The Other Side of the Screen: In Defense of the Developers

on October 27, 2011 10:00 AM

It’s never enough for us.

We’ve got it all. Three-dimensional gameplay without glasses. Heaps of DLCs in all colors, shapes, and sizes — add-on campaigns, flashy costumes, ultra-powerful weapons. Brilliant artwork and stunning environments years in the making. Augmented reality. Unfussy portability. Extremely realistic blood. Smooth ATB systems and tactical turn-based operations with so many choices your head spins as you open the battle menu.

But it’s never enough. “Where is the left-handed mode? Where’s that other game you showed us a few years back? Where’s that remake we want? If you’re not releasing it you must not be listening to your fans. You must not want money.”

Gamers, there’s something you need to understand: game developers are not short-order cooks. What you don’t know is that while you claim that the industry is not paying attention to the consumer, and that your favorite companies aren’t thinking about you, they are. All the time. All day every day. You’re just whining too loud to hear them.

This is the story of how I came to understand.

New York Comic Con this year was a momentous occasion for me. It was my first big con with a shiny press badge. Despite being a little fish in a big pond — a very, very big pond — I was brave enough to swim through the crowds to the developers’ booths and assert myself, ask the right questions and meet some amazing people.  I went with the intent to listen, and I listen I did. I heard things — exciting things, promising things, and some not-so good things. Some really disappointing things about gamer behavior. Brand Managers told me of uphill struggles. Three-day pass holders screeched complaints. All around me was a tumult of noise, voices live and pre-recorded, all of us populating the same physical space like a miniature diorama of how we populate the intangible space that is the gaming community.

Friday morning I was lucky enough to score a seat near the front of the room for Square Enix’s panel on the art direction of Final Fantasy XIII-2  and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I find the designs for both absolutely breathtaking, so when I was asked to prepare a question I was delighted. As I agonized over crafting the perfect question, I learned something that instantly sparked my ire. The Q&A was being regulated because past attendees had a tendency to ask the whereabouts of the Final Fantasy VII remake and Versus XIII. Both completely unrelated to anything that was being discussed today.

Inappropriate.

The Other Side of the Screen: In Defense of the Developers

To use Square Enix as an example, I don’t think fans realize how hard this company works on their titles. I don’t think gamers understand the years of development and dedication, the meticulous planning, and the long hours Square Enix’s production and administrative teams put into these games. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with a few of the company’s employees, and let me assure you: they are listening. They work tirelessly to address your concerns and create products for your enjoyment.

Imagine, if you will, you have made your friend a painting. Imagine you have spent an insane amount of time on it. Your friend hates it. You decide to make another painting, addressing the concerns your friend had with the first painting. And before you can even finish, you friend states that because it follows the same concept as your first painting, it must suck.

How does that feel? Pretty terrible, right? Now imagine how the director, the writers, the art director, the programmers, voice actors, PR team, brand managers and producers felt when in the wake of announcing Final Fantasy XIII-2, you immediately blurted out that it’s probably terrible. It has to be terrible. You’re not giving it a chance and you’re giving up on Final Fantasy forever until they remake VII. You rage that the series is dying and because you’ve played them all your tears are righteous, your cries are infallible, and your opinions are solid gold.

Game development cycles last for years. Thousands of people work to create a game that is innovative and yet familiar, and you get up on your high horse and mow it down like Link on the Hyrule Field with zombies without a second thought. Yes, your argument that the game industry is all about the consumers is a valid one, but consumers only do just that — consume. You’re not the one programming or writing or drawing. You only see one side of the screen, and therefore have no conception (or appreciation, it seems) of how hard it is to work in the industry.

The Other Side of the Screen: In Defense of the Developers

Standing in line to play Skyward Sword at NYCC (I played all three available demos on separate occasions throughout the weekend), I had the misfortune of playing just ahead of two very surly gamers. One was waving his black 3DS in the air, complaining that he would have waited had he known about the a price drop. The other nodded along with his tirade, then chimed in that the 3D made him dizzy. I blocked them out as best I could, and instead chose to engage in conversation with someone hovering near the booth but not in line to play. As I opened my mouth to answer their question (“Are the bird flying controls super sensitive?”), the brute behind me screeched over my shoulder: “The controls are too sensitive, I played this already, and it’s awful, like the controls in Wind Waker, which sucked. They need to just remake Majora’s Mask, it was the best game in the series, and stop making all this new stuff with stuff we don’t understand and weird controls and sh*t.”

I turned to face the Windbag Wanker and with my sweetest smile replied, “But you’re still going to buy Skyward Sword when it comes out, right?”

His face fell. “Well yeah, but, I mean, they don’t care about the fans, and… Um, I think you almost caught the bird that time.” Derailed.

Yes, remakes make money. But, think about this: if you were in charge of producing a game, would you want to create something new and innovative? Something fresh? Remastering a game or giving it an HD makeover is all well and good, but the people who work in the industry are there because they love to create. Creativity flows through their blood and the power to produce things that millions of people love as much as they loved making it… That is what gets them out of bed in the morning. This passion is written the faces of some of gaming’s most well known icons: Shigeru Miyamoto, Nobuo Uematsu, Reggie Fils-Aime, Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, Mac Walters, Ken Levine. It is their job to create, and while they do know what their consumers like, if the creator can’t get behind the idea 100%, then it’s not worth it. Would you want a remake of Final Fantasy VII with no new content, no cool DLC, and with absolutely no passionate commitment from the team making it? I didn’t think so.

So, calm down. This isn’t all about you. There are two sides to this coin, and they balance each other out and take notes from each other. I think we could stand to listen to their side a little more. They’re doing it for us, you know.

 /  Features Editor
A High Summoner from the Woods of the North (read: New England), Alexa and her ragtag band of comrades have saved the world from cataclysmic destruction countless times -- you just didn't notice. When she isn't writing or gaming, she enjoys baking, long walks at dusk, and cosplay.