Is It Really OK to Treat Devs The Way We Do?
Earlier this month, David Gaider, Lead Writer of the Dragon Age series, wrote about why he avoids the BioWare Social Network and other such “toxic environments,” saying that “spending too much time there starts to make me feel negative — not just about the games we make, but about myself and life in general. That’s not a good feeling to have.”
There was something profound about Gaider’s words — a reminder that, behind the marketing and the PR and the faceless game studio label, developers are human beings. Is it ever okay to treat a fellow human being the way we treat game developers that disappoint us?
Let’s take Blizzard and BioWare as recent examples of developers that have had an immeasurable amount of hate spewed in their direction. Many people would state that these studios brought this wrath down upon themselves, and that they deserve to stew in the mess they made. I won’t deny that there’s validity to that argument — both of these companies were worshiped until they released titles that simply weren’t up to their former standards, then handled PR with fans in a, shall we say, less than desirable fashion. It’s perfectly legitimate and understandable that passionate fans would have a passionate reaction to this.
But does that give us carte blanche to tell developers anything we want, regardless of how scathing, derogatory, or threatening it is?
These developers are human beings who are just trying to make a living to feed their families. They don’t wake up in the morning with the evil intentions of destroying everything we love — they’re genuinely trying to do a good job, because they want their game to succeed. Do they make mistakes? Absolutely — huge ones. But is incompetence reason enough to justify a flood of comments so negative that they could induce depression in an otherwise healthy person?
Worse yet is the fact that most of the people affected had little to do with the decisions that led to our disappointment. Every programmer, animator, and technical artist that poured months and years of their lives into creating something that they were likely proud of before release is also affected by our scathing comments made toward the company as a whole. Hell, even lead developers are often at the mercy of their publishers and can be forced into making design decisions they disagree with (*cough* unnecessary multiplayer component *cough*).
Don’t get me wrong — it’s important for us to communicate a game’s faults to developers. How else will the industry improve? But when legitimate criticism is communicated with the same hostility and aggression that inflammatory nonsense is, it all blends together into white noise.
There’s a fine line between criticism and cyber bullying, and that line is crossed when we start making people feel negative “about [themselves] and life in general.” We have a right to be angry at developers, and we have a right to express exactly how they failed us; but when we start treating these people as though they committed some heinous crime, we need to take a step back and evaluate whether we would want to be treated that way if we screwed up at our job.