Daily Elysium: Things Best Left Unsaid

Today's Daily Elysium will be the shortest one ever. 

Or, at least that was the idea when I conceived the article, but of course, that will probably prove to be different from the reality of the final product.  So, at the end, when the article has yawned itself into a complexity I couldn't realize from the start, will I have to explain myself, explain why I couldn't fulfill the promise, why it took longer to write than I'd guessed?  Maybe, instead, I just never should have made the promise in the first place.

Today's article is about the zig-zag, back and forth, he said, she said, I never said that, but I knew a guy who did say when he was drunk off Courvoisier and Drano, crap that gamers have had to put up with recently, and pretty much ever since the first developer jumped onto a BBS and explained what the hell was taking so long.  It's hard to say who the losers are in this deal of developer, gamer, publisher wars, but there sure are a lot of them ... losers that is.  So I have this to say...

Shut up and get to work. 

I'm not going to mention the particular company, or ego bloated personas, that I am taking aim at here for two reasons.  One, there are a multitude of them that have, over the years, been unable to let their pampered psyches roll with the heavy troll punches that come from a variety of directions.  From the self-funded developer who haunts a thousand message boards with proclomations of how great he is, and how anyone who criticizes his greatness is not worthy of having an opinion, to the game designer who lives off his past self described successes as testament to the value of all his designs, we as gamers need never worry that egoistic aggrandizing is dead.  It is not just one company, or one game, that exemplifies such infamous tendencies, but a great list of personalities across the spectrum that deserve our well placed derision. 

Second, I just don't want to give these people any specific publicity, no matter how small, for acting like children.  So, instead, I will talk about a company that has repaired its image.

I changed my mind about Valve when I discovered they never fell for the trap many of us gamers laid out for them.  While their handling of Team Fortress 2 was, and remains laughable, they held their cards close to the chest, got down to work, and never took the bait on the matter of Half-Life 2.  As gamers hurled catcalls from the peanut gallery, they sat on their bombshell until it was time to drop.  In the long run, they handled themselves with tact, and those of us who spent a great deal of time laughing at their thin list of original material looked pretty stupid in the end. 

The thing is, by avoiding public fights with their fans, former fans, the media, or publishers, they avoided creating a ignoble history for the game.  When Half-Life 2 is released, it will be judged on its own merits, not plagued by unfulfilled expectations developed over years, and without a sense of customer resentment.  Valve didn't make huge promises that they ultimately had to break and replace with new promises that might never be fulfilled.  The software shown spoke for itself.  There were no promises, only product.  There is no media archive of humiliation, or valueless statements, or ego driven rebuttals.  Valve shut the hell up, and got to work.  And it looks as though their tactic will pay off.

I can only hope that they will set the new standard.  That games of the future will not be announced in the concept stage, when a thousand unpredictable factors remain unsettled, but will rather be announced in the final stages of development when promises can be made that might actually pan out as accurate.  In the massive quagmire of two and three year devlopment cycles, it doesn't seem practical any longer to announce games in their infancy, certainly not when technology and game design can still change so dramatically over the process.  There's just no reason to involve the consumer in the process of production, particularly a consumer set so determined to watch and malign every missed step. 

I'm not criticizing dialogue between gamers and developers here.  In fact, I think one of the best things about our industry is the level of communication consumers and producers have with one another, but some people on both sides of the fence have taken that interaction and perverted it to serve their own self-delusion.  In the long run, if you produce a great game and keep your nose clean in the process, then the gamers and media who may have ridden you without having all the facts are going to have to eat their own words.  But, if you spend your time beating your chest at every off-handed remark, it doesn't matter what you've got to show for it in the end.  You still look like an idiot.

In the long run, let's say a certain company, that has been making a fuss over a certain game for a long time, that has gotten into ugly arguments full of pointless promises with message board fans, finally finishes their game.  Let's even say it's an awesome game.  Will that change everything?  Will they then become a reputable development house again, or have their stumblings so damaged their image that publishers will shy from future proposals, and gamers will roll their eyes at future announcements?   Would they have sold more units of their great game if they had never backtracked on a thousand promises, had released it six months after the first press release went out?  Is it true that any publicity is good publicity, or is there a line crossed where customers just don't care anymore, or even actively look forward to sabotaging sales?  Only time will tell...

- Elysium 


Will they then become a reputable development house again, or have their stumblings so damaged their image that publishers will shy from future proposals, and gamers will roll their eyes at future announcements?

Money talks baby. If *they* make a profit selling *that* game a publisher will snap them up to do another, hoping they learnt their lesson and won't take another seven (maybe eight by then) years to make ONE game.

Great article; I agree with you completely.

There is one thing, which I don't think you addressed (if you did, I was reading too fast and missed it)... announcing the game earlier on gives plenty of feedback time.  Thankfully, it doesn't look like Valve is doing much that any of us can complain about... but releasing info throughout the development process does have the advantage of letting the community kick up a fuss about whatever glaring idiocies might be present in the game.

The problem with the community feedback thing is that one man's glaring idiocy is another man's favorite feature. I suppose on rare occasions there is a clear consensus, but you can't please everybody. Besides, we'll only *really* know if something works when we actually play the game. Theoretical debates with the peanut gallery probably wouldn't accomplish much because they don't have enough information about the whole game to develop a fully informed opinion and they can't actually try it and see how it works.