It is an increasingly common trend to see video game developers make changes to games based on the feed back they receive from their respective community. At first mention, this practice seems like a great idea because you obviously want to please the people who spend their hard earned cash on your game. Taking a deeper look, however, a murkier reality looms.
The vocal minority
Since you are reading this on a website dedicated to gaming, you need glance no further than the comment section to see who I am describing here. Jilted screams such as “I won’t buy the game unless ____” or“Pre-order canceled unless ____” are fairly common, but the cries of the loud individual do not necessarily represent what is best for the course of a game’s development (or post launch). When these screeches intensify though, whether on a dedicated message board or reddit, when the noise unifies, the developer may mistake this as their audience. These people are generally unhappy and there will never be a finished product to please them. Adding development time, shifting plans, abandoning or adding features is lost on them— they will not be pleased, they will just find a new complaint.
Creating a game is a craft. If the developer takes the time and creates and ships a game they truly believe in, then the game will find an audience— people can feel that. Try to imagine Shadow of the Colossus or Chrono Trigger being created in the public eye as a generation of entitled consumers begs for multiplayer and DLC. Look at the bastardized version of itself the Halo franchise has become as 343 both tries to recreate Bungie magic and cater to an audience to whom Halo means something different no matter who you ask. It’s an impossible task and you end up making a game for nobody.
Games devoid of humanity
When developers are busy trying to keep up with market trends or change direction based on the demands of gamers, the original vision becomes lost. Recent examples of this are Fallout 76 which caught traction with neither longtime fans of the franchise nor gamers who enjoy the type of large, open-world multiplayer experience Bethesda attempted to create. Yet another example is the more recent Anthem, whose developer was so consumed with trying to create a game that would live on forever, that they never really had a direction. As first reported by Kotaku, the development conditions turned into a nightmare and the humanity was completely sucked out of the Bioware offices. With such little representation of love and respect in the development, it’s no wonder that Bioware has not been able to properly model human interaction in their last few installments. Playing Andromeda or Anthem you can actually almost feel the depressing conditions under which the games were created, all in the name of an audience who has no real idea what it wants.
Games as an art form
The practice of wasting development time on the shouts of the few is especially troublesome in promoting video games to the status of art. When an artist creates, it is with emotion and intent. A true artist rarely considers the audience as part of development. Sure, it is important that one creates something that someone can appreciate, conversely, giving in to the demands of others completely compromises the piece. Think of the difference between a Banksy print and a “print” you buy at Walmart or Target. Even a modern masterpiece like Red Dead Redemption 2 compromises itself as a game in the name of realism.
Continuing to use Anthem as an example, there is more love and care to be found playing a free browser-shooter because of the soul that was put into the game. We are currently living in the Walmart-print era of gaming and until developers take back their craft and make the games they want to make rather than the games they think they hear us saying we want, gaming will continue to suffer.
Completely off base? I get that all the time. Let me know how you really feel about the development process, games as art, or the “screeches of the few” below!