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?

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8 Comments on It’s High Time Devs Start Defending Their Games


On September 7, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Hear hear! I agree on all points!!


On September 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Schafer is my captain and commander, and I will follow him forever.


On September 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Viva la gaming revolution!!!!!


On September 9, 2012 at 9:02 am

You, sir, are a great man along with these great heroes of the gaming revolution.


On September 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

It’s interesting to see yet another bunch of gate keepers (game publishers) destroy themselves. And I must give it to them: they try really hard:
- annoying DRM, which means my product is more defective by design than some pirated version of it.
- meddling with the artistic part of the game (note: I still think bigger projects need some lead who keeps the numbers and resources straight, because it is easy to get lost otherwise), sadly demonstrated with the rather unpleasant end to Mass Effect or the really underwhelming Diablo 3.
- cutting out of content to sell it later at extra costs
- constant sequels without purpose. Mass Effect showed with its three parts how sequels can be good (ok, except the end of ME3 and the shift away from RPG-centric with action elements after the first). But if you can’t get your story straight in a sequel, please just create a new storyline/universe and maybe think in advance about how to make one or two sequels.

I really hope, that alternative financing models can help. Though at the moment I’d like to point out, that there are very few high profile games financed this way, which have the potential to become A or AA titles. As of now, I’m not aware of any project without a major publisher behind it, that is about to reach AAA proportions. And I imagine that would be hard to sell in the first place. Just think about it: say, some dev with a good name turns to the community and says, “we’d like to do this AAA project, costing several million to several hundred million USDs, and oh, we plan to release it in about five years”. Without some “backers” with big pockets that’s not gonna happen. And that leaves the problem of potential bankruptcy out of the picture.
Maybe we need a new kind of publishers too. More organized like a trust or foundation. Which can grant project support if the game concept is good and also stem big upfront costs.


On September 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I agree on all points.Besides,I play games that I enjoy. Not because they are like others,but because they are different and exciting compared to the majority.


On September 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I totally agree with this. I think Gamers and Developers should somehow find a way to unite and put publishers in their place. I think Valve is on the right track with Steam and Green light. Still, a stronger presence of both developer direction and consumer demand should be heard and felt in the industry. Publishers are purely business, they don’t care about you, or what you really want. What they care about is designing a product (like a Free 2 Play game) which is just a micro transaction black hole, basically they want to sell you a game that just keeps costing money. Look at Oblivion, CoD and now GoW. Now I’m not saying kill add-on content or anything like that, but paying 5 bucks for weapon skins? 10 dollars for some metal armor on my freaking horse?? Sadly, it’s peoples in-ability to say NO which causes this corporate greed to go rampant. Hopefully though, if some sort of Developer/Consumer union could be created, people would decide to work together to create a cheaper, better, gaming industry.


On September 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I’ll add my “amen” to the chorus. After a decade of waiting for the industry to pull its collective head out, its clear that only a righteous union of gamers and developers will reignite the creative fires. Ironically, some of the games coming out of KS and so on aren’t hugely original but are simply updated examples of forgotten genres (RTS, vehicular combat, etc). The publishers almost never greenlight anything but CoD and Diablo clones so there’s an entire generation of young gamers unfamiliar with likes of Carmageddon or Total Annihilation. There’s also a huge demand for a challenging new RTS that takes the best of what came before and combines it with bold new ideas. Every new MMO is either a cakewalk WoW clone where you can hit level cap in a week, or something more original that’s intolerably buggy – or worse, doesn’t provide either a free trial or F2P option (hello, its 2012, guys). We also need something like EVE Online but with 95% less suck.