mainstream. Why deny yourself the pleasure of enjoying a game when you can't really make a difference in your defiance...?

Knowledge of what went into making a game can be an Inconvenient Truth, indeed.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I rationalize, although mostly because I want to be able to talk about the game with my friend. Those of my friends who have development horror stories still have a surprisingly immense level of pride in the game they made. It usually takes the form of, "Development sucked, and it could be a better game, but Subsystem X turned out really great, and I love the moment when you overcome the Froobibble."

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the "my 50$ isn't going to make a difference anyway" is a pretty crappy defense.

Rephrased, "I don't like that they chain children to sewing machines to make these sneakers, but my $100 isn't going to make a difference. And check it out! They pump up!"

The irony should be particularly tasty given that your office is in an old garment factory, if memory serves :-)

The same counterargument holds, by the way: While conditions are appalling they may be a market reality and these workers get a good wage.

Not saying I beleive it, I'm just saying there's a counter argument.

Personally, I buy the game if I think it's a good one, as I figure not getting your bonus and good sales numbers is just insult to injury. Then I protest or try to change the conditions with my efforts, rather than with my $50 (e.g. I spoke at the QoL summit at GDC a couple years back).

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to go for the first scenario. The second option is only viable if you contact someone in the company, likely a member of the management branch, and explain to them why you're not purchasing a game that you actually are REALLY desperate to play. Unless they know otherwise, there's no chance that they're going to reason out a horrific development environment as the primary factor in disappointing sales figures for the game. In fact, they might not look any deeper than 'prevailing market conditions' to explain it, coming back to their team and saying:

"Well, to stay profitable, we have to make the same game in a third the time. .... But we don't want you to think that we don't respect your families, so please proceed down to the cafeteria to meet your company-provided dopplegangers. After you've briefed them on all your idiosyncracies, continue on to HR, where you will need to sign and write thoughtful comments on holiday and birthday cards covering the next four calendar years. Finally, we'd like to introduce to all of you our new head of security, the ED 209.

Now get moving!"

You have 20 seconds to comply.

-Still waiting for pie, and still too lazy to create an account

2:14 PM  

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