It’s High Time Devs Start Defending Their Games
It happens again and again. Seeking higher profits or a bigger market share, the money-men at big publishers insist on features that gamers don’t want and games don’t need. They’ll cite financial models, or simply what they saw their kids playing last night, and in the end, developers have no choice but to comply, or risk losing everything.
Publisher meddling has turned franchises like Mass Effect, Dead Space, and SimCity into misbegotten multiplayer experiences. Unrealistic deadlines hamstrung KOTOR 2, which has recently been restored by modders. The list could, and does, go on, as consumers and creators get railroaded into compromised visions, lackluster features, online passes, day-one DLC, and other grasping nonsense.
Most of the time, developers suffer in silence, and it’s up to angry fans and tut-tutting journos like yours truly to call the publishers out. Except of course, when reactionary writers take the publisher’s side to claim that it’s the fans’ fault for caring too much, or having the temerity to want to play the game they just paid $60 for.
Every once and a while, however, a developer breaks game industry Omerta to defend the game he’s poured his life into creating. Earlier this week, it was the famously outspoken Tim Schafer, who explained in an interview with Eurogamer how Brutal Legend’s publishers refused to market key aspects of the game: “Vivendi was like ‘No. Absolutely not. We’ll never say RTS, ever. Even if someone asks us if it’s an RTS we’ll say no’.”
A week earlier, it was Spec Ops: The Line developer Cory Davis (above), who went so far as to call the game’s multiplayer mode a “cancerous growth” that was only included because publishers 2K Games insisted on it. In my review, I bemoaned how the game’s good ideas were undercut by its bad ones; in retrospect, I should have been more alert for the specter of publisher-driven bowdlerization.
Davis and Schafer set an example that other developers should follow. The former, especially, is taking a risk, and deserves the support of both his peers and his customers. Publishers are still strong, but for each new Kickstarter project, each new submission to Steam Greenlight, each new indie hit, and each new outspoken developer, their power wanes.
To ensure we all get to play the best games possible, gamers, game developers, and game journalists need to pull in the same direction, supporting creative developers who can take risks and forge new ideas in the face of skepticism, defending them if necessary. It’s up to all us to resist the focus-group forces that would like nothing better than to turn every game into a clone of some other, more successful title, and in recent weeks, Davis and Schafer have done their part. Who’s next?